The 41st Iditarod has drawn to a close.
The residents of Nome return to their daily routines, the snow and wind erase the tracks of the 66 sled dog teams who traveled over 1,000 miles.
But perhaps the most telling sign the Iditarod has ended is the extinguished “widow’s lamp.”
The widow’s lamp—hung atop the finishing line—burns red throughout the race symbolically helping mushers reach Nome, but it is not extinguished until the last musher “returns” safely.
The untold story behind this lamp dates back to the 1800’s/early 1900’s Alaskan history. Alaskan mail and freight mushers would light the lamp outside checkpoints to help guide those who were out in the wilderness and it would not be extinguished until the musher successfully returned to the checkpoint—hence the reason the lamp burns during the whole of the Iditarod. Continue reading
Video filmed by Marc Heft. Edited by Jesse Tarlton.
The Iditarod was inspired by the 1925 Race for Mercy or Serum Run, during which life-saving diphtheria serum was delivered to Nome via sled dog teams. All of the dogs were amazing, including the most famous, Balto. But it was Leonhard Seppala and a 12-year old, undersized husky, named Togo, who led a team five times further than any other sled dog team over treacherous, unchartered territory. Without Togo, the villagers of Nome would likely have perished. This blog post is part of TogoRun’s campaign to tell Togo’s untold story.
Leonhard Seppala, originally from a small fishing village in Norway, came to Alaska in the early in 1900s, and was immediately drawn to caring for, training and racing dogs; Siberian Huskies to be precise, a new breed brought over from Russia only years before. Seppala transformed his dogs into racing champions through the years, culminating in three consecutive dominating victories at the All Alaska Sweepstakes.
Seppala’s determination, spirit, courage and love for his dogs, which he displayed throughout his life, are the criteria used to award the Seppala Heritage grant, to help a new and upcoming musher leave his own mark at the Iditarod.
Being on assignment for TogoRun in Anchorage has given me the opportunity to speak to this year’s Seppala Heritage grant recipient, Mike Ellis. Continue reading