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Posts Tagged ‘Iditarod’

To start reading from the beginning, go to May 11, 2008.

I witnessed my first Iditarod in 1978. I lived in Nome, Alaska at the time and thus saw the finish of
the 1049 mile sled dog race. A couple of years later I met my parents in Anchorage on one of their trips north from Chicago. From Anchorage we took a shuttle trip in a twin engine Otter to Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula. We were to meet my father’s uncle, my great uncle, Charlie for the first time. He told us the real story of the Iditarod.

Uncle Charlie met us at the airport. He was a small old man in his late 80’s but full of character and spunk. His 1/2 brother was my father’s adopted father, Henry Burgh. Charlie and Henry had the same mother but different fathers. Henry was originally a Gerberg but changed
his name to Burgh when he found himself in trouble (in Montana?) with the law (embezzlement) and ran north to Nome. He became a successful business man and politician in Nome where he opened the popular Nevada Bar, became Mayor and then District Representative. He married a 1/2 breed Eskimo, the daughter of another successful business man, Pete Curran (my great grandfather).

Charlie Gerberg eventually found his brother, Henry Burgh, in Nome. They kept their relationship a secret, however, because Henry, a big man
in town, was a wanted man living under a false name. Charlie also married a 1/2 breed Eskimo. The two of them lost some standing in the
white social life of Nome for having married what were considered in those days second class citizens.

After meeting Charlie for the first time at the airport, he packed the three of us (mom, dad and myself) in the car. Dad sat in the front
passenger seat while I sat behind Charlie the driver. I a view of Charlie’s skinny neck and skewed baseball cap as well as Dad’s reaction
to Charlie’s driving. He drove like a house on fire talking and telling stories along the way. “That’s were I drove off the rode into the
ditch.” Charlie we immediately learned was quite the story teller. By his character and lucid memory, I deduced, as did my parents, that he
was a teller of non-fiction with detailed recall.

One of his stories I found most fascinating was of the Iditarod’s beginnings. He spoke of the famous mushers and lead dog, Balto, who has a
memorial statue in New York’s Central Park. Charlie was in Nome in 1925. It was a time of prohibition. He said the only way to get a bit of
liquor was for medicinal purposes. He said the men in town would line up to see the pharmacist to get whiskey. The pharmacist would ask, “Is
this for general or medicinal purposes?”. One only had to reply, “Medicinal purposes,” and one received a bottle of whiskey. Naturally most of the town had medicinal needs for whiskey.

Charlie told us there was no diphtheria in Nome in 1925 — nor anytime during that period. He says some bored and thirsty doctors
conjured the “epidemic” to bring some liquor back from the city. Quarantine signs where posted about town. The joke was to visit a
quarantined home and be invited in with the welcome, “Come on in if you want some diphtheria.” Charlie’s first-hand account is quite different
from the recorded one from wickipedia:

During the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the “Great Race of Mercy“, 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs relayed diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles (1,085 km) by dog sled across the U.S. territory of Alaska in a record-breaking five and a half days, saving the small city of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic. Both the mushers and their dogs were portrayed as heroes in the newly popular medium of radio, and received headline coverage in newspapers across the United States. Balto, the lead sled dog on the final stretch into Nome, became the most famous canine celebrity of the era after Rin Tin Tin, and his statue is a popular tourist attraction in New York City‘s Central Park. The publicity also helped spur an inoculation campaign in the U.S. that dramatically reduced the threat of the disease.

(to be continued) copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, all rights reserved

musher dick mackey coming into Nome

My first Iditarod -- Dick Mackey coming into Nome

Dick Mackey the musher

And the winner is Dick Mackey (1978?)

Harry and Dolly

Great Uncle Harry Gerberg and wife, Dolly

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To start reading from the beginning, go to May 11, 2008.

The first time I heard about the Iditarod was one night at the dinner table. Martin
explained it was a sled dog race that began in Anchorage
and ended in Nome. The mushers came right through Golovin on
their last (dog) leg to White Mountain, then Saftey and finally to the finish line in downtown Nome. They traveled an unbelievable 1000 miles. The leaders made it in about 10 — 12 days. Others took up to three weeks.  Martin said the dogs were excited and lively in Anchorage, but by the time they reached Golovin the dogs were exhausted, tongues hanging and “dogged”. This was something I really wanted to see — a real dog musher.

Dog mushing is a part of my heritage. My grandfather and grandmother (Mini) traveled by dog team in the old days. Mini’s father and brother
(my great grandfather and great uncle) had the mail contract from Nome to Unalakleet delivering the mail by dog sled. A round trip took them about two weeks. My great grandfather, Pete, was quite a sly dog himself. His home base was Solomon where he ran a grocery with his Eskimo wife and three children (a boy and two girls). He would load his sled (drive to Nome for the mail?) then trek back again east and south to Unalakleet.

It must get pretty cold and lonely traveling such a distance in the arctic cold and long nights for ‘ol great grandfather, Pete, had a second Eskimo wife and children (two girls) in Unalakleet. When his first family was raised and married with children of their own, Pete’s first wife in Solomon died. Pete then brought his second wife and two girls from Unalakleet back home to Solomon. Needless to say, the first set of siblings never got along with the second set of siblings.

It took nearly my entire stay in Golovin (about 9 months) to sort out the family lineage and who’s who. With duplicate names (my great aunt
and aunt share the same name) and with family members having been switched around (my Aunt Maggie was raised by Pete and his second wife, my great Aunt Maggie raised my father who’s natural mother was Mini so my great Aunt Maggie is my adoptive grandmother) It was confusing.

I left Golovin before the kick off of the Iditarod but some 17 years later I would meet and become friends with the 1989 Iditarod champion and his champion musher wife, Joe and Sherri Runyan. We had both recently moved to the small New Mexico ranch town of Magdalena.

(to be continued) copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, all rights reserved

Pete Curran and Pauline

1898. From Klondike, Pete went down the Yukon to St. Michael and on to Spruce Creek to try his hand at gold mining. At Spruce Creek (east of Nome) Minnie (my birth grandmother), Maggie (my adoptive grandmother) and Pete Jr. were born. From Spruce Creek, Pete moved to Golovin where he became a mail carrier contractor (by dog team). From Golovin, he moved to Solomon in 1925 where he continued his mail contract and bought into a trading post and roadhouse. My great uncle Pete Junior took over the mail contract and also operated the ferry at the Bonanza river crossing for years.

Solomon Roadhouse

Pete Curran's Solomon Roadhouse as I saw it in the late 70's

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