Posts Tagged ‘whiskey’

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┬ámiles (1,085┬ákm) 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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