Did you know that Balto currently resides in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History?
After the famous Serum Run, Balto quickly achieved hero status and traveled all over North America. Eventually Balto and his teammates were sold to a vaudeville show owner in California where they were mistreated. George Kimble, a businessman from Cleveland discovered the dogs living in squalor and organized his hometown to save the dogs. They were moved to the Cleveland Zoo where they were well loved for the rest of their days. Today, Balto’s preserved body is on permanent display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History… and in fact… a new display is being planned around Balto as we speak!
While there isn’t an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race tie to Balto directly, there is definitely an Iditarod Historic Trail tie in… and it’s a wonderful story to boot! Contrary to popular belief, the Iditarod race was never meant to commemorate the Serum Run of 1925 where the lifesaving diphtheria serum was carried to Nome by dog sled. Joe Redington, Sr. founded the race to both commemorate the Iditarod Historic Trail and to save the sled dogs who were being systematically replaced by snowmachines.
Still, the Serum Run is a part of Iditarod Trail History and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a wonderful distance learning program developed around Balto! I introduced the story of the Serum Run to my boys with the book The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller. This book has amazingly beautiful pictures by Official Iditarod artist, Jon Van Zyle. We also talked about the idea that many people believe the Iditarod race is based on this historic event, but we reviewed Joe Redington, Sr.’s real motivation for starting the race – preserving the huskies and the historic trail.
On our assigned day and time, we connected with the museum where our guest teacher Lee Gambol led us through the program. We learned so much more than just the story of the Serum Run and how Balto ended up in Cleveland. We learned about the difficulties the mushers faced, we learned about the art of taxidermy (Did you realize they take the animal’s skin off and put it over a sculpture of the animal? I’m not sure what I thought happened, but that wasn’t it!), we learned about Balto’s life after the event, and some history of the time period. It was fascinating for the students AND the teachers!
When you make arrangements for your “trip” to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History they send you a big blue kit full of hands on materials to share with the kids. The kit includes modern day attire (snowsuit, boots, gloves, hat) so that they can compare them to historic photos of the Serum Run mushers, a husky skull so that the students can look at the teeth to learn what kind of eaters the dogs are, booties and harnesses. One of the harnesses is even people sized so that the kids can try it on and see what it feels like to pull! It was great for showing the boys where the dogs feel the pull of the weight of the sled in their bodies.
We followed up the program just with a class discussion about Balto, but you could easily follow it up with a more in depth study or a writing assignment. My kids are still convinced that Togo got the raw end of the fame deal! Togo by Roger J. Blake is a great book to share for Togo’s story. We also had a fascinating discussion of the Disney movie Balto and why so much was changed for the movie. Just look at the pictures The Real Balto (picture link) and the Disney Balto (picture link). The biggest change as far as the boys were concerned was that Balto actually never had any offspring. He was “fixed” early on because he wasn’t viewed to be a great enough dog to breed!
You can find more information or book your Distance Learning Trip here: http://www.cmnh.org/site/ClassesandPrograms/SchoolPrograms/AtYourSchool/DistanceLearning/CMNH.aspx