1909 RACE TROPHY COMES HOME

From California umbrella stand to Nome museum treasure“I was as happy as a clam, just ecstatic,” beamed Jon Van Zyle when he described opening a package that arrived from California one day after Celeste Davis collected the 2010 Iditarod Red Lantern. “It has so much meaning,” he said of what was inside.The “it” that left the Chugiak artist “ecstatic” is a silver loving cup presented to A. A. “Scotty” Allan, winner of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes when he crossed the finish line in Nome 101 years earlier. The 408-mile race from Nome to Candle and return in 1909 was the second in the series that continued from 1908 to 1918.The cup stands 18 inches tall and weighs about five pounds. It is ornately engraved with the name of the winner, the date and the winning time of 82 hours, 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Inscribed under thick overlaid lines descending from the rim is the phrase “Midnight Sun” over a representation of half a sun still visible over the horizon. On the reverse is a gold pan backed by a pick and shovel. Gracing the base are four finely fashioned snowshoes, each individually crafted, the delicate silver thread webbing wrapped tightly around perfectly shaped frames. Two handles cast from solid silver are topped by accurately sculpted heads of huskies.“The workmanship is gorgeous,” Van Zyle said as he fingered the surface of the cup and admired the delicate work in the snowshoes as it rested atop a counter in his Birchwood studio. Surrounded by photos and paintings of sled dog racing that filled the walls, it looked right at home. Sponsored by the Nome Kennel Club, the early 20th century races each year offered cash prizes ranging from $3,000 to $10,000, the amount depending on the generosity of contributors. Organized in 1907 and still active, it is the oldest kennel club in the United States.Also awarded each year was a silver loving cup, prominently marked around its base as the Suter Trophy. It is generally believed that the cups were donated by E. A. Suter, a Nome jeweler of the Gold Rush era.Stored Trophy LanguishesThe trophy won by Allan languished for more than 40 years in a box stored and forgotten until it was found by a man rummaging through items in a storage room. Unaware of its history, the new owner of a California newspaper plant for a while used the cup as an umbrella stand. He later took it home and placed it next to his easy chair to hold his pipe and smoking tobacco.James Harrah of Cupertino, Calif. was one of three partners who in 1962 bought the Daly City Record from the estate of one John Marchant. The newspaper, established by Marchant in 1913, was located in a three-story building, the top floor used primarily for storage. Asked about the boxes cluttering the area, the sellers said the buyers could keep what they wanted.Only the trophy and some bottles of whiskey were of any apparent value, Harrah said during a telephone interview.“We sampled the whiskey, but discovered it would go better down the drain than down our throats, so we poured it out,” he laughed.How the trophy made its way from Nome, Alaska to Daly City, California is uncertain, but open to interesting speculation. As far as can be determined, Marchant had no connection with the All-Alaska Sweepstakes other than wagering on the outcomes. His resume leads to guesses that perhaps he won the trophy after it was put up to cover a losing bet and when he left Alaska took it for bragging purposes.Marchant, Harrah said he learned, was a gambler who made and lost two fortunes in Nome before returning to the San Francisco area. He reportedly purchased a race track and wanted to publish a daily racing form. Records show, however, that many citizens did not look favorably upon the enterprise, even voting at one time to close down a greyhound track. After acquiring the building and printing plant, Marchant decided to publish a newspaper with the racing information included as an adjunct to its civic and social reports.Fortuitous Coincidences OccurThe trophy’s future improved earlier this year when Harrah’s wife Betty attended a reunion of her Caldwell, Idaho, high school graduating class. Of eight girls in the class, five survive.Among those survivors is Marjorie Cochrane, a former Alaska newspaper reporter and the author of the newly published book, “Three Dogs, Two Mules, and a Reindeer,” real-life animal stories from expeditions in early-day Alaska.Cochrane spotted the once-proud trophy in its current lowly function and was intrigued by its historical significance.Her book had been illustrated by Van Zyle, whose studio was located in the community served by the Alaska weekly newspaper where she was chief writer. She had reported on Van Zyle’s involvement with the Iditarod and immediately suggested him as an intermediary in finding a place for the 101-year-old loving cup. “We wanted it to go back to Alaska,” Harrah said. “We contacted a museum but they said they already had a trophy, so we just hung on to it.”Getting up in age, the couple was concerned over what would happen to the piece should they not find a taker in Alaska. They felt it should be preserved. The silver-plated cup tarnishes readily. One handle had been broken off by grandchildren playing in the easy chair, which swivels.“Somebody could have melted it down, or just thrown it away,” he said of their concerns about the trophy’s future.At Cochrane’s suggestion, Van Zyle was contacted.“I had a pretty good idea what it was based on his description,” the Alaska musher said of Harrah’s initial call, “but I wanted to see it to know for sure.” He was far from disappointed when the package arrived a few days later.Going Home to NomeWhat happens now with the former pipe holder and its amputated handle?“It belongs in the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome,” Van Zyle said without hesitation. The museum is located on Front Street in Nome, the start and finish line for the All-Alaska Sweepstakes of olden days and now for the famed Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The museum has all kinds of Sweepstakes memorabilia, he said.Van Zyle plans to have the broken handle soldered onto the cup by a silversmith, then have it thoroughly cleaned. He wants the trophy to be gleaming and free of tarnish when it goes on display in Nome.Laura Samuelson, curator of the Nome museum, also used the word “ecstatic” when she recalled her reaction to the news that the trophy would return there.“It will be a great partner to the other trophies from those races that we have.”Samuelson explained that the two other trophies won by Allan, in 1911 and 1912, are currently on display at the museum. Also there on loan from the University of Alaska are the three trophies won by Leonhard Seppala in 1915, 1916 and 1917.With the 1910 historic trophy that was won by John “Iron Man” Johnson in a time that would stand as a record for 98 years, the museum’s All-Alaska Sweepstakes trophy collection will number seven. The 1910 cup was given to the museum by the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain, which decided its proper place was Nome. They had received it from the descendants of Fox Maule Ramsey, a Scot who helped establish the Siberians as a racing strain. He owned three of the teams in the 1910 race, including the one driven by Johnson.“Where are the (trophies) from 1913 and 1914?” Samuelson mused. “Hopefully the rest will come home, too.”Another treasure that can be viewed by visitors to the museum is the stuffed form of Fritz, who was in double lead with his half-brother Togo in the 1925 serum run and joins Togo and Balto as preserved symbols of that grueling trip.Right Intermediary FoundJon Van Zyle has been involved with dogs and sled dog racing for decades. An Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race finisher several times since the very beginning of the race, much of his art deals with dogs and scenes from along the trail. He created the Race poster each year and has painted many original scenes, some of which have been reproduced in prints sold around the state.He entered the 75th Anniversary running of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes in 1983. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in a mishap along the trail and was forced to scratch. He and his wife Jona returned as race officials for the Sweepstakes’ 100th Anniversary race observance in 2008.The 100th Anniversary race’s first-place purse was $100,000, many times greater than the prizes taken home by mushers 10 decades earlier. It was won by Mitch Seavey with a new record time of 61 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds. Interestingly, Van Zyle said the large prize was significantly aided by entry fees from the 75th Anniversary race. In 1983, mushers were required to put up gold dust worth in the range of $1,000 to $1,200. The gold was kept by the Kennel Club, which saw the value increase significantly as the yellow metal became more valuable.“We are very grateful to Jon and Jona for their never-ending support to the (Carrie McClain) museum and to racing,” Samuelson said.Sled Dogs HonoredJona Van Zyle is also an artist and musher and has a tie-in with the dogs made famous by their exploits of long ago. She raced sled dogs in Ohio and was invited to bring her team to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for a demonstration in connection with one of their exhibits.Included in that exhibit is Balto, the stuffed lead dog that gained worldwide fame as the one who on Feb. 2, 1925, led Gunnar Kaasen’s team into Nome with the serum that stopped a deadly diphtheria epidemic. Kaasen and Balto were hailed as heroes and a statue of Balto was erected in New York City’s Central Park, on an approach to the Tisch Children’s Zoo.Balto and members of his team toured the country for two years in a vaudeville act. A Cleveland businessman, George Kimble, saw them in Los Angeles and was disheartened to find them in poor health and malnourished. He contacted the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, which launched a drive to purchase the teams and bring them to Ohio. School children contributed dimes so that the half-dozen dogs could be obtained and live out the rest of their lives in the Cleveland Zoo.People familiar with the outcome of the serum run felt that another team deserved at least as much of the acclaim as Kaasen’s received. Missing the limelight associated with news of the heroic feat was the team driven by Leonhard Seppala, one of the early All-Alaska Sweepstakes mushers, whose lead dog was Togo. Seppala had driven his team out from Nome to take the serum over the worst stretch of the route, handing it off to another musher who in turn passed it to Kaasen for the final run into Nome.Partly as a result of her own mushing experience in Ohio, Jona became an assistant curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. She often invited mushers to come there and talk or demonstrate with their dogs. In 1998, one of those visiting speakers was Jon Van Zyle.“He was down to two dogs and I had a young team,” Jona joked. “Also, I had a new dog truck, which he envied.” Both they and their teams were soon merged and she joined him in Alaska.Breeders Sought ImprovementBy 1907 Nome was changing from a chaotic frontier boom town into an established city. Incorporated in April of 1901, there was a school and a functioning school board. While the number of saloons was still high, there also were churches, theaters and shops and an active Chamber of Commerce. At the height of the Gold Rush, the Nome population had swelled to about 20,000, but the 1910 Census counted only 2,600 people.The organizers and mushers who took part in the All-Alaska Sweepstakes were pioneers in developing sled dogs for racing, Van Zyle said. In the first couple of races, the teams were ones that were used to haul mail and freight between the villages. The dog team owners and their drivers became interested in improving the breed.Van Zyle credited mushers from those early races with traveling across the Bering Strait to Siberia to acquire several of the dogs we now refer to as Siberian huskies. They proved to be faster than the mixed-breed dogs that had been assembled by the team owners—and held up better over long distances.In 1907 the Nome Kennel Club was formed and sponsored races that were popular among the citizenry. The All-Alaska Sweepstakes was organized in 1908. The route chosen by the club was a well-traveled one along the telegraph line built and operated by soldiers of the Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (later the Alaska Communication System) to link the gold camps and settlements between the larger cities.Candle was one of those gold camps. By coincidence, the mileage from Nome was the same number as the population: 204. The race from Nome to Candle and back covered a total of 408 miles. The Sweepstakes continued for a decade and was an attraction for both spectators and mushers.Scotty Allan, winner of the 1909 trophy, came in “in the money” all of the eight times he entered, also winning in 1911 and 1912. Seppala won in 1915, 1916 and 1917. John “Iron Man” Johnson, whose time in 1910 of 74 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds was the record until Seavey bettered it 98 years later. Johnson also won in 1914.Most of the teams were owned by the men who operated the mail and freight hauling businesses. Allan’s winning team in the 1909 race was owned by Jacob Berger, a Jewish businessman who had joined the Gold Rush not to pan for gold, but to cater to those who did. Van Zyle said Berger built a Victorian frame house in 1904, believed to be the first such structure in what at the time was Alaska’s largest city. Now more than a century old, the structure still stands in Nome’s downtown and is owned by Howard Farley, a long-time supporter of the Nome Kennel Club and a sled dog racing aficionado. •Notes: The Lacey building, Candle, Alaska. Special Collections, UW Libraries, UW23304z Kinne, A. B. (Albert Barnes), photographer For permission: www.lib.washington.edu/specialcoll/

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