02 February 2013

2 February - Great Race of Mercy, 1925

Today, in 1925, as people watched anxiously in the darkness of early morning, the dog-sled team of Gunnar Kasson raced into Nome, Alaska, carrying the 300,000 units of diphtheria serum which would stave off a threatened epidemic until a larger shipment gathered and sent from the West Coast could arrive.
This is also Candlemas, which you can read about here (with a recipe for groundhog, in case you and the groundhog don't agree).

But first, the Weather:

Update 2013: I don't know about you, but today we have what the weather guessers call "plentiful sunshine".  Senor Candyman (el Gato) has seen his shadow; in fact, he and Senor Nico are lazing around in a sun puddle as I write.  Maybe Pennsylvania will have an early spring, but here at Rudd's Little Acre+, we can expect at least six more weeks of winter.

If the ground hog (or badger or I believe someone says a snake) sees his shadow on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of cold weather.  It is between eleven and one o'clock that the groundhog's (or badger’s or snake’s) shadow is significant.

If Candlemas is fair and clear                             [fair and clear, aye]
There’ll be two winters in the year.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,                  [fair and bright, aye]
Winter will have another flight.
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again.

As far as the sun shines in on Candlemas Day            [fair amount of snow coming, aye]
So far will the snow blow in before the month of May.

When on Purification the sun hath shined
The greater part of winter comes behind.               [greater part, aye]

If Candlemas Day be fine and clear,
Corn and fruits will then be dear.                           [boo!]
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half of winter was gone at Yule.

If Candlemas is dark, look for a wet summer. 
If Candlemas is bright and clear, look for a bright summer.
[So maybe it isn’t so bad if the groundhog sees his shadow.  Spring might be long a-comin’, but summer will be dry.]

If the goose finds it wet on Candlemas, the sheep will have grass on Lady Day (March 24) [not this year]

When the wind’s in the east on Candlemas Day,
There it will stick till the second of May.

On Candlemas Day if the thorns hang a-drop (with icicles)
Then you are sure of a good pea crop.

At Candlemas Day,
It is time to sow beans in the clay.

If the sun shines on Candlemas, the flax will prosper [Not quite so important to us in this day of unnatural fibers, but at one time a good flax crop determined if you would have new clothes, sheets, and towels this year, or would have to make do with last year’s linen.]

The snowdrop in purest white array,
First rears her head on Candlemas Day.

The entire 674-mile relay, which started from Nenana on January 27th, was accomplished in the worst possible conditions, with short daylight, gale-force winds, blizzards, and sub-zero temperatures.  Nearly all of the mushers experienced frostbite, and several dogs died.

You can read a concise history of the run at Wikipedia.

Headlines screamed the good news to the rest of the world, which had been following the news of the impending epidemic and the heroic efforts to stop it:

 “Nome Has Serum!”

“Panting Dogs Bring Alaska Plague Relief!”

“Serum Arrives in Time to Fight Epidemic!”

United Press issued this story on February 3rd:

“Alaska’s epic race with death is over.”

“Out of a whirling, blinding blizzard, weary dogs, whipped on by a stout-hearted toiling giant of America, Gunnar Kasson, plunged into Nome Monday with the precious serum needed to combat an epidemic of diphtheria.

“The serum was frozen, but Dr. Curtis Welch, Nome’s lone physician, after testing some of the anti-toxin, declared it had not been damaged by the cold, and that the soul-stirring race over the snows from Anchorage had not been in vain.

“Kasson was virtually sheathed in ice as he, with difficulty, unclenched his bleeding hands from the sled handles.  Ice masked the heaving flanks of his malmutes [sic] as they dropped in the snow after their record run against death.

“The anti-toxin, wrapped in a bundle weighing scarcely 20 pounds, was unlashed from the sled and rushed into the hospital.  It was necessary to cut the frozen ropes with axes.

“Men stared at the precious stuff as it was turned over to Dr. Welch.  To the inhabitants of Nome, the serum is more precious than all the gold taken from the Klondike in the gold rush days.

“The story of the 1,000 mile trip across the wastes of Alaska is a true epic of the northland.”

After several paragraphs of descriptions of the trail and the mushers, with graceful kudos to Kasson’s lead dog, Balto, the account adds: “The 300,00 units of serum is expected to serve merely temporarily.  Nome will not be safe until the shipment ordered rushed from Seattle by steamer is received, according to Dr. Welch.”  A subsequent story said that the second shipment was expected to arrive in Seward by Friday, February 6th, and Nenana on Saturday, after which it would be flown by bi-plane to Nome.