Down East 2013 ©
The bond between a man and his dog is strong, but for Leonhard Seppala it was sometimes difficult to separate the man from the beast, just as this 1927 photograph suggests. Seppala, shown cuddling with his prized sled dog, Togo, at the Poland Spring House, was known as “The Big Norwegian” despite his five-foot-four-inch stature. He earned the title in 1925 when he and his team of twenty Siberian sled-dogs, led by forty-eight-pound Togo, completed an epic 340-mile roundtrip as part of a relay that delivered lifesaving diptheria serum to Nome, Alaska, his snowbound hometown.
Soon after this feat, Seppala and his dogs found themselves touring the U.S., but Seppala still couldn’t resist a good competition. In 1927 he entered a race hosted by the Ricker family, who founded and operated the Poland Spring House, from New Hampshire to Maine. The Alaskan musher won that forty-mile race easily, despite pausing to rescue fellow contestant Elizabeth Ricker. This marked the beginning of a long friendship between Seppala and Mrs. Ricker. Shortly after this photograph was taken the Alaskan musher opened a kennel at Poland Spring with her, splitting his time between Maine and Alaska. Togo, by this point too old for serious competition, was given to Ricker and lived out his days with her.
While Seppala’s original Siberian sled-dog stock was eventually sold — some tales say the Norwegian used them to settle a hotel debt in Quebec — the bloodlines of the remarkable Siberian canines he bred in Poland Spring can still be found in Maine today. Recently a new Poland Spring Kennels opened, this time way up in St. Agatha in northern Aroostook County, with a new generation of mushers working and breeding (and leading sled-dog tours for the public) the ancestors of the very dogs that this bold Scandinavian so adored nearly a century ago.