A community is coming together to honor a true and important hero in history. It all started last December after I finished watching, Togo, disney’s new historical drama based on the true story of Leonhard Seppala and his titular sled dog, writes Madison Parr.
Togo and Leonhard took part in the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska to transport diphtheria antitoxin serum through the harsh conditions during an epidemic of diphtheria.
Many people associate the true hero of this story to be Balto, because he ran the last and shortest leg (55 miles) of the expedition into town carrying the lifesaving serum, however, Togo was the true hero dog of the serum run due to the fact that he was the lead dog for Leonhard Seppala’s team during the longest and most dangerous leg of the serum run (261 miles) to Nome in 1925, all at the age of 12.
Togo retired in Poland Spring, Maine where he later passed away at the age of 16.
After watching the movie, I knew I wanted to do something to honor this true hero. Balto had an entire franchise dedicated to him, and one the largest statues in Central Park in New York, it just didn’t seem so far.
So, I immediately began my research on Poland Springs, Maine, sculptors, and anyone in the town who might be interested in helping me pay tribute to Togo. (I should add that at this time, and up until 3 months ago, I was living in Kansas.)
My first step was to create a GoFundMe page to begin the fundraising process for the statue that I wanted to erect in Poland Springs, his last resting place.
My first call was to the Parks and Recreation office in Poland, Maine. I was connected with their recreation director and mentioned that I had been touched by the story of Togo, had started a fundraiser for a statue, and inquired about where the city might approve the monument. I was then put in contact with Cyndi Robbins, and this is the point where everything just clicked, and I knew that this project would be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Cyndi Robbins is the owner of the Poland Springs Resort hotel and leading board member of the Poland Springs Preservation Society, and an avid dog lover, whose dog’s name is, you guessed it, TOGO! I will never forget our first phone call, we talked for over an hour about our love for dogs, nature, and how excited and determined we were to raise the funds for the statue. Cyndi ended up approving for the statue to go on the grounds of the hotel/Preservation Society.
Cyndi is on the cover of the LA Metro Magazine regarding an article about Togo and how he found his way to Poland Springs. As innkeeper of the Poland Spring Hotel, Cyndi had met many famous guests who visited the resort including Rose Kennedy, Babe Ruth, Jimmy Durante, Togo holds a special place in her heart.
Togo’s connection to Poland Springs began after he and Seppala visited Madison Square Garden in New York City, where he received a gold medal for bravery. During their trip in New York, Leonhard met Arthur Walden, another famous musher from New Hampshire. Walden had a team of sled dogs larger than Seppala’s team and challenged Seppala and Togo to a sled dog race in Poland Springs, Maine.
The race took place in 1927 on Middle Range Pond, a few miles away from Poland Springs Resort, where Seppala would then meet his wife, Elizabeth Ricker, whose family has connections to the resort since the 1700’s. Elizabeth was so impressed with Seppala Togo, that she proposed a partnership with him and the first Seppala Kennels, which was formed in 1927 in Poland Spring.
The kennels played an important role in the history of the Seppala lineage and the Seppala Siberian Sled dog breed. I was both shocked and amazed to find out that the new grounds for the Togo statue had such an important and direct relation to Togo and Seppala himself.
Flash forward today, January of 2021, a full year since I began fundraising in partnership with Cyndi, and the Poland Spring Preservation Society and hotel, we have made great strides and have an incredible. event/expedition coming up that we think the world needs to hear about.
Not only have we hired a local sculptor to complete the statue, we have raised almost $8,000 of the $25,000 needed to complete this project.
One of the individuals in the town who has agreed to help pursue this endeavor is Jonathan Hayes, environmentalist, musher, author, who actually breeds Seppala Siberian Sled Dogs which are descendants of Togo and the other dogs of the famous dog team. He just recently wrote and published a children’s book, “The True Tails of Togo the Sled Dog.” He is also the author of “Mush: Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lead Dog.”
In order to help raise funds for the Togo monument, Jonathan has taken upon himself to put on a Solo Sled Dog Expedition Across the Wilderness of North Maine. — At noon on Saturday February 20th, a purebred team of Seppala Siberian Sled dogs will depart from the “Americas First Mile Monument” for a solo week-long Expedition of over 200 miles through the north woods of Maine.
The route will be due west to the town of Allagash, and then South, through the North Maine Wilderness, finishing some 5-6 days later and the southern end of Moosehead Lake in Greenville, Maine.
This solo expedition is a collaborative effort between the Poland Spring Preservation Society and Seppala dog team musher Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes, to raise funds for a proposed monument of the famed sled dog Togo at the Maine State Building at Poland Spring.
“Few people who have seen the recent Disney movie realize that Togo and musher Leonhard Seppala settled here in Maine after their epic mush to save the children of Nome Alaska from an outbreak of diphtheria in 1925.
Togo spent his last days here at our resort.” said Cyndi Robbins, owner of Company Name. “Erecting this monument will help Mainers connect to this part of our history.”
During our present pandemic, we feel there is no better time to deliver this harrowing story of hope. Due to the current outbreak, all long-distance dog sled races have been canceled in the northeast.
“Togo was an exceptional dog and Leonhard Seppala was an exceptional musher.” said Jonathan Hayes, musher, Customer Name. “I’m excited to think that my dogsled expedition with the descendants of Seppala’s team will help to create a permanent reminder to our state residents of our connection to this inspiring moment in American history.”
I and 12 other members of the community hold weekly meetings to discuss the progress, goals, and amazing stories of the wonderful Togo. This is truly a story about a random girl from Kansas, and an entire community in Poland Springs, Maine, coming together to pay tribute to a true hero.
We are all incredibly passionate about this and we feel the world would be too. I’ve formed amazing friendships with these welcoming individuals and I can’t wait to make it up to Maine and meet everyone. This story has yet to be reported on and we would love the opportunity.
I also envision coverage of Jonathan and the sled team towards the end of the expedition, as he is rounding the corner towards Moosehead Lake, it would be an incredible opportunity for live footage, interviews, and even a chance for organizations and brands to sponsor the run.
Jonathan’s expedition is approaching quickly, and he’s not asking for any donations so that all of the funds can go towards the monument, however, Cyndi and I have set aside a way to donate to his expedition as it will cost him a round $1,200 for all of the necessary supplies for his solo seven-day expedition through the woods.
For more information about Togo, Leonhard Seppala, and his team, check out www.mushmaine.com
To donate to the erection of the Togo monument at the State House Poland Maine, visit the fund raising page.