Hello, my name is Cyndi Robbins, I am the owner of the resort and vice president of the Poland Spring Preservation Society. I can’t believe this day is finally here! Two and half years, we are finally able to gather to celebrate a true hero – Togo.
In 1982, Mel Robbins, my late husband, shared with me the story of Togo. Who would have thought that 40 years later I would own a Togo descendant, and stand before you today to honor Togo’s legacy …let me share with you the story… of which time magazine named “the Most heroic animal of all time”
In the winter of 1925, a deadly outbreak of diphtheria in the remote part of Nome, Alaska, threatened the lives of the 10,000-plus residents living in the area. Children were especially at risk, and Nome’s isolation created a nightmare scenario. An antitoxin was located, but the nearest point that the serum could be delivered via rail to was Nenana, located 674 miles from Nome. With a blizzard approaching, air travel was not an option. Officials determined that the only way to deliver the serum in time was by teams of sled dogs. A relay of 20 sled teams participated in the journey but only one team tackled the most dangerous leg.
Though Balto often gets the credit for running the lifesaving serum the final stretch into Nome, it was Togo, a Siberian Husky, who with unmatched stamina, led his team 264 miles across the longest and harshest stretch of the journey.
Togo was the lead sled dog of Leonhard Seppala. As a puppy, Togo developed a painful throat disorder that caused Seppala to lose interest in him. Eventually Seppala gave Togo up for adoption. Togo refused to be parted from Seppala and his team, and later escaped his adoptee’s home by jumping through a window. A troublesome and mischievous puppy, he eventually became Seppala’s lead sled dog. That leadership and positioned his team to tackle the most challenging of conditions during the Great Race of Mercy to deliver the lifesaving serum to the children of Nome, Alaska.
Fast forward to 2019, Disney, in all their infinite storytelling wisdom, recreate and release Togo- the untold true story. But while Maine gets only a brief mention in the film, what Disney doesn’t share with its audience is that Togo’s story didn’t end in Alaska after he saved Nome. You see, Togo continued his journey in another capacity.
Togo’s connection to Poland Spring 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 Spring, Maine. The race took place in 1927 here on Middle Range Pond, where Seppala would then meet Elizabeth Ricker, whose family had owned the resort since 1794. Elizabeth was so impressed with Seppala and Togo, that she proposed a business partnership with him and they formed Poland Spring Kennels. The kennel played an important role in the history of the Seppala lineage, breading over 158 dogs during their time at Poland Spring. And I’m privileged to tell you that some of those direct descendants are in the audience today.
So now that you know the very important and lengthy story of Togo, let’s talk about the statue.
Insert a young lady from Kansas. One afternoon, I received a call from a woman by the name of Madison Parr. Madison was given my information from the town office here in Poland. She told me how she had just finished watching the Disney movie and that she was so inspired she stayed up the entire night researching Togo, his last resting place, and wanted to begin a project to create a statue to honor him. That’s when this project first began and since that initial conversation the work hasn’t stopped. So many incredible people along the way have supported and heard me ramble on and on about this amazing creature and the importance of creating a statue in his honor.
It’s been amazing to see how this project has brought out the passion in people and brought members of not only our small community together but supporters from across Maine and the United States. Thank you to everyone who helped us spread the message of our project and donated. I’d like to recognize several crucial stakeholders to this project:
To David Smus, an award-winning bronze sculptor from Maine, who truly saw our vision and helped bring Togo and his figure to life. He researched deep into the history of Togo- to match the harness that he would have worn, to show the tip of his right ear that had been impacted by frost bite. He examined hundreds of pictures and even measured Sawyer, my retired blind sled dog and direct descendent, to depict every part of Togo accurately.
To Jonathan Hayes, a Maine musher turned dear friend, with his continued support, and his amazing Solo Sled Dog Expedition Across the Wilderness of North Maine, where he led a purebred team of Seppala Siberian for a solo week-long Expedition of over 270 miles from Fort Kent to Greenville through the north woods of Maine to raise awareness for this project. And wrote the children’s book, “The True Tails of Togo the Sleddog” which our local rec dept has turned into an interactive story book trail which you see behind me. Thank you Scott Segal for your work on that project.
To Filmmaker Jeremy Grant, who followed Jonathan into the deep woods of Maine on his trek, and created an amazing documentary, “True North Legends of men and dogs.”
To Baxter Brewing releasing a special edition Togo Beer, where one dollar of each beer has gone to build this statue.
To Glenn Bolduc of Spruce Bay Landscaping, who built the base, lighting, and landscape of this sculpture.
And to the generous donations from so many, that I can’t name them all, Roopers Beverage, Shaker Village, Poland Spring Water, the Poland Spring Preservation Society and to all the others, big and small that made this dream a reality- thank you.
But the one I treasure the most is a lady out west with no connection to Maine, she donated $3,000 with a note “I’m honored to contribute to such a worthy cause. Thanks for the invitation to Maine, but I am 72, and cannot travel. I would like to have a picture of the statue when it’s done, but I don’t want any public acknowledgement or recognition. I just want that statue to be unveiled. May all the descendants of Togo run forever on the northern snow.”
What Makes Togo an American Hero? Despite rough beginnings, Togo saved the lives of thousands of people. And today his legend is memorialized on the grounds of where he once came to rest. Seppala said that “I never had a better dog than Togo. His stamina, loyalty and intelligence could not be improved upon. Togo was the best dog that ever traveled the Alaska trail.”
I want to thank everyone for gathering today and showing their support as we honor one of the greatest hero’s who, for many of us here, a dog who has greatly impacted our lives and has forever left a mark in our hearts. It is with great pleasure that I unveil Poland Spring’s latest addition created by local Maine sculptor, David Smus, Togo!