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Roots Revealed Blog

Balto at Brookside

Posted: 6/19/2013
Posted By: Karen Lakus

Many visitors may know Brookside Reservation as the park next to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, but do not realize that it once WAS the zoo!  The first zoo was moved from Wade Park (to make way for the Cleveland Museum of Art) to Brookside Park in 1907 and was called the Brookside Zoo.  It expanded through the years and later known as the Cleveland Zoological Park and Cleveland Zoological Gardens.  In the 1970’s, Cleveland Metroparks acquired ownership and administration of the zoo.  Brookside Park to the west remained a recreation park owned by the City of Cleveland, and was later leased by Cleveland Metroparks in 1993 becoming Brookside Reservation.

One famous resident of the Brookside Zoo was Balto, a Siberian Husky who lived there from 1927 until his death in 1933. Balto was the lead sled dog on a team that traveled 53 miles over frozen tundra on the final leg of a 674-mile run to deliver diphtheria anti-toxin to the people of Nome, Alaska.  During the winter, no trains or ships could get to the town and telegraph was the only means of communication.  When a diphtheria outbreak was reported in January 1925, mushers and dog teams raced to complete what was usually a 25 day journey in just 5 days and save the children of Nome. 

Balto and his team became international celebrities. They, along with musher Gunnar Kassen, were featured in movies and made appearances all over the country.  By 1927 however, their fame was fading and a Cleveland businessman named George Kimball found the dog team living in a tourist museum in Los Angeles. He was given 2 weeks to find the $2,000 needed to purchase the neglected dogs and take them to the Brookside Zoo. Through a subscription drive he was able to raise the money with the help of generous Clevelanders and animal lovers from all over the country. It is estimated that 15,000 people visited Balto and his team on their first day at the Brookside Zoo in March 1927.  

Balto outlived all but one of his canine companions and died in 1933.  His body was moved to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. A bronze statue of Balto commemorating his bravery and triumph can now be found outside of Wolf Lodge at Cleveland Metoparks Zoo. 

- Karen Lakus, Cultural History Interpreter
Photo: Balto leading his team at the Brookside Zoo (Cleveland Memory)


6/2/2016 6:23:45 PM by Karen
I never knew he lived at the zoo. I hope he had a good life there...he deserved it
6/20/2013 2:04:52 PM by Linda
My mom told us stories about how they saved pennies so Balto and the team could come to the Zoo. It was a big thing back then to the kids in Cleveland.
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