Nome’s gold rush beginnings made certain that the name of this town on the far edge of the U.S. territories, was known all over the world. It attracted thousands of miners, speculators, business folk, explorers, soldiers, clergy, doctors, journalists and explorers, along with spouses and children.

Especially during its early years, Nome had brushes with a surprising number of famous people. Some of them gained fame while in Nome. Others were well known before they got here. You’ll recognize some names. Others have faded with the passage of time, as their exploits fall further and further into the past.

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 64.49839
Longitude: -165.40303

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Famous People of Nome

Explorers

Nor­we­gian explor­er Roald Amund­sen arrived in Nome in 1906, on the tail-end of his three-year voy­age through the North­west Pas­sage. His Arc­tic adven­tures became the stuff of leg­end: lead­ing the first expe­di­tions to reach the South Pole in 1911 and the North Pole in 1926. A bust of Amund­sen is locat­ed out­side Nome City Hall. 

Survivors

Ada Black­jack earned noto­ri­ety as a female Robin­son Cru­soe,” after being strand­ed in the wilder­ness for two years on remote Wrangel Island. A des­ti­tute wid­ow, Ada had joined the expe­di­tion to earn mon­ey for her young son’s med­ical care. Hers is a sto­ry sur­vival against the odds in the harsh con­di­tions of remote Alaska. 

Heroes

Home­town boy turned World War II hero, Jim­my Doolit­tle made Nome proud with his avi­a­tion accom­plish­ments, includ­ing lead­ing the 1942 raid on Tokyo after the Japan­ese bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor. Jimmy’s inde­pen­dence, courage and com­pet­i­tive nature had their roots in the rough and tum­ble envi­ron­ment of gold-rush era Nome. 

Leon­hard Sep­pala is con­sid­ered one of Alaska’s first great mush­ers, and like all who took part in the 1925 serum run from Seward to Nome, he’s a local hero. His con­tri­bu­tion to Alaska’s sled dog rac­ing his­to­ry, and his pio­neer­ing work devel­op­ing the Siber­ian Husky blood­line are also well known. 

Leon­hard Seppala’s said his lead dog Togo was the best dog that ever trav­eled the Alas­ka trail.” Sep­pala and Togo com­plet­ed many jour­neys togeth­er, includ­ing 261 miles mush­ing through the dri­ving winds and blind­ing snow of the 1925 relay that brought a life-sav­ing serum to Nome dur­ing a diph­the­ria epidemic. 

Gun­nar Kaasen and sled dog Bal­to made his­to­ry on the last leg of the 1925 mush­ing relay, bring­ing life-sav­ing serum safe­ly to Nome dur­ing a diph­the­ria out­break. After their arrival on Front Street, they received the bulk of the media’s atten­tion, going on a tour of the U.S. after­ward and even appear­ing in movies. 

Grow­ing up half-Native in World War II era Nome, Alber­ta Schenck was just a teenag­er when she began pub­licly defy­ing those who sought to treat her as a sec­ond-class cit­i­zen. Her advo­ca­cy con­tributed to the pass­ing of the 1945 Alas­ka Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act – well before the Civ­il Rights move­ment in oth­er parts of the U.S.

Lawmen

Nome’s ear­ly years were plagued with fight­ing over min­ing claims, jury fix­ing, and embez­zle­ment of pub­lic funds – cor­rup­tion that went to the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment. In 1901, Judge Wick­er­sham arrived to set things in order, pre­sid­ing over many impor­tant cas­es. A long and sto­ried career fol­lowed, detailed in folksy diaries. 

Actress

Mar­jorie Ram­beau was just 9 when she land­ed in Nome with her moth­er and grand­moth­er, who had planned to start a hos­pi­tal there. Mar­jorie dressed like a boy so she could sneak into Front Street’s dance halls to sell dough­nuts, sweep floors, and play her ban­jo for the min­ers. Her career as a not­ed stage and screen actress earned her two Oscar nominations.   ...more

Businessmen

Wyatt Earp is prob­a­bly the best known of Nome’s ear­ly res­i­dents, based on his noto­ri­ety for the Gun­fight at the OK Cor­ral,” which has been immor­tal­ized in sev­er­al books and movies. The for­mer law­man and his wife Josie were suc­cess­ful in min­ing the min­ers” of Nome. They ran the Dex­ter Saloon for a few sum­mers, and left town with a report­ed $80,000.

Tex Rickard was a like­able fel­low and remark­able sales­man, who con­vinced Wyatt Earp to join him in Nome’s boom­ing saloon busi­ness. Their com­pet­ing saloons both did well, and they each left Nome for more adven­tures. Rickard became one of the coun­try’s first great sports pro­mot­ers, build­ing New York’s third Madi­son Square Garden. 

Authors

Gold min­er turned author Rex Beach spent years in Nome detail­ing his obser­va­tions in pulp fic­tion nov­els that were lat­er made into movies. His pop­u­lar sto­ries focused on the dra­mat­ic and sala­cious nature of Nome’s ear­ly days. His nov­el The Spoil­ers was made into a movie five times, with one ver­sion star­ring John Wayne and Mar­lene Dietrich.