Famous People of Nome
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.