Northeastern University embraced Seppala husky as its first mascot

Beth Bragg

Alaska has Togo, Balto, Andy, Granite, Larry and so many more sled dogs who are celebrated and beloved for their toughness and heroism.

Northeastern University, a Boston university whose basketball team is in town for the Great Alaska Shootout, has King Husky, a mascot with as many incarnations as Star the Reindeer and a lineage any dog man would admire.

The original King Husky (there have been six males and three females) came from musher Leonhard Seppala, who earned fame for his role in the 1925 serum run that saved Nome from a deadly diphtheria outbreak.

Seppala delivered the dog -- a male whose original name was Sapsuk -- to Northeastern in March 1927, the start of a colorful history for the mascot.

Through the years, various versions have received honorary degrees and been cast in bronze. They have been imprisoned for stealing chickens and retired due to stage fright. They even toppled a newspaper hierarchy -- after King Husky III was put to sleep during the summer of 1955 while students were on vacation, the school newspaper wrote an article blasting the university for not telling students what happened. When administrators refused to let the story run, four editors resigned in protest.

The last live, fulltime mascot, King Husky VI, died in 1972 after he escaped from his kennel and was hit by a car. There's a life-size bronze statue of King Husky in the student center, his nose rubbed shiny by students seeking good luck, but a human in a costume has replaced real dogs as the school mascot.

Northeastern's archives indicate the original King Husky was born March 17, 1926, in Nome. "His mother was brought from a thousand miles west of the Bering Straits on the Koloma River in Siberia," according to a 1927 article in the library archives. His father "was on the famous dog team that traversed the 345 miles to Nome" during the serum run, although no musher or dog actually traveled the entire distance from Nenana to Nome.

Reports are fuzzy on whether King Husky came directly from Alaska or from Seppala's kennel in Poland Springs, Maine. One account said he took a train from Alaska, but there was no train connecting Alaska to the Lower 48 back then. Another account said Northeastern's vice president heard that Seppala was at a sled-dog race in Poland Springs; the school had recently settled on "Husky" as its mascot, so Carl S. Ell traveled to Maine to meet Seppala. There, according to the account, Ell met the year-old dog that would become King Husky.

Classes were called off and a parade was held the day Seppala -- "bare-headed and togged in an Alaskan fur parka"-- and King Husky arrived.

A parade through the streets of Boston took Seppala and the dog to the campus, where school president Frank P. Speare presented King Husky with an honorary degree of SNL, or Seventy Degrees Northeastern Latitude, in honor of the dog's birthplace in Nome. Speare also granted King Husky a "Roads Scholarship" for his travel experience and "ability to withstand arctic blasts."

Soon enough, King Husky was on academic probation.

As he settled into his new home, King Husky developed a taste for chickens. After a farmer threatened to kill him, the school built a 20x10-foot pen "to prevent the slaughter of all the poultry in Newtonville."

In the summer of 1927, according to university archives, "Vice-President Ell invited Husky to spend the months of July and August at the Cape. The salt air would be beneficial to Husky's appetite he thought. It was."

In a single day at Ell's Cape Cod home, "Husky killed 31 chickens and 9 turkeys. ... He had a few days that weren't so successful but twice came home with pet rabbits just to show that he wasn't too meticulousabout his prey.

"... Singularly enough, Husky killed for the love of killing and not to get food, for not once did he partake of a mouthful of plunder."

The original King Husky served for 14 years, until his death in 1941.

For the next 16 years, Northeastern's supply of huskies came from Eva and Milton Seeley, who operated Chinook Kennels in New Hampshire. The first successor was a female, Queen Husky I, who died a few months after her coronation. Her successor, King Husky II, reigned for 10 years.

The controversy of 1955 was followed by the distemper death of King Husky IV in 1958. University officials were reluctant to continue the tradition of live animals after those two losses, and launched the costumed human mascot in 1959.

Students revived the tradition of a real dog in 1965, when the incoming class of 1970 bought a dog, King Husky V. When that class graduate, the dog went with it. The Class of 1974 followed suit, purchasing Queen Husky II in 1970, only to see the dog abdicate two years later because of stage fright.



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