The Trail of Mercy
Creator/Producer, Creative Director
Togo: The Trail of Mercy is a fully fledged theme park experience that includes a fully immersive ride queue that transports guests to Nome, Alaska during the diphtheria outbreak of 1925 and an automated virtual reality ride that brings guests on a very exciting and dangerous trip to deliver the anti-toxin to the sick children. On the ride, guests meet Togo, the unsung hero of the Nome Serum Run, and experience his story. Togo, a dark brown Siberian husky of the Inuit tribe’s stock, and his owner Leonhard were able to trek 261 miles of the most hazardous trek of the 674 mile journey to save Nome and its children. Guests will be able to experience the bravery of Togo and his musher Leonhard in a thrilling ride inspired by their true adventures.
This ride was part of the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama's Playground Festival, a week in which students get one week off of drama classes to use drama resources to then produce their own shows and installations. These shows and installations are made with a $0 budget. This year, for the 15th anniversary of the festival, several of my classmates and I transformed an empty rehearsal studio into the full theme park ride experience now known as Togo. The ride automation was achieved through the use of spare pneumatic equipment combined with written Arduino code run with Q-Lab.
The Ride was open to the public from December 7th to December 10th and saw about 400 guests over the course of the weekend. The project ended up consisting of about thirty people across many disciplines at Carnegie Mellon.
The True Story
The 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, was a transport of diphtheria antitoxin by dog sled relay across the U.S. territory of Alaska by 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs 674 miles (1,085 km) in five and a half days, saving the small town of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic. The first batch of 300,240 units of serum was delivered by train from Anchorage to Nenana, Alaska, where it was picked up by the first of twenty mushers and more than 100 dogs who relayed the serum a total of 674 miles (1,085 km) to Nome. Togo and Seppala traveled 170 miles (274 km) from Nome in three days, and picked up the serum in Shaktoolik on January 31. The temperature was estimated at −30 °F (−34 °C), and the gale force winds causing a wind chill of −85 °F (−65 °C).
The return trip crossed the exposed open ice of the Norton Sound. The night and a ground blizzard prevented Seppala from being able to see the path but Togo navigated to the roadhouse at Isaac's Point on the shore by 8 PM preventing certain death to his team. After traveling 84 miles (134 km) in one day, the team slept for six hours before continuing at 2 AM. By nightfall the temperature dropped to −40 °F (−40 °C), and the wind increased to 65 mi/h (105 km/h). The team ran across the ice, which was breaking up, while following the shoreline. They returned to shore to cross Little McKinley Mountain, climbing 5,000 feet (1,500 m). After descending to the next roadhouse in Golovin, Seppala passed the serum to Charlie Olsen, who in turn would pass it to Gunnar Kaasen and Balto.
Katy Steinmetz in Time Magazine wrote that “the dog that often gets credit for eventually saving the town is Balto, but he just happened to run the last 55-mile leg in the race. The sled dog who did the lion's share of the work was Togo. His journey, fraught with white-out storms, was the longest by 200 miles and included a traverse across perilous Norton Sound — where he saved his team and driver in a courageous swim through ice floes.”
Video of the Experience
Written walkthrough of experience
To engage playground attendees into this story we had them enter the Checco. Here they feel a huge temperature decrease as they enter and leave the warmth of Purnell behind. Once inside the door hosts will give the attendees 1925 era fur coats to wear and keep warm. After everyone is comfortable they will enter into the streets of Nome.
As they walk through the alleyway they will see the shadows of the families inside their homes coping with the incipient epidemic. If you so choose you can stay and hear their full stories from outside their lit windows. At the end of the alley guests will enter the telegraph office.
Once inside they will hear the messages for aid coming in over the wire. The telegraph employee will then tell you the situation and a little about Alaska in 1925. He or she will then tell guests what they will do while on the ride. The guests will then be led out into a dark snow bluff on the edge of town. There an Inuit tribe member will help you get on your sleigh. There will be two sleighs each containing two passengers, one on the back standing ( but safely supported) for a more intense experience and one sitting in the sleigh for a gentler ride.
Once onboard the tribe member will give you your ear muffs and goggles to protect you from the snow(Vr headset and Earphones). Once guests have the VR glasses on they will be able to see the dogs tied onto the sleigh in front of them in virtual reality. Guests will then yell mush and the experience will start.
The ride fast forwards to the guests on their way back to Nome with the medicine in hand. The dogs stop in a forest clearing to rest. As they rest you hear Togo at the lead start to growl towards the surrounding trees. There are faint footsteps, sticks and deep snow cracking under the weight of something large. Then there is silence. Suddenly Togo starts to bark as the other dogs start to stand their ground. Out of the blinding snow comes a Huge Alaskan brown bear. As it approaches the sled it roars throwing its claw forward at the riders. The Bear then stands up on two legs now towering more than 10 feet tall. As its about to destroy the sled and the riders Togo leaps in as if from nowhere and bites onto the bears flesh. stunned the bear rears back and loses its balance finally crashing to the ground. Togo quickly runs back to the front of the dog team and begins to lead the team and the riders away. The bear now angry gets up as the sled takes off. Riders then experience a thrilling high speed chase through the Alaskan forest dodging trees and going over rocks and snow drifts. The bear gains speed and is in the trees to the side of sled. The only way to escape is to go across the frozen pass of Norton Sound. The team fearlessly rushes out onto the ice followed by the bear. As both the bear and team step on the ice you start to hear it rumble below you. Then finally the ice starts to break below you. Guests can feel the sled falling and bumping off of the breaking ice slabs. Finally the ice gives behind the team and the bear falls into the icy water. The team sees the shore and bolts towards it. Just in time of course the riders and the dog team make it to shore just in time. They go up the steep hill on the other side, going up past the snow, fog, and wind. They emerge on top of the mountain to clear night sky. Above you can see the Northern lights dancing in the sky while you listen to the distant sounds of the Alaskan wilderness. At the top Gunner and Balto are waiting for you. Gunner takes the medicine off your sled and puts it on his. He then nods to you and pats Togo on the head and yells mush as their team races off towards Nome, its lights twinkling in the distance. Guests then have a few more seconds to take in their world as it fades to black.
After the ride is complete guests will exit through a brief version of the entrance queue. Here they will see shadows of the children waking up to their parents and hear the parents cries of joy as guests exit. While exiting they will hand back their coats to the hosts and guests will exit back into the third floor hallway.
Virtual Reality Development
Experience concept created and written by Tom Kelly
Music adapted from Geoff Zanelli- Buffalo Jump Into the West 2004 and Tony Anderson- Something Can Grow.
Show Set Designer
Assistant Technical Director
Live Media Designer
Liam , Guthrum
Ella (Young singing mother)
Shawn Nielson, Chazz Malott
Davey T Steinman
Programming & VFX
Virtual World Designer
Virtual World Designer
Special thanks to...
Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama
Entertainment Technology Center