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Any out there with an interest in early 20th century polar exploration?

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  • Any out there with an interest in early 20th century polar exploration?

    Despite my dislike of cold and snow, I've always had a bit of a fascination for the history of polar exploration. Part of that stems from the fact that Robert E. Peary lived in my hometown for a year after graduating from Bowdoin College, where he created a profile survey of the view from the top of a local geographic feature named Jockey Cap, and also plotted a line of longitude that you can still see in the park that bears his name. The house he lived in still stands today as a B&B, one of my best friends from high school grew up in that house.

    That interest was really piqued 30-some years ago when I saw a mini-series on PBS called The Last Place on Earth, about the race to be the first to the South Pole between Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundson, based on the book written by Roland Huntford. Along with that, PBS featured a documentary about three Brits who spent a year in Antarctica, wintering over in Scott's old hut, and then recreating his journey to the Pole, on foot, dragging all their supplies with them on sleds. A year or so after seeing that, I went to see a man speak in my town who had worked at the Scott-Amundson base at the South Pole, and by my estimate, he would have been there at the time of the Brits' journey. So I asked him, and he had indeed. Said those guys looked like hell when they finally arrived at the Pole.

    Huntford also wrote a biography of Ernest Shackleton, who, until Scott and Amundson, had reached the furthest point south in 1909, only to be forced to turn back about 97 miles short of reaching the pole. His goal of reaching the pole gone after Amundson and Scott, he returned in 1914 with the goal of being the first to cross the entire Antarctic continent. But again, he never got his chance, as his ship became frozen in pack ice in the Weddel Sea, drifted for ten months before being crushed and sinking, and then spent another five months drifting on ice floes, until they piled into their remaining boats and journeyed to Elephant Island. Shackleton then led a small group of his men on an 800 mile open boat journey across some of the worst seas in the world to South Georgia island, had to make the first ever crossing overland of that mountainous island to get to the whaling station on the other side, and eventually sailed back to his men on Elephant Island for rescue, not losing a man. One of the most courageous and daring journeys ever attempted.

    Well, today it was announced that Shackleton's ship, Endurance, that had been frozen, crushed and then sunk by sea ice, has been discovered at the bottom of the Weddel Sea, about 10,000 feet down, roughly four miles from its last recorded position, almost perfectly preserved by the frigid waters. The pictures are just fascinating.

    What kind of cheese are you planning to put on top?

  • #2
    I think that it's kind of funny that I'm the poster that ends up sharing your interest.

    I've always had a keen interest in the stories of polar exploration. A man named Carl Ben Eielson was from Hatton, ND, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents. In fact, they were contemporaries of his.

    Eielson ultimately became famous for his polar ventures by plane, after he moved from ND to Alaska. I think, although I might have this wrong, that he made maybe the first flight over the North Pole. There are some memorials to him in ND, and of course he is well known in my home state.

    In about 1981, Huntford's book, The Last Place on Earth, was referred to me by a family friend, and to this day remains one of the best works of nonfiction I've ever read. Like you, I saw the PBS mini-series and thought it was an excellent adaptation.

    The Amundsen and Scott story led me to Shackleton. Huntford's biography of him was terrific, as was Alfred Lansing's book, Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. I also picked up Caroline Alexander's book, The Endurance, which is fine, but was really my first introduction into the terrific photos of Frank Hurley, Shackleton's photographer on the trip. My fascination with those photos ultimately lead me to a couple of terrific coffee table books. The best is South With Endurance, which I think contains all of Hurley's photos of that adventure. The second book is With Scott to the Pole, a collection of Herbert Ponting's photos of the Scott expedition.

    I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in either Scott's expedition, or Shackleton's voyage, to pick up copies of the books containing all the photos, because they give a context to the story that you don't otherwise get.

    I also have a book called Scott's Last Journey, which is a collection of his diary entries from his failed expedition. Pretty haunting.

    As a side note, in 1986, I spent much of the summer in Oslo, Norway, and had a chance to go see the Fram at its museum there. The Fram was Amundsen's boat on his journey to the South Pole, and was also used in various trips to the Arctic. It's housed in the Fram Museum, which is part of a larger set of maritime and polar explorer museums in Oslo. If you ever find yourself in that fair city, I highly recommend setting aside a day or two for a visit to those museums. They let you climb about and inside the Fram. Just imagining all of the people, supplies, equipment and dogs stuffed into that small little ship is a great experience.

    I'm looking forward to a book or documentary about the discovery of the Endurance. I'm sure my wife will be thrilled at another edition added to the collection.
    That community is already in the process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non-conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence; where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists, to win or lose.


    • #3

      The Detroit Zoo has finally reopened their penguin exhibit just in the last month. It's really cool and has a bunch of stuff about Shackleton. The ramp to the lower level (to see the penguins swimming) is designed to be like you're on Shackleton's boat. The walls all have projected images of the Antarctic looking out from the ship. Then as you get lower there are port holes with different images of marine life. After you exit the ramp area there is an exhibit area with pictures and information from the Shackleton expeditions.
      Originally posted by West Texas Wolverine
      wT, your wisdom is as boundless as the volume of your cheering.

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