In the Kingdom of Ice|
The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
Doubleday, 2014, hc, 480pp, $28.95
Think we've had quite had quite enough snow this winter here in the Northeast? (Skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts need not answer.) I'm pretty sure 2015 will be a record breaker. This month's book selection is intended to provide some solace...it could be so much worse!
On July 8, 1879, the Jeannette set sail from San Francisco, its mission, to plant the American flag at the North Pole. The reigning scientific theory was that offered by the foremost cartographer in the world, August Petermann: warm ocean currents sustained "a verdant island at the top of the world".
The expedition was financed, not by the government but by fabulously wealthy James Gordon Bennett, owner of The New York Herald. (He had previously financed Henry Morton Stanley's trip to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone.) It was time for America to take the lead!"
He chose as captain, George Washington De Long, 28, an Annapolis graduate who had recently led a successful a successful rescue mission off the coast of Greenland. The boat, Jeannette had been was rebuilt and fortified for the arctic at a cost of fifty thousand dollars ("it's only money," said Bennett.) She was outfitted with enough food and drink (including an entire store room full of brandy porter ale, sherry, rum, whiskey, and cases of Budweiser (!) to last 35 men for 3 years. She was stocked with of all kinds of guns and ammunition. The captain was an experienced whaling captain from New London, Ct. and had spent considerable time around the Bering Strait.
De Long chose a crew of thirty-two men from virtually everywhere. Among them were Ebenezer Nye, an experienced New Bedford whaler, a Dutch man, a Scot, a Norwegian, a Russian, a Dane, a Finn, and three Chinese.
Ten thousand people came to see them off in San Francisco. While they were steaming along, a report was released that there was no northward branch of the current between Kamchatka and Aleutians…no warm current that could affect the polar basin. De Long's entire scientific basis for the journey (the "thermodynamic gateway" to the pole) was just plain wrong. The Bering Straits were a cul de sac.
Thirty-five days out of San Francisco, Jeannette was frozen in, ... "nipped" in the parlance of the day, at the 72nd parallel. Their goal was the 80th. And thereby hangs the tale. I will say that there was no cannibalism, virtually no major quarrels among the crew or officers. This story is actually quite inspiring in that apparently no animosities developed, at least in this telling, and only one man went mad.
I'll leave it there...you will enjoy the whole book including the outcome. It will make you proud, as well as relieved. And if you're a slow reader, there may have been some local melt by the time you finish.