Monday, July 9, 2018

In the Kingdom of Ice

The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides. I'd never heard of this particular polar expedition, which was apparently a big deal in it's day. James Gordon Bennett, Jr., the wealthy and eccentric owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching his reporter, Stanley, to find Dr. Livingstone in Africa. (Never mind that Livingstone wasn't actually lost - he sold tons of papers!) Now Bennett wanted to recreate that sensation on an even grander scale. He funded an official U.S. Naval expedition to reach the North Pole, choosing as its leader a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland.

July 8, 1879, De Long and 32 men on the USS Jeanette set sail from San Francisco. North of the Bering Strait they were trapped in pack ice, where they remained for two years when the hull was breached, sinking the Jeanette to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. The men found themselves marooned on the ice cap a thousand miles north of Siberia with three open boats and only the barest of supplies. Thus began their march across the frozen sea. Facing various hardships, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they struggled for the Siberian coast.

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