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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Digging for Gold at the Library: Jeannette

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

As winter settles in San Francisco, my mind turns towards all things cold. Arctic exploration is the coldest thing one can do, save for streaking on Pluto. The brave adventurers who set out to the literal ends of the earth to explore frozen landscapes have always been a great interest of mine. What would make someone decide this was a good idea when so few ended well? It's more than the urge to push physical limitations or to be the first at something. No, there must be so much more than the desire for glory or the push of curiosity. I just hope it never calls to me because frankly, I'm freezing right now and it's only about 50 degrees outside. I believe I am half reptile because laying on a hot rock in the sun is way more my style than scrambling over ice shelves, but still--I love to read about polar exploits while wrapped in a blanket safely ensconced in an armchair by the fire.

While perusing our polar section, I came across this wonderful spine:

Spine of book, Our Lost Explorers

And cover:

Cover of book, Our Lost Explorers

For those who don't know, The Jeannette left San Francisco in 1879 with a crew made up of naval personnel and a few civilians in order to reach the North Pole. Things did not go as planned; when do they in the arctic? Only a handful of her crew were rescued in 1881 after an arduous trek over land and in open sea. Here's a brief account of the expedition.

I've heard of the Jeannette before, but I haven't read anything in depth about her. This book looks to be perfect introduction as it's a combination of personal narratives, documents, and beautiful engravings. Here's one of the ship being abandoned:

<br />Engraving of ship Jeannette being abandoned

It certainly must be the most wretched feeling in the world to see your ship crushed before you. Lieutenant Danenhower, the ship's navigator, had this to say of her sinking:

It was said that the ice first closed upon her, then relaxing allowing the wreck to sink; the yards caught across the ice and broke off, but being held by the lifts and braces were carried down; depth, thirty-eight fathoms, as I remember. The next morning the captain and others visited the spot and found only one cabin chair and a few pieces of wood--all that remained of our old and good friend, the Jeanette, which for many months had endured the embrace of the Arctic monster. (p. 206).

So while winter roars around you, and you retreat to the comforts of woolen socks and knitted scarves, remember those who have endured the embrace of the arctic monster and raise your cocoa mug to them.

Source: Newcomb, Raymond Lee; Bliss, Richard W. Our lost explorers : the narrative of the Jeannette Arctic expedition as related by the survivors, and in the records and last journals of Lieutenant De Long. Hartford : American Publishing Co., 1883, c1882.

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1 comment:

Buck said...

I hadn't remembered that JEANETTE left from San Francisco. Thanks for the reminder... I'll have to reread this book!