In April 1873, the Tigress rescued 19 men, women and children from an ice floe off the coast of Labrador. They said they had been on the ice since October 1872, having been on the Polaris, an American steamer that was on a polar expedition supported by the American Navy. They had left Connecticut two years earlier and had not been heard from since they left the coast of Greenland trying to sail through to the Arctic Sea, eventually becoming trapped in the ice at the 85th parallel. George Washington DeLong was on another ship, the Juanita, also looking for the Polaris.
DeLong was a "do it now" kind of guy. A career Navy man, he dreamed of leaving the Navy and settling in the French countryside with his French born wife and family. He was sent to find survivors of the Polaris, reaching the 75th parallel before turning around in the face of a gale. This experience changed DeLong. He began to obsess about the Arctic and how to reach the north pole.
Fast forward a few years. James Gordon Bennett, Jr. was the publisher, editor and owner of the New York Herald. He was a dilettante, a young man with a lot of disposable cash. He was also the beginning of sensationalism journalism and was eager to explore the north. He and DeLong were a perfect match. At this time in history the north pole was just a point on a map - no one had ever been there. The United States had purchased Alaska in 1867 and was anxious to find out exactly what was there. DeLong started planning. He spoke to whaling captains, other explorers, map makers and anyone who had information about the "Polar Problem." The thinking at the time was that the North Polar region was easily sailed, shallow with warm water and ice free, loaded with marine life and maybe a lost civilization. DeLong wanted to be the first to explore it by sea.
He set out with financing from Bennett and the United States and left with 33 men in the most well equipped boat money could buy. They headed into the Arctic and found that it was ice, almost all ice. From the moment the reached the Bering Sea there were problems. But DeLong kept going.
This book is fascinating. The story reads like fiction, except it's true: disasters, bad weather, insanity, starvation and finally a redemption of sorts. Everyone knows about Shackleton but not everyone knows this story and they should.
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