Peary: The Man Who Refused to Fail.

A lightly disguised paeon to Peary and his endeavors, by a sometime participant in Peary’s expeditions

p. 40-41, on Peary’s reading of Kane in 1885: One evening, in one of my favorite haunts, an old book-store in Washington, I came upon a fugitive paper on the Inland Ice of Greenland. A chord, which as a boy, had vibrated intensely in me at the reading of Kane’s wonderful book, was touched again. I read all I could upon the subject, noted the conflicting experiences of Nordenskjold, Jensen, and the rest, and felt that I must see for myself what the truth was of this great mysterious interior.

Peary did not visualize the North Pole at this moment. His was only a momentary excitation. What young man has not had the same momentary passion to see some distant part of the globe on reading the gripping passage?

“I read all I could upon the subject …” Those are the key words of his text. It is worth digressing for a moment to skim over what he read in order that we may carry with us the historical background young Peary began to soak himself in.” [Fitzhugh proceeds with a summary of the literature of Arctic exploration, from Davis through Greely, that Peary probably had read.]

p. 47, re Peary’s preparation for a Greenland crossing: He began to read up in encyclopedias and other books of reference. He learned all the little men know of the land’s interior; simply an elevated unbroken plateau of snow, 1500 miles in length and 900 in width, lifted from five to eight thousand feet and more above the level of the sea; an arctic desert—unless its interior contained a vast oasis of which men knew nothing. Beside this Arctic Sahara the African one pales into insignificance.

Between his books and his charts Peary soon worked out three routes for a practicable crossing of Greenland. One of these Nansen used in 1888. One proved completely successful when Peary himself crossed the northern end in 1891.

p. 196, on the progress of the Peary Arctic Club: The Club’s new enthusiasm was now directed toward two important goals: first, the altering of public opinion so that existing prejudice against Arctic work would be lessened; and second, the construction of a vessel that would place Peary and his party at a base on the shores of the Polar Sea. Both of these tasks required great talent and a lot of money. The effectiveness of Peary’s rejuvenation of the Club may be gathered from the fact that within a month of the new charter, magazine and newspaper articles were appearing all over the country putting the new Arctic plans in the most favorable light possible. This work of propaganda was done with the greatest amount of finesse. No undue claims for scientific or commercial success were put forward; nor was there any maudlin emotionalism in the way people’s interest was solicited in the broad geographical aspects of the work. As a result there seemed to be by the winter of 1904 a complete reversal of the public’s estimate of the value and national prestige to be gained by discovery of the Pole.

p. 369, “The Promised Land”: Despite its distance and the difficulty of its access the Island has seen some thrilling times. In the fall of 1909 after the discovery of the Pole, reporters were swarming over the place; messages from the Labrador were being rushed in; and a dozen other kinds of excitement kept everyone at a fever pitch. Then when the Roosevelt came along she stopped there to discharge such of Peary’s effects as he did not wish to drag on to New York. The whole expedition came ashore and fell joyfully upon groaning tables of home cooking and fresh vegetables again. After the newspaper men followed the feature writers for magazines and books. Mr. William Rau of Philadelphia came up with a staff of photographers to develop and print up the priceless polar pictures. Experts accompanied him to retouch negatives; others to put up the colored slides. From such scenes it was a far cry to loneliness.

p. 369, “The Promised Land”: As the years went on there was less of a rush, but the stream of visitors has never greatly dwindled. Distinguished scientists and explorers, notables and friends from all over the world, have drifted in from time to time. There was always the charm and sense of privilege that went with a visit which proved a magnet even beyond the great pleasure of meeting one of the world’s great men of his time.