The Greatest Show in the Arctic: The American Exploration of Franz Josef Land, 1898-1905.

A lengthy study of three incompetent American attempts on the North Pole from Franz Josef Land. The first left two Norwegians, hired by the American Wellman, isolated at Fort McKinley advised by second-in command Evelyn Briggs Baldwin, for the winter of 1898-99 on poor rations and little fuel for cooking or heat.

p. 179: The two Norwegians [Bjørvig and Bentsen] obliged by cooking the meat and blubber only twice a day. They then settled in to a routine that included reading and re-reading the solitary newspaper they had been left with. When that had been gone over, they started on the printed labels of the canned goods that were stored in the fort. [Bentsen died on January 2, 1899, mainly due to Baldwin’s incompetent instructions leaving Bjørvig to survive another two months before joined by men from Harmsworth House.]

p. 260: When not steaming aimlessly back and forth to Camp Tegetthoff, the men were put to work to load, and then unload, and then load again, supplies from the holds of America. They responded by initiating a derisive expedition newspaper, the Midnight Sun, edited by “Petty Officer Larbear,” a play on “Polar Bear.” Baldwin soon forebade any further publication.

p. 298, a rather pious Fiala reading the 12 chapter of Corinthians.

p. 381, with various crew of the third expedition travelling from New York to Norway in April 1892: When he [Dr. Seitz] wasn’t gambling, drinking, or reading On the Polar Star, the Duke of the Abruzzi’s recently released account of his Franz Josef Land expedition, Seitz and all the other men were keeping close tabs on the young woman….”

p. 382, Dr Seitz reports in June 1903 on the stowage aboard America when they arrived in Trondheim: “Almost everything has been prepared before we start—dog harnesses, sledges, cookers (also a fine library and a printing press with papers from the Brooklyn Eagle, a sewing machine, and a large music box.”

The printing press, a notion borrowed from Fiala’s experience as a journalist, would produce a local newspaper for the men throughout two Arctic winters. Along with the musical instruments, these were further efforts by Fiala to avoid the problems with low morale that plagued the men under Baldwin.

p. 385—one book Fiala showed to some Russians visiting in Archangel aboard America was William Ziegler’s checkbook which Fiala said covered Ziegler’s accounts for millions of dollars: “I could write a check for each of you for any amount…naturally, as long as I was convinced that the expenditure would contribute towards the success of the expedition.”

p. 389, July 25, 1903, first issue of Arctic Eagle, a corollary to Fiala’s Brooklyn Eagle where Fiala had worked. [A cartoon from the newspaper of December 26, 1904, is shown on p. 485.]

p. 425, on November 11 aboard America Anton Vedoe, chief engineer, spent the afternoon reading Treasure Island just as the ship was beginning to be crushed by the ice while its captain and first mate were drunk. The ship succumbed on November 21, 1903.

p. 440-41: Christmas [1903] was celebrated with a new edition of the Arctic Eagle and a vast banquet. Vedoe looked on in wonder: “The [news]paper came out in six pages illustrated and with an illustrated wrapper. He menu was very handsomely gotten up with Mt. Ziegler’s picture on the front page….”

p. 484: …the supplies at Cape Flora, shared out among perhaps thirty men, would be a poor substitute for the relative luxuries of Camp Abruzzi at Teplitz Bay, “where there is plenty to eat and a good library.”

p. 491, referring back to an earlier expedition of Leigh Smith: “This afternoon hunted around Leigh Smith’s hut—found a lot of water-soaked tour charts and part of a book on surgery.” The next day, another man found Leigh Smith’s chart of Spitzbergen, one that marked out the routes of the Victorian explorer’s daring cruises there in the 1870s.

p. 523, when William Champ aboard Terra Nova arrived to rescue the explorers at Cape Flora: Then Champ discovered that a parallel newspaper had been produced by the malcontents of Little Italy. It was called the Polar Pirate and had kept up a venomous drumbeat against Fiala and the organizers of the expedition, Champ included. At this, as Seitz recorded, Champ exploded: “Mr. Champ all members ‘Little Italy’ & several others who had copies of the Polar Pirate held a long conference today which resulted in the turning in of all the copies the retraction of statements in the paper derogatory to Mr. Champ or Mr. Ziegler, and an apology for the same….”

p.529, Fiala’s Camp Abruzzi on Rudolf Island left behind “wine, alcohol, and books, including eighteen Bibles,” discovered by the Russians in the 1930s.