Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
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Exhibits
Four Years in the White North: Donald B. MacMillan’s Crocker Land Lecture
July 1, 2001 - September 1, 2001
In 1913, Donald B. MacMillan began an expedition looking for Crocker Land, first sighted by Robert Peary in 1906 in an unexplored Arctic region. Expedition members planned to spend two years studying this region, under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History. Ice conditions prevented evacuation until the summer of 1917. By then MacMillan had shown that Crocker Land was nothing more than a mirage, and the expedition had collected many natural history specimens and scientific records. MacMillan himself took over 5000 photographs.

After his return, MacMillan frequently lectured about the Arctic. He illustrated the lectures with his hand-tinted glass lantern slides. These lectures were very popular and helped establish MacMillan's reputation as one of the foremost Arctic explorers of his day. Here we have combined excerpts from MacMillan's lecture with reproductions of the glass lantern slides.

"Tonight there remains one great white spot, one half million square miles in area, the largest unexplored region on the surface of the globe; and into that spot we are going. I cannot hope to take you to the end of the long trail for our sledges covered considerably more than ten thousand miles. I hope, however, during this short march to remove from your minds many popular misconceptions of the Arctic regions. Possibly after you have seen the pictures, you may be able to understand why it is that a man prefers the snow houses, the sleeping bag, the rough food, the hardships of the trail to the comforts of civilization."

This exhibit was made possible by a New Century Preservation Grant, Kane Lodge Foundation, and Friends of Bowdoin College.



Pictured above: The Erik at Provision Point, Etah, North Greenland. Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, North Greenland, 1913. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b><em>Diana</em> of Crocker Land expedition at Brooklyn Navy Yard</b> </p>  To do the work as planned it was quite necessary to do as Peary had done in the past -- charter a ship from St. John's, Newfoundland.  As it happened we succeeded in getting the same ship which he had used on several occasions, the old <em>Diana</em>. Her general appearance attracted considerable attention on her arrival in Brooklyn. In general, dock loungers had never seen anything quite like her.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Brooklyn, NY, 1913. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>The <em>Erik</em> at Provision Point, Etah, North Greenland</b> </p>   After the <em>Diana</em> ran aground in Labrador, MacMillan chartered the Erik, which Peary had used on previous expeditions.  The journey continued, but not quite as planned.<br> <br>   One glance at the face of our Captain told me plainly that he, the man who had spent nearly all his life in the tropics, would never take the old <em>Erik</em> in through that field of ice.<br> <br>   Since the Captain had no intention of placing the ship in behind that field of ice bordering the eastern shores of Ellesmere Island, I impatiently ordered him to land us at Etah…<br> <br>   Here we placed everything -- lumber for the house, tons of coal to heat it and provisions for our maintenance, knowing that all could be easily transported later across the harbor by boat or dog team. <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, North Greenland, 1913. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Head out of tupik at Cape York</b> </p>  In one particular, they are living during the summer months as they did centuries ago - in sealskin tents, known to them as tupiks.  Here you see a woman greeting us from the entrance, which is partly covered by a modern blanket. This is the customary summer dwelling, occupied from the early summer to late fall. At times we find two families occupying the same tupik.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Cape York, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Igloos (winter homes of Polar Eskimos)</b> </p>  During the winter months the Smith Sound, or most northern, Eskimo lives not in a tupik but in a rock-sod house, the real igloo of the Far North. When partly buried in the snow and covered with the summer sealskin tupik it is really comfortable. These old abandoned igloos are found in every vantage spot. They are common property. They were probably made hundreds of years ago and are awaiting occupancy each year.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Building Borup Lodge</b> </p>  With the aid of dynamite, boulders were removed from the frozen ground and walls laid for the foundation of what I believe to be one of the warmest houses ever constructed in the north. Within two weeks we had moved in but none too soon as fall snows soon fell and partly buried us up.<br> <br>  All roads led to Etah; Eskimos came from a hundred miles away bringing their wives and children to see the white men and their wonderful home.  And it was wonderful. I snapped the button and the house was flooded with electric lights! I stepped to the telephone and spoke to the Eskimos in their own homes beneath the snow! No house ever had more company. One night sixty Eskimos slept in the attic, on the floor, under our beds, down in the cellar -- everywhere. Two hundred loose dogs prowled about our doors.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Etah, North Greenland, 1913. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Woman (Ah-na-we) with back load of arctic hare at Etah</b> </p>  I depended on the Eskimo women, as Peary did, for the manufacture of skin clothing. We were to be clothed against cold weather as the northern Eskimos are clothed, and as we were on the North Pole trip. At no time did we consider the women as hunters. In general, they are not. To my surprise, E-say-oo's wife one day brought in a backload of arctic hare. Not only did they furnish us with warm material for stockings, worn inside the sealskin boots, but with an excellent nutritious food, considered by us all as the very best in the arctic regions.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Eskimo girl (Shooegingwah) at Etah with puppy</b> </p>  Everyone likes a puppy. The Eskimo children do. I think this is one reason why certain Eskimo dogs are so affectionate, especially those born in the Eskimo home which became pets of the children. I can never forget my dogs, who were always ready and really eager to respond to an act of kindness.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Ice-foot, one sledge below Etah</b> </p>  On certain places below Etah I knew very well that the ice-foot was narrow; therefore they must have had considerable difficulty in 'getting by' so to speak. But spurred on by curiosity, on they came! Here it is dangerous because a slip means a rapid slide and a fall of ten or fifteen feet into the water below, which happened twice during our four years' work. The water itself is never colder than -28° but pulling out into a temperature of -60° is not a bit comfortable.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Fourteen dogs in front of a sledge</b> </p>  To-day we have the services of these magnificent Eskimo dogs, the finest in the world. Direct descendants of the northern gray wolf yet no dog could be more affectionate. Their strength is enormous; their vitality is beyond belief.  The question has often arisen; 'How far can these dogs travel in a day?' This is my team. One night it covered 100 miles. I stopped them only three times of ten minutes each to untangle their traces. This team covered 180 miles in five days, worked hard every day and did not receive one ounce of food.  I have known Eskimo dogs to travel for ten days and not be fed. Where they get their strength from I do not know.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Dogs and MacMillan</b> </p>  To my surprise my dogs were very affectionate. This I attributed to the fact that my dogs knew me. I also took note of the fact that I must never mingle with dogs of another team. They are decidedly not friendly, but our association with our own dogs was decidedly different.  Possibly, this may have been due to the fact that they received their food from us, a pound of pemmican each when on the trail, and a pound of dog biscuit when here at home. These are made of horsemeat and cod liver oil. We ourselves ate these during our last year at Etah, North Greenland, when the ship failed to reach us.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Dog Kashe-a-how (portrait)</b> </p>  This was my best dog.  In fact, I thought so much of this dog that I could not leave him in the North.  In Provincetown he roamed over the sand dunes.  The life-savers at Peaked Hill Bar wanted him as a companion on their lonely night walks.  Peary wanted him in Casco Bay as a typical type of a good Eskimo dog.  What finally became of him I do not know.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Polar bear on berg - Etah</b> </p>   … one day I saw a polar bear swimming across the harbor.  I ran down to the water's edge and called for two Eskimo boys to help me.  They jumped into their kayaks.  We headed him off toward a small berg, hoping that I might get a photograph.  I had photographed a polar bear before, both in the water and on the ice, but never on a berg where they frequently take refuge.  Before driving him toward the berg, I had stationed two of the boys on the other side to prevent him from plunging into the water.<br> <br>  Upon seeing the boys he stopped long enough for me to take this picture.  The boy who was with me in the boat shot the bear, thereby since it was his first, became a man, consequently a great hero from that time on.  <br> <br>  <em>Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.</em>

<p><b>Muskoxen baby, Holding small one</b> </p>  In May, the little ones are often found hiding beneath the mother, so small that we often put a dog harness on them.  This one was the pet of our family: he wanted to sleep with me every night.  There was one only two days old, very frisky and not caring to pose for his picture.  We told the Eskimo to hold him but for him to keep out of the picture.  He tried hard to do so as you could tell by the expression on his face.  <br> <br>  <em>Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.</em>
<p><b>Green, MacMillan, Peahwahto, Etukasuk at Farthest North, Polar Sea</b> </p>  At the end of a day's work, we prepare for the night, fortunate in having as our companions master builders in snow. Some fifty blocks are cut from a compact bed of drifted snow, blocks measuring about two feet in length, eighteen inches in width and four inches in thickness. Slightly inclining inward, they wind spirally from right to left, the last in position being supported by the previous one. The only people, I believe, who attempt to build an arch or dome without support. In about one hour we have the completed home, beehive in shape, secure against all wind or drifting snows. Here the entrance which is closed by a cake of snow.  <br> <br>  <em>Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.</em>

<p><b>Igloo on Polar Sea</b> </p>  This would be our last camp.  At the base of a pressure ridge, we built our last igloo.  Over the entrance we placed the American flag.  Our latitude was 82° 30'.  Longitude 108° 22' 150 miles due northwest from Cape Thomas Hubbard.  We had only reached the center of the great white spot on the map, where the National Geographic Society had placed land, but were thirty miles inland!  You can imagine how earnestly we scanned every foot of that horizon -- not a thing in sight, not even our almost constant travelling companion, the mirage.  We were now convinced that we were in pursuit of a will-of-the-wisp, ever receding, ever changing, ever beckoning.  <br> <br>  <em>Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.</em>
<p><b>Members of Crocker Land Expedition at holiday dinner</b> </p>  The days shortened rapidly and finally that day came when the sun dropped below the southern hills to be gone until the following spring.  The long Arctic night had begun.  We did not see the sun for 130 days!<br> <br>  … But we did not mind the night.  The boys had plenty to do and were very happy, especially on Christmas Day when we sat down to a wonderful dinner packed and donated by President Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History.  Here are (from right to left) Mr. Small, our mechanic and cook; Mene, an Eskimo; Jerome Lee Allen, our expert in wireless; Dr. Maurice Cole Tanquary, zoologist; W. Elmer Ekblaw, geologist and botanist; Ensign Fitzhugh Green, physicist; Dr. Harrison J. Hunt, surgeon.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Bob Bartlett</b> </p>  One day I met old Inahloo.  She asked me if I had seen the ship.  A bit surprised, I turned around and there she was between Etah and Cape Alexander.  Jumping into a boat, I immediately rowed out to meet her.  At first, due to a change in the 'rig' I did not recognize her.  Old, worn and battered, and painted a battleship gray.  On her bow was the name -- <em>Neptune</em>.  Although well-acquainted with this veteran of arctic work, I was deceived as to her identity by the change in her general appearance, brought about by the removal of her mainmast since our departure from home.  She was the same ship which was sent north by the American government in 1882 to the Greely expedition.  Upon meeting the drift ice in the Kane Basin she turned tail to and ran for home.  Now she had succeeded in reaching us under the command of Bob Bartlett, Peary’s former Captain.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Bob Bartlett in crow's nest</b> </p>  In answer to my question, 'Is that you, Bob?'<br>  He answered, 'Of course!  Who in Hell do you think it is?' was the characteristic reply.<br> 'How’s the war?' was my next question.  <br> 'The war is still on.  America has joined the Allies.'  <br> 'Who is the President of the United States?'<br> 'Wilson,' he replied. <br> <br>  Strange to say, although we are glad to get home it is very hard to remain.  The house is stuffy, the bed is too soft.  The trail gets a grip on a man and he wants to be at it and on it all through those long delightful days of May and June.  The sun is high in the heavens, there's no night, the snow is wet and slippery, the dogs are in perfect physical condition, and food everywhere.  <br> <br>  Donald B. MacMillan, Northwest Greenland, ca. 1913-17. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.