Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
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Donald B. MacMillan, Working the team over rough ice, Arctic Ocean, spring 1914. Gift of Margaret Tanquary Corwin.
Northwest of the Known Arctic Lands: MacMillan’s Search for Crocker Land, 1914
April 1, 2014 - July 30, 2014
Arctic Museum main galleries
Hubbard Hall foyer
In the summer of 1913 Donald MacMillan and five other men left New York on an expedition to conduct research in the high Arctic. One of their key goals, and the most important one to MacMillan, was to prove or disprove the existence of Crocker Land, a landmass that Robert E. Peary had sighted from Cape Thomas Hubbard in 1906. Tidal data also suggested that there was land in the vicinity. The team spent the fall and early winter of 1913-14 building and settling into their quarters at Etah, Northwest Greenland, and, along with Inughuit, preparing for a major sledge trip to the northwest, to fnd Crocker Land. In late February 1914, they were ready. 
<p><b>Departure</b> </p>    The team departed from Etah on February 12, but it was a false start as open water at the head of the fiord forced them to return to Borup Lodge. The got off again the next day, and made good time across Smith Sound. But soon illness among the men, and the poor condition of their dogs forced them to return to Etah once again, arriving on February 19. There they regrouped, and set off again with a smaller more streamlined team on March 11. <br> <br>    Unidentified photographer (Jot Small or Jerome Allen), <em>MacMillan about to start for Crocker Land</em>, Etah, February 12, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Up the Beistadt Glacier</b> </p>    Their route took them across Smith Sound to Ellesmere Island. They traveled as far as possible on sea ice up Beistadt Fjord, but ultimately had to cross the island, climbing the Beistadt Glacier. MacMillan wrote in his journal:<br>:<br> The ascent of the face of this glacier looked to me impossible. I wondered how it was to be accomplished.  Pee-ah-wah-to and Kio-tah began cutting ice steps at once. For each step it was necessary to cut a raised edge which was to be grasped with the hands to prevent one from falling backwards. Everything is ready for tomorrow.<br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Up thru the Gorge</em>, Beistadt Glacier, Ellesmere Island, March 17, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Down The Glacier</b> </p>    After five days of sledging they were across the glacier and ready to descend in fine weather on the first day of spring with the temperature at 47.5 below zero. MacMillan describes the effort:<br>:<br> Our descent this morning was necessarily slow... Careless work might have easily resulted in a serious accident. All sledges and men were lowered by ropes to the surface of the ice below.<br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Down Beistadt Glacier</em>, Beistadt Glacier, Ellesmere Island, March 20, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide.  Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>A Land of Plenty</b> </p>    The men’s work was rewarded by excellent hunting. On the west side of Ellesmere they frequently encountered herds of muskox and caribou, as well as arctic hare, and wolves. The fresh meat allowed them to conserve their tinned pemmican for the journey over the sea ice. <br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Herd of Musk-oxen</em>, Ellesmere Island, Spring, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Rough Ice</b> </p>    Once they reached the sea, after 37 days of travel, they were confronted with miles of jumbled ice. MacMillan was reminded of his experiences on the North Pole expedition in 1909: <br><br> The Polar Sea looks the same, and acts the same and offers just as many difficulties as it ever did. We are up against it hard; rough ice all around us and as far ahead as we can see. <br> We have 10 miles to our credit. The dogs are so weak and so tired that I will double feed tonight hoping to keep them going until we are through this rough ice. <br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Working the team over rough ice</em>, spring, Arctic Ocean, 1914. Inkjet print from silver gelatin print. Gift of Margaret Tanquary Corwin.
<p><b>Open Water</b> </p>    By the next day they had fought through the rough ice to find better sledging, only to be held up by a lead, a wide crack in the sea ice. MacMillan decided to take advantage of their forced wait to take a sounding to determine the depth of the sea, with unfortunate results: <br><br> Rigged up the reel on the back of one of our sledges and let down a pick-axe being very careful to keep a steady strain to prevent wire from fouling. As fathom after fathom rolled off we began to think we had found the deepest hole in the Arctic Regions. But by the time that 2000 fathoms had disappeared we know that there was a strong current in under the ice. We began to wind in. As it was blowing strong and 20 below zero we relayed each other every 15 minutes. We continued at this for 5 hours. When nearly all in Pee-ah-wah-to came in to tell us that the pick-axe was gone! <br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Green, Peahwahto, Etukasuk on Polar Sea</em> Arctic Ocean, April 17, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>First Sighting</b> </p>    The journey continued, with many delays due to leads. The men had to wait for the leads to close or freeze over to safely cross them. Then on April 21, they saw it: Crocker Land! <br><br> This morning Green yelled in through ig-loo door that Crocker Land was in sight. We all rushed out and up to the top of a berg. Sure enough! There it was as plain as day – hills, valleys, and ice cap – a tremendous land extending through 150 degrees of the horizon. We had even picked out the point to head for when Pee-ah-wah-to remarked that he thought it was mist in the sky resembling land. As we watched it more narrowly its appearance slowly changed from time to time so we were forced to the conclusion that it was a mirage of the sea ice. This phenomenon has fooled many and many a good man and Admiral Peary, I believe, in 1906 when he stood on the heights of Cape Thomas Hubbard. Two or three days more will tell. <br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Two teams at rest by pressure ridge. Two men atop peak of ridge</em>. Arctic Ocean, spring, 1914. Inkjet print from silver gelatin print. Gift of Elizabeth Badker Simpson.
<p><b>The End: 120 miles northwest of Cape Thomas Hubbard</b> </p>    Although it seemed that Crocker Land was a mirage, MacMillan felt it important to continue on a bit farther, just to be sure. On April 23rd, they reached their goal. <br><br> Green stopped at noon for sights and brought us the good news that “we were on the brown spot on the map” and had covered our distance. In other words, we have done what we came to do – prove or disprove the existence of Crocker Land. So my dream of 5 years is over. <br> He places us 120 miles true north west of Cape Thomas Hubbard.  <br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Fitzhugh Green taking an observation of the sun</em>, Arctic Ocean, April, 1914. Inkjet print from silver gelatin print. Gift of Elizabeth Badker Simpson.

<p><b>Farthest camp on the Polar Sea</b> </p>    In the tradition of all Arctic explorers, MacMillan documented their accomplishment by writing about it in his journal and taking photographs: <br><br> It is a perfect day. The sky is deep blue almost to the very horizon. Conditions are perfect for seeing. Can state positively that there is not land within 75 miles of any height….<br> Took pictures today of igloo with American and Bowdoin flags flying. The American flag is the one entrusted to us by Kane Lodge of New York. <br> <br> Donald B. MacMillan, <em>Green, MacMillan, Peahwato, Etukasuk at farthest north</em>, Arctic Ocean, April 24, 1914 Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.
<p><b>Peary’s Cairn</b> </p>    With an established trail to follow and igloos to sleep in, the men made good time returning to land with double and triple marches. They reached Cape Thomas Hubbard on April 28th and climbed up to Peary’s 1906 cairn. <br><br> Finally we reached the very top and there was the Peary cairn, very large and substantial looking, covered with a blanket of snow. Projecting from the top was a short stick. At the base of this I found a rusty cocoa can containing a small piece of the American flag and record – simply “Peary, June 28th 1906.”… From the summit of cape we could see what resembled land very strongly from south west true to NN East. This was at 6-15 and under most favorable conditions. This is undoubtedly the same kind of mirage which deceived Peary. With a strong glass it was even more deceiving. <br>I could swear it was land if I had not been out there for 120 miles and looked even 15 miles beyond this.  <br> <br> Fitzhugh Green, <em>MacMillan at Peary Cairn</em>, Cape Thomas Hubbard, April 28, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

<p><b>Home again</b> </p>    Crocker Land was a mirage, but there remained much work to be done. It would be over three years before MacMillan and most of his team returned to the United States. They did not find Crocker Land, as they had hoped, but they continued to work through those years, collecting scientific data and specimens for future study. <br> <br> Unidentified photographer, <em>MacMillan on his return from Crocker Land</em>, Etah, spring, 1914. Inkjet print from hand-tinted lantern slide. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.