Campus News

Arctic Journal Donated to Bowdoin Museum

Story posted June 15, 1998

BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Family members have donated a detailed journal belonging to nature writer Rutherford Platt to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College. Platt's journal recounts his participation in the 1947 expedition to Labrador, Greenland and Baffin Island with explorer Donald MacMillan.

The handwritten journal was discovered among Platt's possessions. It was donated to Bowdoin by Platt's son, Alexander Platt, Bowdoin Class of 1966, and grandson, also named Rutherford Platt, Bowdoin Class of 1996, both of Acton, Mass.

The journal contains detailed accounts of day-to-day life during the 2 1/2 month expedition, descriptions of botanical specimens, drawings, poetry, and commentary. It complements thousands of black-and-white and color photographs of the expedition and donated to the museum shortly after Rutherford Platt's death in 1975.

"What is really important about this gift is it's a primary resource, a first-hand account of not only the experiences, but the difficulties and challenges, along with a very detailed botanical list of the flora in different, very specific locations in the Arctic," said Genevieve LeMoine, curator/registrar of the museum.

The transcribed journal will be used to document further both the Platt photographs and the 1947 expedition. Scholars will also be allowed to use the journal for scientific research, particularly in Arctic history and botany.

Platt was a writer, photographer and botanist whose articles on the 1947 expedition were published in National Geographic, Scientific American and scholarly publications. Samples of his photographs are on display in an interactive exhibit at the museum. He also accompanied MacMillan on a 1954 Arctic expedition.

MacMillan, of the Bowdoin Class of 1898, made numerous Arctic explorations between 1908 and 1954. Most of his expeditions were made on board the Bowdoin, a schooner he designed for work in ice-laden northern waters.

An excerpt from the journal follows:

RUTHERFORD PLATT 1947 JOURNAL EXCERPT The Den of the Marble Monsters

Early morning, July 26

Leaving Nugatsiak for Rink Glacier Yesterday brought big events - or rather we went after them ten miles farther up the fjord into one of its tributary arms to the Umianok Glacier. Here was the den of the monsters. From such remote recesses of Greenland's ice mountains came those fantastic marble sculptures that parade across the waters hundreds of miles. We have followed up their paths from the first tiny iceberg we sighted in the Straits of Belle Isle - to the incredible throng between 2 thousand foot cliffs that form the bases of mountains over a mile high sheer out of sea level. Some of these bergs raised their thousands of tons of ice three and four hundred feet - but the scale of such a place is so incredibly vast that those monstrous bergs were clustered like white ants in a crevice. At the head of the fjord the vertical face of the glacier must have been about a mile across and 150 feet high - it was double the height of the Bowdoin's masts. Back the ice river wound gradually upward seemingly at a constant gradient slope. Its curves were graceful, as artistically perfect as the tendril of smilax - in form from afar, a flexible pliant material. This was one of the fingers of the Ice Cap, the last stronghold of the Big Ice that quit New York 25,000 years ago. To that seemingly slender finger, obedient to the laws of gravity and inertia, we were microscopic creatures. We crept up to it in our speck of matter, the Bowdoin, and then so minute were we that the smooth white silk ribbon (or the super highway winding through the mountains) was now found to be tortuous, weathered, perilously rough and forbidding. The face is sheer ice, 150 feet high, through whose ravines play spectral colors - brightest turquoise and emerald.

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