Campus News

Arctic Museum Acquires Important World War II-era Collection

Story posted December 10, 2002

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum on the Bowdoin College campus recently acquired a significant World War II-era collection that focuses on Bluie West One, a military base at Narssarssuaq, in south Greenland.

Carl Rutledge of San Leandro, California, initially thought only his collection of Greenlandic Inuit fur and feather clothing was of historic significance. Rutledge, who collected the clothing while a member of the armed services stationed in Greenland during World War II, sold the collection to the Arctic Museum.

The museum's director, Susan A. Kaplan, asked whether he had related photographs that would help researchers better understand the clothing collection. Rutledge responded by donating to the museum a photograph album that thoroughly documents his years at the United States Army Air Force base, when he was a member of the Quartermaster Corps at Bluie West One, the most important military installation in Greenland at the time. In addition, Rutledge gave the museum a description of his wartime activities and the letters he had written home while stationed in the North.

The Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., located in New York City, has donated funds to the Arctic Museum for the preservation, cataloguing, and exhibition of the Rutledge photographs and artifacts.

Much information about the people who served in the North Atlantic theater during this perilous time exists in the memories of the people who lived through the experience, and sits in letters, journals, and photo albums, like the one compiled by Rutledge.

"We are fortunate that through the generosity of Mr. Rutledge and the Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., Bowdoin College will be able to preserve and exhibit this World War II time capsule, as it documents important elements of Arctic and United States' history," said Kaplan. "The technological and political developments that resulted as a consequence of decisions made during this dangerous time explain much about the tensions and opportunities that are a reality of today's Arctic."

Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc. is named for Elisha Kent Kane, one of the United States' first Arctic explorers. Its membership is the same as that of Kane Lodge, No. 454, F. & A.M., a Masonic Lodge that counted Arctic explorers such as Robert E. Peary, Donald B. MacMillan, and Robert E. Byrd as members. In the past, the foundation has helped the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum preserve and exhibit other historic northern collections.

Carl Rutledge, who is a Mason, was the manager of the world-famous Cliff House restaurant of San Francisco when he was drafted in 1940. He was the Post Quartermaster at Bluie West One between 1943 and 1945. He was responsible for supplying food and equipment to bases in Greenland, including seven remote Greenland weather stations. In addition, he ran the base's dry cleaning, laundry, and shoe repair facilities and served as the Port Quartermaster, overseeing the discharging and loading of ships.

The Danish colony of Greenland became a United States' protectorate in 1941, after Denmark had fallen to the Germans and the War Department determined that Greenland was essential to the defense of North America. Bluie West One was one of a number of bases built in Greenland at that time, and coordinated the movement of flights, troops, and supplies between North America and Europe, protected the cryolite mine at Ivigtut, supported isolated manned weather stations located throughout Greenland, and countered German attempts to establish their own weather stations.

Throughout the War Rutledge sent his family letters and photographs cleared by censors. His mother lovingly compiled the photographs into an album that he later annotated. The album, now in fragile condition, consists of over 600 black-and-white photographs and color prints, military insignia patches, and assorted postcards and invitations.

Rutledge began a photographic record even before shipping out when he took pictures of his new uniforms and equipment. He went on to photograph activities on the ship that took him to Greenland, dramatic scenery, Inuit involved in various pursuits, and daily life on the base. The photographs and narrative provide insights into the lives of people stationed in Greenland, the destruction of a German outpost, and the movement of troops and supplies across the Atlantic. Important morale-boosting recreational activities, such as Marlene Dietrich's visit to the base, are recorded as well.

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, located in Hubbard Hall, is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 2-5 p.m. It is closed Mondays and national holidays. For more information about programs and exhibits call 207-725-3416 or visit the Web site at http://academic.bowdoin.edu/arcticmuseum/.

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