Peary and the Pole: Approaching Centennial, How College Celebrated Expedition's 50th

Story posted February 24, 2009

On April 6, 2009, Bowdoin and the world will celebrate the centennial of Robert E. Peary's historic attainment of the North Pole.

Back in 1959, the College commemorated the expedition's 50th anniversary by offering the Bowdoin Community a unique perspective — that of Peary's family.

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From the April 29, 1959, edition of the Bowdoin Orient

Editions of the Bowdoin Orient from April and May of 1959 chronicle a series of lectures that included Peary's daughter Marie Peary Stafford and his grandson Commander Edward Peary Stafford.

The George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives has a printed program of the lectures detailing each of the talks.

The program says Commander Stafford "has spent a good deal of time in the Northland made famous by his grandfather," and says that television viewers may remember his appearance on a quiz show in 1957, on which he won $64,000.

Peary the Gifted Student Rebel
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P. Holmes's The Story of Exploration and Adventure in the Frozen Seas, 1896.

"Reaching for the Pole: An Exhibition Celebrating the Centennial of Peary's North Pole Expedition," currently on view on the second floor of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, shares another side of the accomplished Arctic explorer.

Read about the exhibition.


Stafford's talk, "Aviation in the Arctic" was reviewed in the April 29, 1959, edition of the Orient, which notes "Commander Stafford was received with enthusiasm by the public, although the student body did not seem to show too great an interest."

Marie Peary Stafford, who was given an honorary degree in 1949, spoke of her father's trip to the North Pole.

According to the program she was born in Greenland at 77° 44' N. Latitude within the Arctic Circle and "holds the distinction of being the most northerly born white child in the world."

A third lecture was given by Commander William Robert Anderson.

"As commanding officer of the U.S.S. Nautilus," the program reads, "he made history's first undersea voyage across the top of the world, a distance of 1,830 miles under the polar icecap."

The U.S. Postal Service celebrated both Peary's and Anderson's achievements by literally piggybacking them on a postage stamp.

The top half of the stamp featured a man and his dog-drawn sled; the bottom showed a picture of the Nautilus.

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Photo of commemorative stamp appearing in a Pennsylvania newspaper. Peary was born in Cresson, Pa.

The April 1959 Bowdoin Alumnus states "the College has been making extensive use, in recent mailings, of the four-cent blue postage stamp, commemorating Arctic exploration, dated 1909 and 1959, and first issued from Peary's birthplace, Cresson, Pa., on April 6, 1959."

The lectures on campus in 1959 were accompanied by a small exhibition. The program notes that "a collection of valuable Arctic gifts" from the family of Admiral Peary, Admiral Donald MacMillan and other friends of the College was on display in the Searles Science Building.

Fifty years later, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is in centennial celebration mode, having staged the exhibition Northward Over the Great Ice: Robert E. Peary and the Quest for the North Pole, which brings together nearly 300 rare objects and photographs — many never before publicly shown.

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Another commemorative stamp, for which Special Collections has no information, was printed on an envelope addressed to President Coles.

An interdisciplinary series of lectures will be held on campus throughout the spring of 2009. Activities for children, families, and alumni on Bowdoin's campus — as well as a number of ancillary programs at Maine partner institutions such as the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England and the Osher Map Library on the University of Southern Maine campus — will be ongoing throughout the run of the exhibition.

Read more about the Northward Over the Great Ice exhibition here.

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