Story posted March 23, 2009
One hundred years ago, Robert E. Peary, Matthew A. Henson and four Inughuit men sped over the ice-covered Arctic Ocean, heading for the North Pole. On April 6, 1909, they reached that spot, nearly 450 miles from the nearest land.
Peary recorded his feelings about that day in his journal, writing "The Pole at last!!! The prize of 3 centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last."
Now, this rarely seen page from Peary's journal, on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration, will be on exhibit at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum for one month only, March 26 through April 24, 2009.
Along with this important slip of paper, visitors to the museum will also be able to examine writings of many other expedition members, who wrote about their experiences on the expedition. For the first time in 100 years, this short-term exhibit, "The Pole at Last," reunites these papers and journals with objects that were also part of the North Pole expedition and which are currently part of the Arctic Museum's ongoing exhibit "Northward Over the Great Ice."
The last time these objects were together, Peary and his team were returning home to a welcome that was less triumphant than they had hoped, marred by a controversy over whether it was Peary or his rival, Frederick Cook, who had reached the Pole first-or indeed if either had been there at all. Since that time, many people have disputed the claims of both men. There were no independent observers at the Pole to confirm the explorers' locations, and there was no way Cook or Peary could leave a permanent record that would endure on the shifting sea ice.
All that scholars have to work with to understand Peary's achievement are the 23 years' worth of his written records and photographs. He commented on his successes, evaluated his failures, and planned future approaches to his work. The men who worked with him wrote about the expedition as well. None of these materials provide absolute proof of Peary's presence at the North Pole, nor will they. They do, however, tell a compelling story about ingenuity, endurance, and leadership.
Visitors to the exhibits can judge for themselves whether Peary, with the help of the many people who supported him throughout his long career, could have achieved his goal.
"The Pole at Last" is part of a larger Peary Centennial program that includes a number of other exhibits, a showing of rare Arctic exploration films, and a symposium. For more information on these exhibits and other activities surrounding the North Pole centennial, visit the Arctic Museum Web site at http://www.bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum/ or call 207-725-3416.
The Arctic Museum is located on the first floor of Hubbard Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays and national Holidays.
All events are free and open to the public, though free tickets to the film program will be required and are available at the David Saul Smith Union information desk.