Published January 03, 2018 by Bowdoin

Follow the Ill-Fated 1913 Crocker Land Expedition Online

A century after their return from four years in the Arctic, the journals and photographs from the 1913-1917 Crocker Land Expedition are now available through a new web portal as a result of a grant from The Gladys Kreible Delmas Foundation.

A century after members of the Crocker Land Expedition returned from four years in the Arctic, in 1917, their journals and photographs are now available through a new web portal. The project was supported by a grant from The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Bowdoin’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center collaborated with the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives to digitize the old material. The papers, photographs, and specimens from the expedition are housed in a number of different institutions, making research cumbersome. Now scholars, students, and the public can easily view photographs and read MacMillan’s first-hand accounts, as well as those of two expedition scientists, W. Elmer Ekblaw and Maurice C. Tanquary.

The 1913-1917 Crocker Land Expedition was a major scientific and exploration endeavor. It was co-sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History, the American Geographical Society, and the University of Illinois, with additional financial support from numerous backers, large and small.

The seven-man expedition, led by Donald B. MacMillan, travelled to northern Greenland in the summer of 1913 to establish a base and prepare for a major sledging expedition over ice covering the Polar Sea. They were in search of Crocker Land, a land that had been reported to be northwest of Ellesmere island. They also planned to conduct extensive scientific research in the following year, with a ship scheduled to pick them up in the summer of 1915.

As so often happens, many aspects of this plan did not play out as expected. Crocker Land proved to be a mirage, and the failure to find new land has come to overshadow the scientific work of the expedition. To make matters worse, relief ships sent in 1915 and 1916 did not reach the expedition, or themselves became trapped in the north and forced to overwinter. Some expedition members managed to travel by dog sledge to Danish colonies to the south, where they found passage to Denmark and thence to the United States. But others, including MacMillan, stayed in the north for four years, finally returning home in 1917.

The 70 journals and notebooks, 40 folders of correspondence, and 368 lantern slides have been scanned and are available in a new portal.

In addition to these resources, this portal includes links to the publications reporting on the expedition, and to other institutions that hold related collections. Visitors can also follow the main events of the expedition on a time line, and follow along on the many sledging journeys undertaken by expedition members via interactive storymaps developed by Bowdoin College student interns with Gibbons Summer Fellowships.