Friday, January 27, 2012

The Polar Prophet

I've been obsessing about this story. I have dreams about them. Some good, most pretty scary. I suppose it captures my imagination simply because I can't imagine doing what they did, when they did it and for how long they did it. It astounds me really. So I'll summarize, in case you don't know it....

Adolphus Greely watched his parents wither away from the unrelenting grime of an old Massachusetts mill town. He wanted to get as far away as he could as soon as he could. The country found itself in the midst of a bloody civil war and a 17 year old Greely after being rejected twice was finally awarded his opportunity. He had achieved the rank of brevet Major by the end of the Civil War then joined the regular Army in 1866 as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry; in 1873, Greely was promoted to First Lieutenant.

So many lost their lives in the blood soaked fields, yet soon after surviving, Greely found war was merely a warm up.
He was offered a job.

His purpose was to establish one of a chain of meteorological-observation stations as part of the First International Polar Year.. a scientific mission and a challenge to seek limits of the known world.

In 1881, First Lieutenant Greely was given command of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition on the ship Proteus.


After an unusually pleasant trip, the U.S. Army left Greely and his crew of 24 men to travel the miles along the coast of northwest Greenland. The expedition also crossed Ellesmere Island from east to west and crew members Lt. James B. Lockwood and David L. Brainard achieved a new "farthest north" record of 83°23'8". ( taking away the record from England).

Two relief parties failed to reach Greely's party encamped at Fort Conger on Ellesmere Island.

First one year...then another... and another

( Fort Conger where all the men had to live)

( Newspaper they made amongst themselves)

The army abandoned their men.

Yet Greely's wife, Henrietta, was persistent. After many cold and often nonexistent responses to her plea on behalf of her husband and crew , Capt. Winfield Scott Schley, the USRC Bear, a former whaler built in Greenock, Scotland, was sent to rescue the Greely party.-- an astounding THREE YEARS LATER in 1884.

Only six men survived, including Greenly at the desolate Cape Sabine. The others had died of starvation, drowning, and hypothermia, except for one member who was executed on Greely’s orders for insubordination ( i.e. stealing food) . Their suffering and friendships therein were monumental and incomprehensible.

( The scene at Cape Sabine at time of rescue. They were about 48 hours away from death in a flooded tent. Two members were straining water into a tin can. One man was living with no limbs... Greely was found on his hands and knees in a dressing gown... corpses were strewn around the tent's perimeter. The poor fellow with limbs lost to frostbite died en route home. )

Even though Greenly and crew were abandoned by the Army who'd sent them, had painstakingly recorded thousands of hours worth of priceless data ( on the hour) , achieved ''farthest north'' AND survived three years of 40 below- 6 months of no sun every year in brutal storms and starvation......Despite a moment of being hailed heroes by the masses, rumors of cannibalism were being perpetuated by the Army. The Army wanted to make sure that after the celebrations died down, the heat would remain off of their organization and onto the living rescued men.

They were successful as the rumor finally sullied the expedition's achievements soon after their return.

( Greely Expedition Survivors.... they'd ...seeeen things)

Strips of flesh were cut away from some of the corpses found at Cape Sabine, the harsh bit of land where they were found. Greely swore he didn't know who was responsible. The last days were a sickening and painful distortion of reality. There was no lucidly. No monitoring the lives surrounding them in thier advanced state of delirium and profound weakness from years of miniscule rations.

Upon returning home and years that followed, Greely dutifully tried his best to assist the descendants of the fallen crew members. He stayed close to the remaining men, finally moving away from the limelight with his dear wife and rescuer, Henrietta. He received the Medal of Honor in 1935.

Greely lived to age 91 and is buried next to Henrietta and fellow crew at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Polar Climate Data he dutifully collected is now being used by scientists as proof of climate changes- the effects of global warming.