Silenced in Arctic Eternity

Posted by on Oct 23, 2013 in Arctic Visions, Poetry | No Comments

Sonntag’s Grave, Donald B. MacMillan, 1913-1917. Courtesy of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College.

Scattered rocks amongst a weather-worn
Headstone marked August Sonntag’s humble
Gravesite. On a desolate moraine, Donald
MacMillan bore witness to the isolated tomb,
In stark solemnity, a single photograph taken
In broad Arctic sunlight.

Fifty years after Sonntag’s death, MacMillan
Recollected tragic events that demoralizing
Hayes to grieving silence. Icy water paralyzed
Sonntag’s gallant heart, extinguishing his
Celestial light, his love of stars and moon,
Practitioner of navigational science.

Dr. Hayes needed heartfelt days to speak
Openly of his friend’s untimely death.
Recorded in his diary, Hayes recounted his
Strange dream: crash of ice in darkness, Sonntag
Sailing away upon dark waters, flash of eternal
Light, divine despair in meaning and in depth.

From this unsettling vision, Dr. Hayes was
Fraught with anguish, continuous concern. As
Below-zero nights trudged past, forsaken hopes
Eclipsed to quiet lament. Beneath luminous robes
Of auroral fire, the crew, in silent watch, prayed
For a miracle, their astronomer’s safe return.

In early morn, two Inuit hunters at the ice-
Locked schooner appeared. Peter Jensen, the
Ship’s interpreter, was the first to learn Sonntag’s
Mortal fate. When his face lost expression, it
Confirmed what all inwardly had feared. Jensen
Uttered but three words, “Sonntag was dead!”

Hayes and his men made procession by torch-
Light across the rocky desert that sufficed for
Sonntag’s resting-place. Under a cathedral of
Gathered constellations, they relinquished their
Comrade’s body to Greenland’s frozen wilds,
His immortal soul to God’s enduring grace.

To this day, no flowers adorn the lonesome
Gravesite of August Sonntag penned in Hayes’
The Open Polar Sea. Sonntag’s memories are
Possessively held in fragile pages of this narrative
Of discovery. In warmer climes, readers still ponder
Sonntag’s death, a friend silenced in Arctic eternity.

Written on the occasion of Douglas Wamlsey speaking at the Old Dartmouth Lyceum Lecture
Series on October 24th, 2013.

Inspired by a photograph taken by Donald MacMillian, an early 20th century Arctic explorer,
this poem describes the death and gravesite of August Sonntag. The black-and-white photograph
was an illustration in Douglas Wamsley’s “Polar Hayes,” a biography of Isaac Israel Hayes, MD.
Sonntag was Hayes’ second-in-command and astronomer during his 1860-1861 Arctic expedition,
searching for the Open Polar Sea.

Frances Hennessey

Old Dartmouth Lyceum Lecture Series at the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Posted by on Sep 10, 2013 in Arctic Visions, Old Dartmouth Lyceum | No Comments

Thursdays, September 19th, October 3rd & 24th, November 14th
This year the Old Dartmouth Lyceum lecture series will focus around the exhibit Arctic Visions: “Away then Floats the Ice-Island”.

Tickets are now on sale. See below for more information about the lectures and registration information.


A detail from “View of the Sermitsialik Glacier” by William Bradford

September 19th
Russell Potter
Frozen Zones: Bradford, Arctic Photography and nineteenth-century Visual Culture
Mr. Potter teaches English and Media Studies at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island. His work encompasses hip hop culture, popular music, and the history of exploration of the Arctic in the nineteenth century. When the artist William Bradford chartered a voyage to the Arctic purely for the purposes of art – including photographers – he was revolutionizing both the scope and the immediacy of photography, bringing back a rich array of images, the first ever taken of Arctic by professional photographers. These photos he put to many uses –projected as lantern slide lectures, printed and used as view-books for painting commissions, and – most magnificently – as illustrations for the groundbreaking book The Arctic Regions.

October 3rd
Kevin Avery
Sea of Ice:  The Art of Arctic Exploration
Mr. Avery is a senior research scholar and a former associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an adjunct professor in the art department of Hunter College, City University of New York. He will review the history of Arctic exploration in painting and illustration, with special reference to nineteenth-century artists and illustrators leading up to Frederic Church and New Bedford’s William Bradford.  Dr. Avery will reveal known or probable sources in the history of western imagery applied to the visualization of the alien landscape that was and, to most, still is the Arctic regions.

October 24th
Douglas Wamsley​
William Bradford’s 1869 Expedition, in Context with Arctic Travels of the 19th Century
Mr. Wamsley,  an independent scholar and attorney who has written extensively on the history of 19th century Arctic exploration. His most recent work is a biography, Polar Hayes, on the life and accomplishments of Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes, a participant in Bradford’s 1869 Greenland voyage. In 1869, a sailing excursion along the northwest coast of Greenland was not a venture to be taken lightly.  However, William Bradford’s voyage ably succeeded in navigating those ice-laden waters that year, while at the same time capturing vivid images of the “Frozen Zone”. This lecture recounts the history of that memorable expedition and its proper place in the broader context of 19th century arctic travels.

November 14th
Kenn Harper
Inuit and Whaling in the Bradford Era
Mr. Harper is a historian, linguist and writer, who has lived in the Arctic (both Greenland and Canada) for the past 47 years. He writes a weekly history column under the name Taissumani for Nunatsiaq News, the newspaper of record for Nunavut, Canada, and is the author of Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo. He will speak on the whaling industry and the profound effect on the culture of Inuit in both Canada and Greenland. He will examine this impact, its effect on Inuit life, and Inuit adaptation to the stresses and demands of change and recount episodes from the lives of particular Inuit who used the whaling industry to their own advantage.

Buy Tickets Here or register by phone at  508-997-0046 ext. 100

$15.00 per lecture (non-members, $20)
$50.00 for series (non-members, $75)

Receptions in the Jacobs Family Gallery at 6:00 pm.
Lectures in the Cook Memorial Theater at 7:00 pm.

Old Dartmouth Lyceum is sponsored by Nye Lubricants and Bruce and Karen Wilburn.

Tweet hashtag: #ODLyceum2013

Dr. Hayes as Logistical Planner and Fund Raiser

Posted by on Sep 3, 2013 in Arctic Visions | No Comments

ABJ-Hayes-SignatureDr. Hayes in his first book, An Arctic Boat Journey, demonstrated his abilities at gaining both scientific and financial support for his second Arctic expedition, search for the legendary Open Polar Sea.  Of note, Chapter 34 “Concluding Remarks” and the following “Appendix” illustrate Hayes’ ambitious plan to return to the shores of Arctic Greenland.

In Chapter 34, Hayes methodically sets forth his logistical issues and general vision for his second (1860) expedition well beyond “The North Water” to the time-shrouded Silurian cliffs of Ellesmere Island. Hayes, as well as the scientific community, believed that once so-called polar “barrier of ice” had been crossed, open water may exist.

Borne out of the First and Second Grinnell search and rescue expeditions with Elisha Kent Kane, MD, Hayes developed a unique vision if not a calling for the exploration of the eastern High Arctic, especially Smith Sound and Kennedy Channel, the isolated and oft times ice-cluttered passageway between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

Like many who ventured north in search of the lost Franklin Expedition, Hayes made advances and discoveries of the Arctic regions that may have been otherwise delayed for decades or at least until the advent of steam-powered, iron-clad wooden schooners. Franklin’s search for a navigable Northwest Passage may have influenced Hayes to conduct his own search for an open region of Arctic Ocean. Whether Hayes’ open ocean was a transient, summer polynya, his navigation vision nearly has been realized from present-day warming and subsequent opening of Arctic waters.

To rally scientific and financial support, Hayes relied on Kane’s observations made during the Second Grinnell Expedition as published in the “Proceedings” of the October 12, 1858 meeting of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of Boston:

The announcement of an open sea within the Arctic Ocean was made in those words by Dr. Kane after the return of his man [William] Morton from a sledge excursion in June, 1854. ‘It must have been an imposing sight, as he stood at this termination of his journey, looking out upon the great waste of waters before him. ‘Not a speck of ice,’ to use his own words, ‘could be seen.’ There, from a height of four hundred and eighty feet, which commanded a horizon of almost forty miles, his ears were gladdened by the novel music of dashing waters, and a surf, breaking in among the rocks at his feet, stayed his further progress.

In addition to numerous American benefactors, Hayes receives international support from M. De La Roquette, Vice-President of the Geographical Society of Paris. His letter, dated January 21, 1859, provides both support and a tentative date for Hayes’ Arctic expedition:

For the resolution adopted by the American Geographical and Statistical Society, I perceive that the expedition will probably leave in the spring of 1860, under the command of Dr. Hayes, its promoter, and that its expenses will be covered by means of a subscription. The attachment which I have always felt for Dr. Kane, and which he kindly shared, and the honor which your learned Society had done me by electing me an as their Honorary Member, leaves me ground to hope that they will allow me to place my name among the number of subscribers with a sum of five hundred francs, which I hold for their disposition.

Within the thirty pages of the “Appendix” of An Arctic Boat Journey, Hayes documented the scientific support for his next expedition. By design, his book was published during the early winter months of 1860. This tactical timing can be verified by Hayes’ marbled-covered presentation copy to his friend H. O. Houghton, dated, “Boston, Feb 27th, 1860.” Within five months, Hayes, the published Arctic book author, tripped anchor in Boston Harbor and lead his own expedition along the Greenland Coast.

Frances Hennessey writes informally on 19th century Arctic exploration, concentrating on Hayes. Fran has a small collection of Hayes first editions, two of which are signed by the author. She tweets @openpolarsea and has a poetry blog:

“The Motliest-Looking Crowd That It Was Ever My Fortune To Encounter”: Photographs of Native North Americans in The Arctic Regions

Posted by on Jul 11, 2013 in Arctic Visions, Photography | 3 Comments

Submitted by guest blogger, George Schwartz. He is a doctoral candidate in American & New England Studies at Boston University. For twelve years he was as an Assistant Curator in the Maritime Art and History and Exhibitions and Research departments at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, where he contributed to a pair of Polar art exhibitions. He is currently working on his dissertation entitled “Collecting and Arranging the Most Important Aids to a History of the Globe”: A Reconsideration of the Salem East India Marine Society in the Context of Antebellum American Museology.

An aspect of The Arctic Regions that has not received enough critical attention in the prior scholarly analyses of the volume is the twenty-five plates depicting native inhabitants from Greenland.1 Some photographs are quite shocking examples of an imperialist gaze common in the many travel volumes of the Orient during this time, such as the poor Inuit boy in Plate 120 who stares in fear at the camera (fig. 1).

Fig. 1. John. L. Dunmore (fl.1860-1875) and George Critcherson (1823-1892), Esquimaux Wide Awake. He Kept His Eye on the Camera While Being Photographed, Expecting It Would Go Off or Hurt Him in Some Way.
 Plate 120 from The Arctic Regions

Fig. 1. John. L. Dunmore (fl.1860-1875)  and George Critcherson (1823-1892) ‘Esquimaux Wide Awake.’


Fig. 2. John. L. Dunmore (fl.1860-1875) and George Critcherson (1823-1892), Head of an Esquimaux Man. Unnumbered plate from The Arctic Regions.
 Albumen print.

Fig. 2. John. L. Dunmore (fl.1860-1875)  and George Critcherson (1823-1892). ‘Head of an Esquimaux Man.’

Fig. 3. John. L. Dunmore (fl.1860-1875) and George Critcherson (1823-1892), Young Esquimaux Woman, One of the Fair Dancers. Plate 15 from The Arctic Regions.
Albumen print.

Fig. 3. John. L. Dunmore (fl.1860-1875 and George Critcherson (1823-1892),’ Young Esquimaux Woman, One of the Fair Dancer’s.’

Why has this aspect of Bradford’s book been overlooked? J.C.H. King and Henrietta Lidchi in the Department of Ethnography at The British Museum argue that while the list of atrocities committed by the United States government towards Native American tribes was mounting by 1869, this was not so much the case for native Greenlanders. “For Eskimoan peoples there were no equivalent cycles of violence and romanticism, no clash between the urban and frontier understanding of Arctic people. Instead, the Eskimo was usually a heroic figure, frequently a helper and provider of food, never a hostile [people]…In a very real sense native peoples in the Arctic remained noble savages in a way that American Indians did not. There was no comparable ‘fall from grace.’” 2 This view presents another dichotomy in a volume filled with dualities as many of Dunmore and Critcherson’s photographs and Bradford’s narrative text pertaining to native people in The Arctic Regions still treat them as a visual spectacle—and as a lower race—in concert with Victorian attitudes. (There is historical precedent for this depiction of Arctic natives, discussed in great detail by Russell A. Potter in his 2007 volume Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1885.)

Bradford’s interest in ethnography did not begin on the Panther expedition. On his earlier voyages to Labrador, he collected kayaks, canoes, fishing gear, and other Inuit artifacts at this time and on subsequent voyages, and created a studio display that one visitor noted as “one great cabinet of northern curiosities.”3 The following year, Bradford had William H. Pierce—another James Wallace Black studio photographer—take photographs of Inuit people. Potter notes that one photograph was not a fortunate snap shot but a carefully staged picture: “Bradford and Pierce had the Inuit erect a skin tupiq, heap up an array of sleds, kayaks, and other personal effects, then pose in front of it almost as though it were a theatrical backdrop.”4 This “truthful” image shows that Bradford worked with his photographers in constructing understanding of non-Western people.


Pressing On or Turning Back, Second Grinnell Expedition (Part 2 of 2)

Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Arctic Visions | No Comments

lesliesAs Dr. Elisha Kent Kane led the Second Grinnell Expedition in its search for the missing Franklin crew, he demonstrated a combination of pressing on and turning back — and equally important, the adoption of some Inuit methods to survive harsh northern Greenland winters.  His expedition became one of the most heroic and arduous efforts to escape the northern reaches of Greenland in Arctic exploration history.

During August, 1854 Kane and crew realized that the brig, Advance, would not become freed from Arctic ice. Initially they made an effort to reach Beechey Island by whaleboat, where they planned to meet Sir Edward Belcher and re-provision. However, Kane was forced back by ice and heavy weather to return to the Advance. This predicament caused Kane and his crew to use a dual approach for survival: 1) pressing on with an Inuit-type winterization of the ship using moss and animal skins, and 2) sending a team south (turning back) in an effort to reach Upernavik. This team, led by Isaac I. Hayes, MD, was unsuccessful, and with food and assistance of the Inuit, returned to the Advance. Much like the Franklin Expedition, this instance of turning back severely debilitated these explorers; however, they had a more attainable goal.

During May, 1855, Kane and the remainder of his crew prepared for a final push to escape Arctic Greenland. This massive effort at turning back included three whaleboats to carry the men, equipment, and food. On May 20th, they left the Advance on a four-month, 1,300-mile journey across the ice, man-hauling the whaleboats much like the Franklin crews. Kane’s efforts at moving supplies and invalid men by dogsled, and even baking bread on the abandoned Advance, were instrumental in ensuring his crew methodically moved from island-to-island an eventually to Upernavik.

Unlike the Franklin Expedition, Kane and his men came to depend upon the local Inuit to stay alive. They were generously assisted by them, and were able to hunt for food that helped to limit scurvy. Without these and favorable weather conditions, they would not have survived 84 difficult days of turning back to reach Upernavik on August 8th, 1855.

Frances Hennessey has been fascinated with Arctic exploration for some time, and has concentrated on the writings of Isaac I. Hayes, MD. Frances writes informally on Arctic-related topics, and writes poetry, some of which are vignettes of her reading and personal experiences. She also tweets @ArcticBoat1854 and has a poetry blog