(Painting of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)
In the middle 1930s, my mother was a small child spending summers in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Donald MacMillan, the arctic explorer, was in town. His ship, the Bowdoin, had been launched in the Boothbay area. My grandmother sent my mother to the front of the crowd to get his autograph, which she did. It's been lost since then.
My mother's strongest memory of the event was that Captain MacMillan *took her pencil* and didn't give it back! My grandmother consoled her by saying that her pencil had gone to the North Pole with him. It's probably not true, but it's a great story.
Recently my brother-in-law (a Bowdoin University alumnus) and my sister took my mom to spend a week in Maine with them. They visited the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin. Among other things, MacMillan was the first person to photograph musk oxen! She told the staff about the pencil thievery and they said they loved hearing memories anyone had of him. I told her she should have demanded a replacement pencil.
(Photo of Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)
BIOGRAPHIES FROM THE PEARY-MACMILLAN ARTIC MUSEUM WEBSITE:
Donald Baxter MacMillan, explorer, sailor, teacher, philanthropist, researcher, and lecturer, made over 30 expeditions to the Arctic in his 46-year career. He traveled over 300,000 miles charting new territory, training students, performing scientific research and studying and aiding the native people of Labrador and Greenland. He pioneered the use of radios, airplanes, and electricity in the Arctic, brought back films and thousands of photographs of Arctic scenes, and put together a dictionary of the Inuktikut language. He was considered by young and old "the most interesting of all speakers on Arctic or Antarctic subjects." Through it all, the crushing ice, fierce storms, endless traveling, and novice sailors, Donald MacMillan remained calm, patient, and disciplined, steadied by a life-long love of the sea and the knowledge that he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Donald MacMillan was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 10, 1874. His father, lost at sea when MacMillan was nine, instilled in the future explorer a lasting affinity for sailing. When his mother died three years later, MacMillan lived with the family of Captain Murdick McDonald in Provincetown for two years before going to live with his sister Letitia and her husband Winthrop C. Fogg in Freeport, Maine. He was a serious student at the high school there, and worked hard to earn the money to attend nearby Bowdoin College. In 1898 he graduated from Bowdoin with a degree in geology, and spent the next ten years teaching Latin, Physical Education, and Mathematics at schools in Maine and Massachusetts.
MacMillan established a summer camp for boys to teach seamanship and navigation. One summer, he saved the lives of nine people from wrecked boats in the course of two nights. This feat caught the attention of explorer Robert E. Peary and later prompted him to ask MacMillan to join his 1905 attempt to reach the North Pole. That year, MacMillan was unwilling to break his teaching commitment, but he was able to accompany Peary on his successful journey to the Pole in 1908. Unfortunately, MacMillan himself had to turn back at 84°29' on March 14 because of frozen heels. Peary reached the Pole 26 days later on April 6, 1909 with Matthew Henson, America's foremost black explorer.
The next few years MacMillan spent traveling in Labrador, carrying out ethnological studies among the Innu and Inuit. He organized and commanded his own expedition to northern Greenland, the Crocker Land Expedition, in 1913, but was stranded until 1917, when Robert A. Bartlett in command of the Neptune finally made it through the dangerous, icy waters. While he was waiting for rescue, MacMillan formulated the idea of a strong, easily maneuverable, ship specifically designed for Arctic travel to handle the dangers of the northern waters. When he returned to the United States, however, the country had entered World War I, and MacMillan joined the Navy. When the war ended, MacMillan thought again of the north, and began raising money to build a ship for further Arctic exploration and research. In 1921 the schooner Bowdoin was launched from the Hodgdon Brother's Shipyard in East Boothbay, Maine. That summer MacMillan sailed her to Baffin Island, where he and his crew over-wintered, the first of many expeditions that would make Bowdoin a familiar name in Arctic communities.
On March 18, 1935, MacMillan married Miriam Norton Look, the daughter of his long-time friends Jerome and Amy Look. Though MacMillan at first refused to let her accompany him north, Miriam soon convinced him of her willingness and ability to parcticipate in his Arctic travels. World War II saw MacMillan again in the Navy, serving in the Hydrographic Office in Washington, D.C. He transferred the Bowdoin to the Navy for the duration of the war, where she continued to work in Greenland waters.
(Photo of Miriam Norton Look, copyright by Bowdoin University)
Miriam Norton Look was born on June 13, 1905 to an engineer father, who came from a long line of sea captains, and a mother who was a classical musician. Miriam had a sister and brother, but she was the only one of the three who was fiercely passionate about the sea. She also had a great fascination with the Arctic, which undoubtedly came from the fact that it was the special interest of her childhood hero, explorer Donald MacMillan. Captain Dan, as he was called, was an old friend of her parents and would always visit when he returned from his voyages. Miriam loved to hear him recount his adventures and would later act them out with her friends--but only if she could play the hero Donald MacMillan.
As a teenager, Miriam had a 25-foot motor boat named the Sea Pup that was her pride and joy. Starting the engine caused her quite a bit of trouble, though, and in her book, Green Seas and White Ice, she fondly recalls the outbursts of "unladylike language" she directed at that engine. After she graduated from school, Miriam worked as a fundraiser for the public relations firm Tamblyn and Brown until she married Donald MacMillan on March 18, 1935.
From 1938 on, Miriam was an important member of the crew of the Bowdoin. She proved her ability to withstand the hardships of the Arctic and demonstrated her competence in organizing all the supplies needed for the expeditions and the MacMillan-Moravian School, founded by MacMillan in 1929. MacMillan had at first refused to let her go along, since no woman had ever done so. But with the support of the crew, she finally convinced him. Miriam was the first woman to steer a ship through heavy ice to within 660 miles of the North Pole. As a parcticipant in nine voyages on the Bowdoin, Miriam recorded traditional Inuit songs and took motion pictures of Inuit and ship life. These records, along with her books, preserve valuable observations about the Arctic. She also helped chart the northern waters and was an "amazing speaker" on MacMillan's lecture tours.
After MacMillan's death in 1970, Miriam devoted herself to arranging and cataloguing the thousands of photographs, slides, and artifacts that she and MacMillan brought back from the Arctic. She served as honorary curator of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, and worked to promote and raise money for the restoration of the schooner Bowdoin in the early 1980s. In 1980, in recognition of her contributions, Miriam MacMillan received the honorary degree of Sc.D. from Bowdoin College. In 1981, she was accepted into the Explorer's Club, one of only a few women accepted at that time.
(Photo of Matthew Henson after his return from the Pole, copyright by Bradley Robinson)
On April 6, 1909, Matthew Henson stood atop the world with Robert Peary as co-discoverer of the North Pole. When Henson descended from the frigid north his reception was distinctly cool, even in contrast to Peary's less than wholesale embrace by the American public. As public opinion eventually accumulated on Peary's behalf, acknowledgement of Henson was still not forthcoming. It took decades for Henson to achieve fame comparable to Peary's. While this popular recognition is largely posthumous, those who labored alongside Henson during his eighteen year Arctic career have never been short of praise for America's foremost black explorer.
As Donald MacMillan remembers in his foreword to Dark Companion, Bradley Robinson's biography of Henson, "Peary knew Matt Henson's real worth [he] was of more real value to our Commander than Bartlett, Marvin, Borup, Goodsell and myself all put together. Matthew Henson went to the Pole with Peary because he was a better man than any one of us." This was an opinion shared by the Inuit, who respected Henson for his immersion in their culture. Of Peary's crew, only Henson was fluent in Inuktitut, and could drive a sledge with native prowess. Matthew Henson was survived by an only son, Anauakaq, whose mother was an Inuit woman named Akatingwah.
Motto of the MOC: Sincere, yes. Serious? Never!
"I would also like to add that ‘Maoist Orange Cake’ is possibly the best name for a blog ever. Just my twopence." -- The Sixth Carnival of Radical Feminists, 1 October 2007
The Twelfth Carnival of Radical Feminists is up at The Burning Times blog and mentions one of our posts, Helen 'Wheels' Keller, for recommendation. Orangeists spreading our zest!
Friday, September 7, 2007
(Painting of Robert E. Peary and Donald B. MacMillan, copyright by Bowdoin University)