In the late 19th century, people were obsessed with one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the arctic seas. Some scientists thought warm currents fed an open polar sea filled with marine life. The eccentric owner of the New York Herald decided to use his wealth to fund a U.S. naval expedition to reach the pole. In 1879, the USS Jeanette set out on an epic voyage into uncharted waters. In a new book, best-selling author Hampton Sides recounts the story of the 33 men who struggle through ferocious storms and labyrinths of ice in this arctic adventure.

Guests

  • Hampton Sides author of "Ghost Soldiers," "Blood and Thunder," and "Hellhound on His Trail." He is an editor-at-large at Outside magazine and a frequent contributor to National Geographic magazine.

Read A Featured Excerpt

Excerpted from IN THE KINGDOM OF ICE: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides. Copyright © 2014 by Hampton Sides. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

In the Kingdom of Ice

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Bestselling author Hampton Sides has a new book. It's all about an epic naval expedition in the late 19th century to reach the North Pole. Thirty-three men journey north of the Bering Strait in a wooden ship and become marooned on an ice cap almost a thousand miles north of Siberia.

  • 11:07:20

    MS. DIANE REHMThe title of the book is "The Kingdom of Ice." (sic) And author Hampton Sides joins me in the studio. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing from you. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Hampton Sides, it's good to see you.

  • 11:07:50

    MR. HAMPTON SIDESIt's great to be back with you, Diane.

  • 11:07:52

    REHMThank you. You know, so few people really know about this story. What prompted you to delve?

  • 11:08:03

    SIDESWell, yeah, I'd never heard of it before. And no one I knew had heard of it before. I went to Oslo, Norway to write a story for National Geographic about another explorer who had tried to sort of duplicate the voyage of the Jeannette in a different kind of vessel. This was Fridtjof Nansen. And at the museum there in Oslo, you see references to the Jeannette, the Jeannette and DeLong, this American voyage. And I'm an American, never heard of it before, filed that away, decided to dig a little deeper.

  • 11:08:36

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:08:36

    SIDESGreat characters, amazing primary documents, kind of now obscure but then very, very well-known bit of a sensation, kind of internationally known story, so I thought, you know, this is something. I'm going to follow this. And it's been about four years of travel and research and reading, and it's finally out. So...

  • 11:08:57

    REHMAnd it's quite a book, I must say, quite a story. You say the world at the time was kind of obsessed with Arctic fever.

  • 11:09:10

    SIDESYeah. Yeah. I talk about that in the early part of the book. Just how little was known about what was up there and what a kind of nagging, gnawing obsession that it bothered people that they...

  • 11:09:24

    REHMAnd the myths that were out there.

  • 11:09:25

    SIDESYeah. Right. I mean, there's a lot of crazy ideas or what we would now think are crazy, some of them going back to the Greeks and the Vikings and the early Mercator maps that showed things like an Open Polar Sea and sea serpents and tropical islands up there, Hyperborea -- the Greeks had this place -- ultima Thule, these -- all these concepts kind of swam in our imagination.

  • 11:09:52

    SIDESBut when we discovered how powerful the Gulf stream was and that it moved north from the tropics past Norway, that began to get some of the scientists thinking that what's really happening here is that these thermal currents are tunneling under the ice, creating kind of a gateway to this Open Polar Sea and that the planet has this sort of beautiful and symmetrical way of regulating its own heat.

  • 11:10:17

    SIDESSo this expedition, the Jeannette expedition, was really designed to test this idea of a gateway to the Pole that's made by a thermal current, in this case, a Pacific Ocean current called the Kuroshio (sp?) that was believed to tunnel through the Bering Strait and north into the ice pack.

  • 11:10:37

    REHMSo you had this fellow, James Gordon Bennett. Tell us about him.

  • 11:10:44

    SIDESWell, Gordon Bennett was one of the just outlandish Gilded Age characters. And I really wanted to write about the Gilded Age, a time of really great facial hair, a time of unbelievable sums of money now being made by certain individuals. And he was one of them. He was the third richest man in Manhattan. He was the publisher and owner of the New York Herald, which was the largest newspaper in the world at that time. And he was a lover of spectacle and sports and adventure. He believed that you shouldn't just cover the news.

  • 11:11:17

    SIDESYou should create spectacles that would generate more and more copy. He had sent Stanley to Africa to find Livingston or "find Livingston" -- in quotes -- because Livingston wasn't exactly lost. But he had enjoyed with his newspaper such enormous success with the Stanley Livingston dispatches that he decided it was time to do something even bigger. And so he wanted to bankroll an expedition to the North Pole, pay for it entirely himself in order, yes, to generate more copy for his paper, but in the name of science and...

  • 11:11:56

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:11:57

    SIDES...also, you know, just because he was a great lover of spectacle and adventure. And he was a believer in some of the ideas of a scientist who believed deeply in this Open Polar Sea theory.

  • 11:12:13

    REHMAnd tell us about the naval lieutenant, George Washington DeLong, who apparently planted the idea in Bennett's head.

  • 11:12:25

    SIDESRight. Well, DeLong is the hero of the story. He's the captain of the ship. He was a young ambitious naval officer, graduate of the naval academy. He had just missed the Civil War by a few months and was, I think, burning with a desire to kind of make up for lost time and do something especially big and ambitious. He had been to Greenland on an earlier expedition and had fallen in love with the Arctic, and something about the atmosphere and the just grandeur of this wilderness. And he became sort of addicted to this puzzle of what's up there, how does it work, what's at the attic of the planet?

  • 11:13:10

    SIDESSo he knew he was going to go back, and he really began carefully plotting an expedition and reading everything he could get his hands on, kind of imbibing, you know, all the theories of what's up there and made this decision that the way to go was by way of Bering Strait 'cause all the attempts thus far had been through or around Greenland. So now it's like, let's go west, and let's go through the Bering Strait. There was a lot of interest in that part of the world, partly because no one had really been there and also because we had recently purchased Alaska from the Russians.

  • 11:13:47

    REHMMm hmm.

  • 11:13:48

    SIDESAnd people want to know what's north of our new territory.

  • 11:13:51

    REHMI wanted to ask whether there was any estimate of exactly how much Gordon Bennett put into this in dollars.

  • 11:14:02

    SIDESYeah. Well, I should do that, is, you know, in terms of calculating what he spent then and what that would be in today's dollars...

  • 11:14:08

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:14:09

    SIDES...but tens of millions of dollars.

  • 11:14:11

    REHMTens of millions?

  • 11:14:12

    SIDESBecause what he did is he purchased a ship that had been a British ship called the Pandora, a fairly...

  • 11:14:17

    REHMA wooden ship.

  • 11:14:19

    SIDES...a wooden ship, a fairly heavy name for a boat going into the Arctic, and there's a lot of Gothic atmospherics in this story like that. But he wanted to change the name. He changed the name to -- his sister was named Jeannette, so he had DeLong sail it all the way around the Horn to San Francisco where it was massively reinforced for the ice, just practically rebuilt, because they knew that, even though the ice -- they believed ultimately they would reach this Open Polar Sea. They knew they would experience ice, and so the pressure of the ice pack can be enormous.

  • 11:14:58

    SIDESAnd so they reinforced the ship and sailed out of San Francisco in the summer of 1879. Ten, maybe 20,000 people gathered by the bay to see this thing off. But it was a U.S. naval expedition, and it's important to understand that kind of hybrid nature. It's kind of an unorthodox arrangement. We can't really imagine now, say, Ted Turner joining forces with NASA to send a probe to Mars or something.

  • 11:15:27

    REHMYou never know.

  • 11:15:28

    SIDESI guess it's possible.

  • 11:15:29

    REHMIt's possible.

  • 11:15:30

    SIDESIt's possible. But that's what this was because the Navy was pretty weak and anemic and cash-starved in this period. So it's a U.S. vessel. It's the USS Jeannette flying under naval rules with naval officers, organized that way, but paid for entirely by this eccentric newspaper publisher.

  • 11:15:52

    REHMSo all very disciplined well-trained officers?

  • 11:15:58

    SIDESRight. Right. And the problem that had happened with prior expeditions north, a lot of these expeditions had fallen into disarray, mutiny. There wasn't that discipline. And you get in the Arctic, things go wrong in a hurry. And without some sort of very clear line of authority, these expeditions tend to fall apart. And this one...

  • 11:16:21

    REHMYou...

  • 11:16:21

    SIDES...didn't because it was organized that way.

  • 11:16:24

    REHMYou had people like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell sort of somehow taking part.

  • 11:16:33

    SIDESWell, you know, DeLong wanted to have all the latest inventions on board the ship. And Edison had just been working on his lights, so -- and they wanted to light the North Pole. The idea was, you know, it's dark six months of the year. How great an idea to light up the Pole.

  • 11:16:51

    REHMBoy, they had dreams.

  • 11:16:53

    SIDESYeah. They had dreams.

  • 11:16:54

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:16:54

    SIDESAnd the great sort of -- the hopes and the expectancy that went into this voyage, it was a national undertaking. They had all the latest communications. Like, Graham Bell's phones were on board.

  • 11:17:04

    REHMHuh.

  • 11:17:04

    SIDESThe idea is that, you know, they'd be strung out over the ice and be communicating with each other. And they had all the latest entertainments, an amazing library on board, an organ so they could have musicals and entertainments. So, you know, they knew they were going to be in the ice for a long time. They knew the voyage would take at least three years. They had enough food for three years.

  • 11:17:29

    REHMEnough food for three years?

  • 11:17:30

    SIDESYeah. Yeah.

  • 11:17:32

    REHMHow did they plan that?

  • 11:17:34

    SIDESWell, a lot of planning, and this is something that DeLong was really good at. You know, a lot of canned goods, a lot of pemmican, a lot of Budweiser beer, and, you know, the...

  • 11:17:45

    REHMYou know it was Budweiser?

  • 11:17:47

    SIDESYes, it was Budweiser. And they really didn't want to suffer. You know, the idea was that they would get through this ice...

  • 11:17:55

    REHMHave a good time at it.

  • 11:17:57

    SIDES...have a good time at it, be out on the ice exercising, playing football, and, you know, it would be a jolly good time. And they would eventually find this Open Sea and sail to the North Pole.

  • 11:18:08

    REHMHampton Sides, his new book, really quite an adventure, is titled "In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette." And, after a short break, we'll tell you all about what happened as they travel through the Bering Strait.

  • 11:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, best-selling author Hampton Sides whose earlier book "Ghost Soldiers" we had on this program. He's now written all about the USS Jeannette. His new book is titled, "In the Kingdom of Ice." A wooden ship that set-off to explore the polar region and going through the Bering Strait. Hampton, Sides, just two months after setting sail, they get trapped in Arctic ice.

  • 11:20:45

    SIDESYes. And, you know, they stayed trapped for two years.

  • 11:20:51

    REHMThis is unbelievable a story.

  • 11:20:54

    SIDESYeah. And, you know, they knew that there was going to -- of course, they knew there's ice up there.

  • 11:20:58

    REHMSure.

  • 11:20:58

    SIDESBut the theory was that the warm water current would create the sort of slushy underbelly...

  • 11:21:05

    REHMThe warm water current they assumed was there.

  • 11:21:09

    SIDESAnd it wasn't. It didn't quite sweep that far north. It wasn't powerful enough to melt the ice. So they were stuck in the pack. They wanted to land on an island called Wrangel, which is off the northeast coast of Siberia. But they couldn't get there. But they did -- they were able to determine that it was an island and not a transpolar continent, which was one of the theories swirling around.

  • 11:21:35

    SIDESThey drifted towards the northwest, about a thousand miles, heading generally in the right direction of the North Pole. The ice, you know, I think a lot of us have this notion that is sort of this nice, slippery, monolithic thing that's at the top of the world. In fact, it's moving constantly. There's enormous pressure. There's pressure ridges. There's shrieking and shuttering and, you know, just...

  • 11:21:58

    REHMSo the boat is moving with the ice.

  • 11:22:01

    SIDESRight.

  • 11:22:01

    REHMBut it's trapped.

  • 11:22:02

    SIDESAnd it's experiencing enormous pressure. At times, the sap from the boards is oozing out of the seams of the vessel. It's like being throttled to death. And slowly but surely, it develops these leaks. And they have to constantly pump out the boat and people are devising -- there's an engineer on board named Melville who comes up with a system of windmills to get the water out. And, you know, rather ingenious things.

  • 11:22:29

    REHMHow do you know all this?

  • 11:22:31

    SIDESWell, Melville wrote a book about it and DeLong writes about it in his journals and it was the subject of a naval inquiry and a congressional inquiry. And, you know, there's enormous amount of testimony about how they got through this period. But, you know, despite the leaks and the other problems, they weren't exactly suffering during this period, this two years. They were sort of slowly going crazy from boredom and from too much togetherness.

  • 11:22:57

    SIDESAnd there was, unfortunately, a guy on board who had a propensity to deliver puns, lots and lots of puns. And it's fine for a week or two. But when you're locked in the ice for two years, this guy, Collins, was driving everyone crazy with his puns and his limericks. And there was another guy, Danenhower, who was the navigator who, unfortunately, had developed syphilis prior to the expedition, he thought he was cured of it, he wasn't.

  • 11:23:29

    SIDESAnd he developed a condition called syphilitic iritis, which required him to be operated upon, I think, maybe two dozen times without anesthesia. There was a surgeon on board. He tried to do this.

  • 11:23:43

    REHMDuring that two-year period.

  • 11:23:45

    SIDESYeah.

  • 11:23:45

    REHMWow.

  • 11:23:45

    SIDESAnd it was -- that was one of the only sort of, you might say casualties of the expedition during this time.

  • 11:23:52

    REHMSo he did not survive?

  • 11:23:54

    SIDESNo, no, casualty in the sense of he was disabled and couldn't navigate, couldn't do anything. In fact, he had to stay down in the bottom of the ship with his eyes covered, couldn't take any light.

  • 11:24:06

    REHMWhat kind of commander was DeLong?

  • 11:24:09

    SIDESWell, DeLong was old school for sure. He was a disciplinarian. He really was -- had read deeply in Arctic literature and did not want even the faintest suggestion of a mutiny. So, you know, anyone who questioned his command was in for it. But what's great about him is that he was also a great writer. And every single day, no matter what was happening, he sat down on his desk and wrote this beautiful stuff that really forms the spine of the book.

  • 11:24:39

    SIDESThis, you know, just like -- with a lot of this understatement that you get back in this period, like things are just really going to hell and a hand basket and he'll just say something very understated, like, you know, we had a bit of a time today, you know, it was a bit of a problem, you know, but the vessel was nearly sunk and, you know. So that understatement runs throughout all of his journals. It's kind of amazing.

  • 11:25:02

    REHMAnd what's so interesting to me is that you have some correspondence of Emma DeLong, his wife. Would you read for us from some of that?

  • 11:25:20

    SIDESOh, yeah, yeah. And it is one of the great things that happened during the research of this book was I tracked down some relatives of George DeLong in Connecticut. And there was a woman named Catherine DeLong who told me that she had a trunk full of letters in the attic that she didn't know what to do with, would I please come and take them off her hands.

  • 11:25:42

    REHMLook at them.

  • 11:25:43

    SIDESYou know, she would loan them to me. And I was like, would I ever? You know, I flew to Connecticut, met her, really nice lady. And they proved to be the personal papers of Emma DeLong. And Emma wrote beautifully and was very close to this expedition. She had sailed with her husband around the Horn to San Francisco, knew the ship well. And when the Jeannette was lost, you know, two years gone, she started writing these letters to her husband, which she called her letters to nowhere. And...

  • 11:26:14

    REHMBecause she couldn't send them.

  • 11:26:16

    SIDESWell, no, she did send them via arctic vessels. You know, like whaling -- whaling ships. Just maybe somehow, someway they'd reach him, she thought. So I'll read a little snippet of one of these letters. They're just -- they're so moving and they're so beautiful. People wrote so much better back then, you know. And...

  • 11:26:33

    REHMBecause they cared about language.

  • 11:26:35

    SIDESYeah. And they took their time. So this is a passage that she wrote in the summer of 1881. He'd been gone two years at this point. "My darling husband, I do not think I really knew before how dearly and deeply I love you, and I cannot understand how it is I'm willing to make such unladylike declarations now for you know my characteristic reserve. But I know you are longing for love and affection as much as I am.

  • 11:27:06

    SIDESIt is evening now. I am writing in the library. Little Silvie, who's their daughter, is in bed, fast asleep having said her prayers for her father's health and safety. There is a blazing fire in the grate. The two dogs are stretched out on the fur rug in front of it. How would you like to spend the evening with me? Or is pleasanter where you are? I suppose I mustn't tease you, not until we meet and I can judge how much teasing you can stand. Emma."

  • 11:27:39

    SIDESSo she has these letters that she sends out. And as the story progresses and...

  • 11:27:45

    REHMBut I want to know where that letter went and then how it came back to be in the possession of Catherine DeLong.

  • 11:27:57

    SIDESThat's an amazing story, too, because she wrote this letter in triplicate. And so, she kept one copy for herself, and then other copies went in these whaling vessels. And...

  • 11:28:07

    REHMBut they didn't have carbon paper.

  • 11:28:09

    SIDESYeah, they did. They did. A kind of this onion skin, super thin stuff.

  • 11:28:13

    REHMOh, I see.

  • 11:28:14

    SIDESAnd so, this one letter was sent via Greenland and Perry, he -- one of his early expeditions to the North Pole. But about 25 years later was in Greenland and he ran across this hut in the middle of nowhere, way up the coast of Greenland. And in that hut, there was a letter that Emma DeLong had written to George DeLong, this letter. And it still had the red wax on it, showing that it had never been opened before.

  • 11:28:44

    SIDESHe took this letter. And when he got back to New York, he personally delivered it to Emma DeLong. And I have that letter, and it's going to end up in the Naval Academy Archives. But it's very moving and, you know, kind of the delayed effect of this. You write something and you don't know where it's heading. And 20 years later, it shows up on your doorstep.

  • 11:29:06

    REHMSo after being trapped in the ice for almost two years, the USS Jeannette sinks.

  • 11:29:19

    SIDESIt was sort of inevitable. I think DeLong was planning for this for weeks, if not months. The leaks had just gotten worse and worse. It finally was crushed, it sank to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and you're left with 33 men. There are 40 dogs and three rather rickety whale boats that are left out on the ice and organized in kind of a military fashion with some pemmican and a little bit of other food stuffs.

  • 11:29:48

    SIDESThey realized that they have a short period of time before winter is coming on to save themselves. And so they have to work their way south. The nearest land mass is about a thousand miles away, the central coast of Siberia. And so, they're heading south and this becomes, you know, the first half of the book is really a story of sort of expectancy and discovery and exploration and some science.

  • 11:30:15

    REHMExcitement.

  • 11:30:16

    SIDESAnd excitement with some bad puns in there, too. The second half of the book really becomes one of the determination and grit and survival and leadership, because DeLong had to hold these guys together over what was really one of the most harrowing retreats over ice in the annals of polar exploration. One of those great adventure stories and survival stories. And he did hold it together. For 91 days, they struggle over the ice until they finally reach open water and begin to set sail for Siberia.

  • 11:30:49

    REHMFor Siberia. And what were they eating during these 91 days?

  • 11:30:55

    SIDESWell, they ate a lot of pemmican, which is not particularly good but it's reasonably nutritious. But they hunted constantly and they were really good at it. And DeLong sent these teams out ahead to hunt for polar bear.

  • 11:31:09

    REHMEverybody is surviving at this point?

  • 11:31:13

    SIDESEveryone's alive.

  • 11:31:14

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:31:15

    SIDESAnd...

  • 11:31:15

    REHMAnd are they fairly healthy or otherwise?

  • 11:31:18

    SIDESReasonably healthy.

  • 11:31:20

    REHMOkay.

  • 11:31:20

    SIDESThey're in harness. Almost all of them are essentially like, you know, draft animals, hauling gear, hauling sledges, hauling these boats. And the dogs are working with them. And, you know, working their way south. The low point in the whole retreat over the ice is that after one week of really working super hard, they realized that they had been retrogressing. The ice over which they were progressing was actually drifting north faster than they were going south. So they were going backwards, a low point for DeLong, that's for sure.

  • 11:31:55

    REHMWhy don't you read for us from the first page of chapter 37, which starts on page 344?

  • 11:32:09

    SIDESYeah, this is a section where they finally do make landfall in Siberia. And they are in this amazing place called the Lena Delta. And they're hopelessly lost in this labyrinth of violence and back channels. And DeLong and his men are by this point beginning to starve and they're quite desperate. And DeLong decides to send the youngest -- the two youngest and strongest men ahead to find a settlement hopefully and to find some sort of village where they could get help.

  • 11:32:39

    REHMAnd before you begin, let me just remind, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:32:49

    SIDESSo the men are called Nindemann and Noros. "As Nindemann and Noros marched over the Lena wastelands, the Siberian winter fell upon them like an un-tethered weight. Each night grew colder than the last with temperatures reaching well below zero. It seemed at times that only their constant movement kept them from freezing to death. Sounds became brittle. The fluids in their faces hardened, the snow squeaked underfoot, the cold had become a physical presence silently snatching the life from the delta in the way that a fire consumes oxygen from a room.

  • 11:33:27

    SIDESIn the coldest hours of the night, their breaths froze in the air and drifted to the ground in glittery clouds, which according to local tribesmen made a faint tinkling melody called the whisper of the stars. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere, 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit would later be captured at a Soviet weather station to the east of here.

  • 11:33:55

    SIDESNindemann and Noros move steadily and determinedly, but they were too weak to move swiftly. They averaged about 13 miles a day. Noros spat up blood and began to entertain ideas of shooting himself. In his lowest moments, only thoughts of his family back in Fall River, MA kept him from taking his life. Much of their journey seem like a dream, a long whiteout of undifferentiated days, punctuated by a few moments of hunting and clarity.

  • 11:34:25

    SIDESA snow owl -- a snowy owl staring at them. A pile of decrepit sleds, which they smashed up for firewood, the corpse of a native buried in a box on a hill, a crow circling and circling and circling."

  • 11:34:42

    REHMWow.

  • 11:34:45

    SIDESAnd then what happens after that is something that I don't even really talk about much. I think that the last hundred pages of the book are so much more powerful and moving and hunting if I don't talk about it because it's really the story of the fates of these three boats and the men in these three boats, very different fates and how they find each other in the delta and what becomes of them there. So, you know, obviously you can Google it if you really want to, but please don't. I think it's a more powerful reading experience if you just let it unfold.

  • 11:35:22

    REHMHampton Sides. And we are talking about his new book, it's titled, "In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette." I was wondering about scurvy.

  • 11:35:44

    SIDESYes. You know, it seems like with these Arctic expeditions, there's three classics. You know, there's scurvy, there's mutiny and there is, unfortunately sometimes, cannibalism. This one has none of those. And that is something of a testament to the leadership of DeLong and how he held this thing together and the discipline with which he prosecuted this retreat over the ice. They drank a lot of lime juice, concentrated lime juice.

  • 11:36:15

    SIDESAnd they didn't know exactly why that worked. The Brits had started doing this. He experimented with a slightly different formula that concentrated it even more. But he made sure the men drank it every single day. And that seem to do the trick because no one developed scurvy on this expedition.

  • 11:36:34

    REHMWhat about preparation of what little food they had?

  • 11:36:41

    SIDESWell, they -- they had during the first two years had eaten a lot of canned goods. And...

  • 11:36:51

    REHMAnd canned goods are heavy.

  • 11:36:53

    SIDESThey're heavy and they also are, unfortunately, soldered together with lead in some cases. And there is, in the middle of all this, a lead poisoning outbreak that takes the surgeon a long time to figure out what's going on. Weird symptoms. Finally they figured it out. They figured out the source of it and they stopped eating a lot of this canned stuff they have to just throw out.

  • 11:37:19

    REHMAll right. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones for your questions, comments for Hampton Sides, his new book, "In the Kingdom of Ice."

  • REHMIf you've just joined us, Hampton Sides is my guest. His new book about the fascinating and fateful journey of the USS Jeannette is titled, "In the Kingdom of Ice." Let's go first to Brighton, Mich. Hi there, Mark. You're on the air.

  • 11:40:26

    MARKHi, Diane. Excellent as always.

  • 11:40:29

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:40:29

    MARKBesides, you sound wonderful.

  • 11:40:31

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:40:32

    MARKMy father had told me that my great-grandfather had been on this expedition, and I assume the last name was Haas H-A-A-S. I'm wondering if you could tell me if Capt. DeLong was able to select his crew or if they were assigned to him. Were they the best of the best of the day? Or was it who wants to go on an expedition here? And I look forward to hearing your comment and reading your book. I'll take the answer off the line.

  • 11:41:00

    REHMAll right, sir.

  • 11:41:00

    SIDESYeah. Well, it's amazing how many applications he got. People from all over the country, all over the world, wanted to be a part of this. And I think that speaks to the times. I think now, if you were to say, hey, you know, here's a voyage. We're going to go on it with -- that's virtually guaranteed to produce hardship and probable death, come on. Yeah, I don't think very many people would sign up for it. But there was a kind of a stoicism to that generation and also a yearning to do something big that was typical of that generation that had just missed the Civil War.

  • 11:41:35

    SIDESYou know, their brothers and uncles and cousins had fought in this great conflict, and they had missed it. So they wanted to do something extraordinary. He did handpick the officers, the naval officers. There's a surgeon. There's an engineer. There's a navigator. And those were carefully selected people that he had either worked with before or who came highly recommended from the Navy.

  • 11:42:00

    SIDESThe rest were mostly Arctic whalers and people who are sort of ordinary seamen who had worked on, you know, worked on boats in the Arctic before and knew how to get around up there and survive. And they were tough, tough, tough. I mean, these guys are so tough. And when you read the story, you'll constantly be asking yourself, you know, how would I have gotten through this?

  • 11:42:20

    REHMHow in the world...

  • 11:42:22

    SIDESI certainly do that.

  • 11:42:23

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:42:23

    SIDESAnd, you know, it's like, we're such a, you know, what would you say, a soft generation compared to these guys -- just leather tough and so little complaining as they move over the ice and go through this ordeal.

  • 11:42:36

    REHMHere's an email from Michael who says, "My mother, who supports right-wing causes, received a fundraising letter that made reference to an island claimed by the crew of the Jeannette. The pitch was that President Obama was giving islands to Russia by not asserting our claim without mentioning its location in the middle of Siberia."

  • 11:43:11

    SIDESOkay. Well, there's some truth to that and also some falsehood. During this expedition, a number of islands were discovered. There were three that were now -- that are now known as the DeLong Islands in the middle of the high Arctic, way above Siberia. They landed on two of these islands and claimed them for the United States, raised a flag over them. And nothing after that was ever done to press those claims. It's very hard to get to. There's, as far as we know, very little in the way of resources there.

  • 11:43:44

    REHMBut in the middle of Siberia?

  • 11:43:47

    SIDESWell, not in the middle of Siberia.

  • 11:43:47

    REHMNot in the middle?

  • 11:43:48

    SIDESIn the middle of the Arctic Ocean above Siberia.

  • 11:43:50

    REHMOkay. All right.

  • 11:43:53

    SIDESThere's also another island called Wrangel that I mentioned earlier that, although the Jeannette didn't land on it, one of the search and rescue vessels that was sent to look for the Jeannette landed on it. In fact, among that party was the amazing conservationist John Muir. And they landed there first -- as far as we know, the first people to land on Wrangel Island, and they claimed it for the United States. Now, Wrangel's a little different. It's a substantial island.

  • 11:44:19

    SIDESThere is a lot going on there in terms of wildlife and possibly resources. And if we had pressed our claim at any point early on, I think there'd be no question it would be part of Alaska and part of the United States. The idea that Obama was giving it away is ridiculous. I mean, this was a negotiated thing that goes back to the Nixon Administration, and it's a kind of a quick claim process that we went through with the Russians -- had nothing to do with Obama.

  • 11:44:47

    REHMAnd this to follow up, from Zachary who says, "A big rivalry is coming for polar resources between the U.S., Norway, Denmark, Canada, and Russia. Putin is pushing hard with jets, submarines, and other naval vessels to give the Russians the lead."

  • 11:45:13

    SIDESYeah. There's some truth to that. There's less ice up there. And big ships, freighter ships, are using the Northeast Passage. You know, you're able to circumnavigate the Eurasian Continent now with ease and reliability. And there is oil up there and natural gas and a lot of resources. So, yes, you know, it's an interesting environment. There's a lot of competition that's starting to happen up there for all this stuff.

  • 11:45:39

    REHMLet's go to Shortsville, N.Y. Hi there, Susan. You're on the air.

  • 11:45:44

    SUSANHi. I'm so excited. I've tried so many times to get through.

  • 11:45:47

    REHMWell, I'm glad to have you.

  • 11:45:49

    SUSANI am very familiar with the Shackleton expedition, where they were trapped in the ice. And I was wondering about a comparison. It sounds like these men at least had the polar bears to catch where Shackleton didn't have so much. I mean, they had penguins for a while.

  • 11:46:06

    SIDESYeah.

  • 11:46:07

    SUSANSo how would you -- I mean, this was longer though, I think, that they were gone.

  • 11:46:12

    SIDESYeah. They're very similar stories. Certainly, they're in the same genre of literature. And, you know, this was 35 years before Shackleton. It's American, not British. It's the North, not the South, Pole, but in other respects, very similar, the, you know, just this incredible hardship and a struggle across the ice. The open boat, part of the story which, of course, Shackleton's famous for his great journey in his open boat. And these men put in to the water with three open boats. So there's a lot of, you know, similarities in the two stories. I think of it kind of as an American Shackleton story 35 years before the endurance.

  • 11:46:59

    REHMBen sends an email and says, "I simply want to know how in the world did they stay warm when trapped in the ice for two years."

  • 11:47:11

    SIDESYeah. Well, they didn't stay that warm. They were pretty cold the whole winter period. But they had coal, a lot of coal on board. And they burned a lot of it up. This was a ship that was a sailing vessel, but it also had a steam engine. And they brought on board tons of coal, and that's basically how they kept warm. That, and they just wore furs the whole time, the furs that they had gotten outfitted with in Alaska. So -- and they were cold. It's as simple as that. They stayed cold. But during the summertime when it's sunny, you know, 24/7, it could be surprisingly warm sometimes.

  • 11:47:53

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:47:53

    SIDESAnd they would take their furs off and get a lot of sun and get out on the ice and exercise and so forth.

  • 11:47:59

    REHMAnd get Vitamin D.

  • 11:48:01

    SIDESYeah. Yeah. Yeah.

  • 11:48:01

    REHMHoward in Halethorpe, Md. wants to know whether you are aware there's a memorial to the crew of the Jeannette in the cemetery at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

  • 11:48:14

    SIDESOh, yeah.

  • 11:48:16

    REHMYou actually have a photograph.

  • 11:48:18

    SIDESYeah. The book has a photograph there. And, really, couldn't have done this book without having gone to the Naval Academy where they have a lot of relics from this expedition, including DeLong's journals and all kinds of amazing stuff and photographs and correspondence. I think it's extraordinary how forgotten the story of the Jeannette is. But if it's remembered anyplace, it's remembered there at Annapolis. And on the grounds of the Naval Academy, right there on the banks of the Severn River, there is this monument that it's a cross with icicles coming off of it. And...

  • 11:49:00

    REHMA cross with icicles?

  • 11:49:02

    SIDESUh huh. Which is pretty appropriate, and it's a beautiful place. So, yeah, I went there when I was doing research for the book.

  • 11:49:11

    REHMI know we don't want to talk at length about that last hundred pages. But I cannot continue the conversation without asking you about the dogs.

  • 11:49:25

    SIDESMm hmm. Yeah.

  • 11:49:27

    REHMThey were such a help.

  • 11:49:29

    SIDESThe dogs were central to the story.

  • 11:49:32

    REHMAbsolutely.

  • 11:49:33

    SIDESAnd everyone had a favorite dog. The dogs dwindled in number over time. They were not eaten at first. They just gave out from exhaustion and then starvation.

  • 11:49:46

    REHMYeah. Yeah.

  • 11:49:49

    SIDESAnd some were lost on the ice because the ice is constantly moving. And sometimes they'd get on a flow that just drifted off.

  • 11:49:55

    REHMAnd just drift away.

  • 11:49:56

    SIDESIt's -- this is not a story that the ASPCA is going to like.

  • 11:49:58

    REHMUh huh. Yeah.

  • 11:50:01

    SIDESUnfortunately, this is true of most Arctic tales. But...

  • 11:50:04

    REHMBut you think about how close -- I mean, as we hear about what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and the dogs that soldiers have brought back with them because they become so closely entwined.

  • 11:50:24

    SIDESAbsolutely. And this is definitely a story of men and their dogs. And they couldn't have done it without them. They really saved their lives. There was one dog, Snoozer, who sort of became the mascot for the whole expedition. And I won't say what happens with Snoozer, but everybody loved this dog, just had a great personality.

  • 11:50:44

    REHMAll right. Let's go to Doug in Silver Spring, Md. You're on the air.

  • 11:50:51

    DOUGHi. This is a fascinating subject. I don't know if the author is aware of it, but Orson Welles, on his radio anthology series of the late 1930s, the Mercury Theatre on the Air, did a dramatization of this voyage called "Hell on Ice."

  • 11:51:11

    SIDESYeah. Yes. Yes. I have a CD of it. And sometimes I play it on my book tour. It's amazing. You know, it's -- like, you know, how they try to recreate with all these sounds and crazy little things. That whole style of dramatization, radio dramatization, is great. And, you know, that's probably the last time the Jeannette was sort of circulated as a national story on a big scale.

  • 11:51:37

    REHMDid Orson Welles narrate the whole thing?

  • 11:51:39

    SIDESYeah. Yeah. He narrates it. But there's, you know, acting.

  • 11:51:42

    REHMActing. Wow.

  • 11:51:42

    SIDESAnd there's all sorts of...

  • 11:51:44

    DOUGYeah. I was -- I'm sorry. I was going to...

  • 11:51:45

    SIDESGo ahead.

  • 11:51:46

    DOUG...say the role of Captain DeLong was played by Ray Collins who of course appeared in many of Welles' films and is best known for playing Lt. Tragg on "Perry Mason."

  • 11:51:58

    SIDESMm hmm. Well, yeah, it's great. It's great to listen to. And, yeah, "Hell on Ice," that's exactly right.

  • 11:52:04

    REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Doug. Let's go now to Greg in Lorton, Va. You're on the air.

  • 11:52:11

    GREGWow. What a -- thank you. What a pleasure to be on your show, Diane.

  • 11:52:14

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:52:15

    GREGWell, I have to say I just finished the book, and I was kind of, you know, listening and talking to people, trying to find something interesting to read. And I think I found it. I'm definitely going to read your book "Kingdom of Ice," sounds great. And I just wanted to bring up to yourself -- and you probably know this, but some of the listeners may not. There is another book about -- and I can't remember the exact title or the author, unfortunately, and I read the dang thing twice. But, anyway, it's about the Whaleship Essex, "The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex."

  • 11:52:40

    SIDESYeah, yeah. That's Nathaniel Philbrick and "The Heart of the Sea," (sic) I think. Great story.

  • 11:52:46

    GREGYes. That sounds right. So I just wanted to know -- so, clearly, you either know of it or maybe have read it. And I just wanted to bring it up that, you know, these types of books, these true stories with the amazing hardships that people go through are great. So thank you very much for doing the research and writing this book. And I'll look forward to it.

  • 11:53:02

    SIDESWell, thank you. I think these kinds of stories have a universal appeal because we're constantly asking ourselves, you know, like, how would I survive? What combination of qualities would I summon? Could I make this? They become almost a metaphor for travail of all sorts as we go through life, so...

  • 11:53:18

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You traveled so much for this book. Where'd you go?

  • 11:53:25

    SIDESYeah. Well, the thing about this -- yeah, I think I traveled more for this book than any of my others because I wanted to go to Siberia. I wanted to try to follow in the footsteps of DeLong. And so I went to Moscow and got a ton of permits because a lot of this stuff is in restricted areas. Then I flew to the East Coast of Siberia and got on a Russian icebreaker and went north through the Bering Strait to Wrangel Island, which is an amazing place. It's the last place on Earth where wooly mammoths lived.

  • 11:53:59

    SIDESIt's the largest denning ground for polar bear in the world, and huge populations of snow geese and snowy owl and Arctic fox and just amazing place. And then I went to the Lena Delta, which is one of the world's largest rivers and one of the largest deltas. And this is where the river empties into the Arctic Ocean. And this is where DeLong and his men made landfall. So I went to -- all over the delta. It's a very, very hard place to get to, very mosquitoey. I finally reached this place called America Mountain. It's still known that today.

  • 11:54:33

    REHMHmm.

  • 11:54:34

    SIDESAnd it's the place where DeLong's men, those who died, were buried, and still has a cross there, and it's kind of in the middle of nowhere. The natives who live there, the Yakuts they're called, still refer to it as America Mountain.

  • 11:54:53

    REHMNow, you did point out that several ships went in search of the USS Jeannette. What'd they find?

  • 11:55:06

    SIDESWell, they didn't find any evidence really of the Jeannette, but they got into their own trouble in some cases. One of them caught on fire and sank. And, you know, it's -- this is sort of like a constant theme that you see in these Arctic stories, is that we send one vessel. Then it becomes lost, and then we send more.

  • 11:55:27

    SIDESAnd they become lost, and it creates this endless cycle. And certainly Bennett, the publisher, knew that and understood that. And, believe me, he had a reporter on board every one of these vessels. And the dispatches that they sent back were amazing. So it was a story that kept on giving, you know, for him. And he did get his scoop or his series of scoops. It was, in his day, bigger than the Stanley Livingston story.

  • 11:55:51

    REHMSo did you have -- how did those dispatches get back?

  • 11:55:58

    SIDESWell, very slowly. They went as far as Irkutsk which is on the very near Lake Baikal. It's 3,000 miles from the Arctic Ocean. These dispatches went by reindeer team, by dog team, by horse team to the railhead and to the telegraph station that was in Irkutsk. And that's how they reached St. Petersburg and then London and finally New York.

  • 11:56:25

    SIDESWow.

  • 11:56:25

    SIDESSo communications were not instantaneous by any means.

  • 11:56:29

    REHMBut what a story.

  • 11:56:34

    SIDESIt is. It's one of those adventure stories that you stumble upon from time to time. And, you know, it's kept me busy for four years, and it's just been a joy doing this.

  • 11:56:43

    REHMGood for you. And congratulations.

  • 11:56:45

    SIDESWell, thanks. It's great to be back with you.

  • 11:56:47

    REHMHampton Sides, the book is titled, "In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette." Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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