Cover image for The ghosts of Cape Sabine : the harrowing true story of the Greely Expedition
The ghosts of Cape Sabine : the harrowing true story of the Greely Expedition
Guttridge, Leonard F.
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Publication Information:
New York : Putnam, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiv, 354 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
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G670 1881 .G8 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
G670 1881 .G8 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"Most of us are out of our right minds. I fear for the future." --Lt. Adolphus Greely Twenty-five men went north. Only six returned alive. In July 1881, an expedition comprised mainly of American soldiers sailed off to establish a scientific base in the remote Arctic region of Lady Franklin Bay. What happened then is a remarkable three-year saga of human achievement and human fallibility, of heroism, hardship, bad luck and worse judgment. Compounded by deliberate political negligence back home, particularly on the part of Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the late president, and increasingly fierce dissension in its own camp, the expedition's fate, and those of its would-be rescuers, would eventually encompass starvation, mutiny, suicide, shipwreck, execution . . . and cannibalism.Until now, the story has been only partly known and full of dark riddles, but more than seven years of research by acclaimed historian Leonard Guttridge have uncovered journals, letters, diaries, and other documentary material that for the first time provide intimate day-by-day details of the swirling thoughts, feelings, and events of that ill-fated voyage--from turbulent birth to bizarre and tragic finale. The result is a work of nonfiction narrative that reads like a novel--a raw, vivid, harrowing adventure, brilliantly told.

Author Notes

Leonard F. Guttridge is the author or coauthor of several books, including Icebound: The Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole; Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection ; and The Commodores . He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In the annals of Arctic survival, the Greely expedition of 1881^-84 is a footnote to such legendary disasters as the Franklin expedition. A regrettable state of affairs that is, because whereas scant evidence was ever found of Franklin, Greely's catastrophe can be reconstructed blow-by-blow from a comparative surfeit of source material, which Guttridge has done to handsome effect. From the commander down to privates, members of the 25-man U.S. Army party kept journals, allowing Guttridge to characterize each journalist, alongside the elements and group dissensions with which the writer contended. The expedition's purpose was not exploration, although it reached farther north than anyone had up to then. The men were on Ellesmere Island to measure Arctic weather and magnetism; ships were to fetch them after the winter. The ships failed two summers running, and the third year's vessel collected seven starving survivors, several corpses, and rumors about an execution and cannibalism. Making the most of his material, Guttridge narrates fluidly and pointedly and will easily net aficionados of adventure and disaster tales. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mutiny, shipwreck, a new farthest north, bureaucratic ineptitude, cannibalism. A story that features all these elements promises more than enough excitement, but Guttridge (Icebound, etc.) doesn't corral all the pieces of his story into a coherent narrative until the end, when the stark and tragic facts take on their own momentum. The Greely Expedition set out in 1881 to conduct scientific observations at Lady Franklin Bay, a remote spot on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. Under the command of U.S. Army Lieut. Adolphus Greely, the expedition was part of a multinational research effort in which several countries were making scientific observations. But funds were hard to obtain for the expedition and, more importantly, for the relief parties that were sent out the following year to cache supplies in the event the Greely party had to retreat southward. The events themselves are gripping, and Guttridge shows how Greely's men steadily lost faith in their commander. Greely's most dependable sergeant wrote in his journal: "Why does the United States government persist in sending a fool in command of an Arctic expedition?" But Guttridge delves too deeply into the details of bureaucratic infighting and provisioning and fails to successfully evoke the rigors and beauties of the Arctic climate. He relies heavily on the words that the officers and men wrote in their journals, which give readers a sense of the inexorable breakdown of discipline and morale in the face of poor leadership, but don't offer any lingering sense of the men who wrote them or of the conditions to which they ultimately succumbed. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

YA-The Greely expedition was the American component of an international effort to establish outposts for the purpose of scientific observation and exploration in the Arctic region. In 1881, the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (as the Greely expedition was known) set up a base camp at the northern part of Ellesmere Island, and waited for the planned resupply ship to come in 1882. None came. Greely and company hunkered down for another winter, hoping that a ship would arrive in the spring of 1883. None came. At that point, they began a retreat south where at last, in 1884, a third rescue party found what remained of the expedition at Cape Sabine, at the southern part of the island. In alternating chapters, the book follows events over the course of these three years, both with the Greely party and with the expedition's handlers in Washington. Inexperience, incompetence, and ignorance compounded by rivalries and bureaucratic wrangling both in the Arctic and in Washington, DC, wrought near mutiny, courts of inquiry, starvation, execution, and cannibalism. Blame for the near annihilation of the party can be placed in both camps, as Guttridge shows. He notes that few expeditions included more prolific writers than this one and his adherence to primary sources both enhances and personalizes the narrative. YAs are sure to be moved by this painful account of men tested to the extreme by an "unforgiving Arctic."-Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The Circumpolar Plan On 10 July, 1881, overloaded with a detachment of seasick American soldiers and a cargo ranging from 200 scientific instruments to 2,000 pounds of canned potatoes, the Proteus, which had left St. John's harbor only forty-eight hours before, was suddenly battered by heavy seas. Her departure had been tranquil. The American consul at that busy fishing port had boarded the steamer to wish her party Godspeed, and a few nearby tugs had blown whistles. Otherwise, Newfoundlanders had ignored the American expedition, except, noted its leader, "those who had a direct or prospective pecuniary interest in our movement."     What mostly concerned the citizens of St. John's, and its economy, was the seasonal come-and-go of whaling or sealing fleets. Not that anything could have stayed Lieutenant Adolphus Washington Greely at that moment. Not even news from Washington that James Garfield had succumbed to an assassin's bullet. On 4 July, Greely had telegraphed prayers for the president's recovery, adding that regardless of "further advice, the steamer will sail."     At nightfall on the sixth, a boat had drawn alongside the Proteus to deliver a last batch of mail and to await letters for home. Greely took to his bunk with five missives from his "darling wife." They gave him "great pain and happiness. Pain to reflect on our separation and mutual sufferings, happiness to know I am so dear to her." Sharing the stateroom with him, Greely's second in command, Lieutenant Frederick Kislingbury, penned equally impassioned words to a friend. He wrote of the four sons left behind: "How I miss my boys. Is there a man making more sacrifice than I?" How joyful their reunion would be on his triumphant return from the Arctic. "But," Kislingbury wrote, "I must not think of this until the end is gained." And Kislingbury pleaded for prayers that he would "go bravely through the long night."     Lieutenant Greely's spirits had revived with every fleeting minute. At midnight on the eighth he wrote, "The ship's two compound engines throbbing, our voyage commenced. We passed the majestic cliffs that form the narrows of St. John's, reached the open sea at 1:30 P.M. and discharged our pilot." The New York Herald correspondent who had clung to Greely's side was last to leave. He hurried ashore and inaccurately telegraphed his paper that Greely's northerly mission was twofold: to reach the North Pole and to rescue the men of the missing Arctic steamer Jeannette "from their glacial prison." In fact, Greely's purpose was to set up a scientific base camp, and he planned to take only a cursory look for the Jeannette .     Near midnight, a bright auroral arch had spanned the heavens like a nocturnal rainbow. The Proteus crew, seafarers all, were familiar with such phenomena and paid it no heed. For their part, the ship's passengers, Greely's landlubberly lot, had little inclination to marvel at new sights, thrust as they now were into the rigors and discomforts of shipboard life. The very morning after departure Greely himself was so seasick he failed to appear on deck until afternoon. The next day, Sergeant David L. Brainard managed an entry in his diary describing seas so powerful "our sleeping apartments are deluged, possessions floating in the flood," four of his Army comrades "ready to give up the ghost."     Prior to this expedition, Greely's seagoing experience had been limited to a two-way transatlantic crossing and the passage up from New York to St. John's. But he declared his faith in the Proteus ; Newfoundland shipmasters had assured him no better icebreaker cruised the northern waters. The commander's confidence was justified. Seven years old, the barkentine-rigged Proteus was a strong ship, her frame of American white oak, her prow shielded with wrought iron, and she was sheathed in ironwood from waterline to bilge level and stem to stern. One hundred and ninety feet long, thirty feet wide, she weighed 467 English tons. Her Dundee builders had, in Greely's words, employed "the most approved methods of construction for use in heavy Arctic ice." Hardy Newfoundland fishermen made up her crew, and their master, Richard Pike, was a veteran ice navigator.     The American soldiers on board were Pike's passengers, and Greely, their commander, intended to see that they behaved themselves. In his final dispatches to General William Hazen, the U.S. Army's Chief Signal officer and his immediate superior, Greely reported that things now were in motion and that "the men are behaving well--all but the party's engineer who keeps very full of beer." He was referring to Sergeant William Cross, in charge of the expedition's motor launch. Otherwise, prospects were bright, and during those first few days at sea, once recovered from his seasickness, the commander became a conspicuous figure, striding fore and aft, his jet-black beard so profuse, albeit neatly trimmed, as to mask any facial sign of emotion.     Entering Davis Strait, the ship battled more gales, and after the winds subsided, "vast bodies of ice necessitated navigating the ship from the crow's nest." On 13 July, from his perch at the fore-topgallant masthead, a lookout sighted Disko Island off Greenland's bewilderingly serrated west coast, its syenitic slopes rearing blue-gray to 2,000 feet. Beneath them nestled Godhavn, a settlement whose royal inspector ordered a gunfire salute and paid the ship a welcoming visit. A kayak flotilla of local merchants came out, eager to trade. Here the Proteus would stay a week, taking on the stores, dogs, and sledges that a doctor named Octave Pavy, who had gone before them, had assembled during his long sojourn in the region. The doctor himself came on board, and Greely placed him under contract as expedition surgeon, which required Pavy's swearing in as a member of the United States Army, a status he resented at the outset.     The stay at Godhavn was highlighted by a ball in a decorated workshop. Sergeant Brainard enjoyed "the giddy waltz with Eskimo ladies. Some with an intermingling of Danish blood were really pretty, their hair coiled with a roll on the head and tied by a ribbon, the hue of which denoted the wearer's social and moral standard. Married ladies wear a ribbon of red, and those laying claim to virginity have a ribbon of white." Private Charles B. Henry, who had signed up with the Chicago Times to furnish copy on the expedition, reported a different color scheme: blue ribbons for wives, while "the soiled doves are compelled to promenade with green-covered boots." And the foreign visitors? "We `cannibals' indeed look picturesque," he wrote, "not having shaved since our departure from St. John's."     A Danish brig left Godhavn with letters for America. Kislingbury had written continuously to his "darling boys," filling pages with descriptions of awesome sights on the passage up through Davis Strait, massive icebergs shimmering in a never-setting sun with exquisite hues of blue and green. And in a burst of sudden optimism, he told them he was brimming with self-confidence and perfect health: "I go hence most sanguine of success." Greely, meanwhile, addressed his wife with mingled emotions: "I wonder what you and the darling babes are doing. I am content in being here only in hope [that our] future may be made brighter. My love for you grows stronger and stronger even in these sorrowful days of separation." He added a reference to Octave Pavy: "The doctor talked considerably to me in French today, and we got along very nicely." It was a relationship that would not last long--soon they would be bitter enemies.     In fact, had he only known it, Greely had an early clue. Before leaving Disko, the expedition was joined by Henry Clay, grandson of the respected Kentucky statesman. Clay had wintered with Pavy at Disko, but they had grown to detest each other and even moved to widely separate parts of the island. Now they were again in close contact, fellow passengers on the Proteus . As Clay and Pavy made no secret of their mutual hatred, Greely realized that there could be no room in the party for both men and that he would have to do something about it. He had more immediate concerns, however.     Continuing north, the Proteus called at Upernavik. Here Greely learned that only ten sealskin suits were available, far fewer than he had anticipated. And the pair of Eskimo hunters and dog drivers he had expected were missing. Two others living nearby volunteered as replacements, and Lieutenant James Lockwood set out in the steam launch--the commander had christened it Lady Greely --to pick them up. He returned with two men named Jens Edward and Thorlip Frederick Christiansen, who was half Danish. They brought kayaks and hunting gear, but, wrote Greely, "unfortunately they speak no English." They, too, would play important roles in the tragedy to come.     While at Upernavik, Lieutenant Lockwood shot more than 100 guillemots, a narrow-billed seabird. With his specially designed Remington rifle, Lieutenant Kislingbury killed 420 more of them, and all were dried for preservation and added to the expedition's larder. Kislingbury proudly related this kill in a letter home that ended, "Do not worry the slightest about me, I know that all will go well."     That he and his commander expected to accomplish major scientific work in the Arctic says much for their self-confidence. Extensive polar exploration had traditionally been the province of naval personnel or other seagoers, and any landsmen with at least sledging experience. The Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, however, consisted of nineteen soldiers under U.S. Army Signal Corps authority; three civilians mustered into temporary military service; two Greenland natives; and the doctor, Octave Pavy, who also served as naturalist. Except for those latter three, not one could sail a boat, and few knew how to row. Only Sergeant Cross, already identified by Greely as a drunk, knew how to operate the party's steam launch, having worked in the Washington Navy Yard. For the most part, knowledge of dog-sledge driving and ice-field navigation, not to mention the terrible psychological strains imposed by the Arctic's long winter night, had been derived only from books. To most of the men, active service meant guerrilla skirmishes with the American Indian, not expeditions to the Arctic. It was not a recipe for success.     They were bound for a region of which civilized man knew next to nothing even while it exerted a grip upon his imagination. Concepts of the planet's unseen crown smacked of romance and fantasy, and not solely in the popular press. A former head of the U.S. Naval Observatory wrote of "a circle of mysteries. The desire to explore its untrodden wastes and sunset chambers has grown into a longing." A renowned British admiral marveled that 1,131,000 square miles of the globe's surface were "a sheer blank." Was it "a silent frozen solitude or an open sea teeming with life"?     Greely's voyage was expected to produce answers. To his general sailing orders was appended a formidable list of required scientific observations. They would begin at sea and continue at Lady Franklin Bay, on the eastern coast of Ellesmere Island, in conformity with existing instructions to Signal Corps observers "and those advised by the Hamburg Conference, which include observations on air and sea temperatures, air pressure, humidity, wind direction and velocities, precipitation, terrestrial magnetism, aurora and so on. Observations to be taken as specified by Karl Weyprecht."     Weyprecht was a bold and prescient Austro-Hungarian army officer, and what befell the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition was an unintentional consequence of his novel ideas. Weyprecht's vision extended beyond mere geographical discoveries, in the pursuit of which, he believed, men were more often motivated by chauvinism, commercial gain, or personal glory than by the pure quest for scientific truth. His dream had developed out of his own personal travels and a profound knowledge of the history of Arctic exploration. Born on 8 September, 1838, he had entered the Austrian War Marine Corps and had became a lieutenant at the age of twenty-three. He'd voyaged to the Orient, the West Indies, Mexico, and North America, charted the Dalmatian coastal waters of the Adriatic, and by the 1870s had set his sights on the mysterious and largely unknown realm above the Arctic Circle. His single exploring accomplishment, shared by fellow lieutenant Julian Payer, was the discovery of Franz Joseph Land. After a year in the ice, Weyprecht's party had abandoned their ships and were rescued finally by a Russian schooner. But it was during the long wintering in the Barents Sea that Weyprecht had contemplated the folly of nations engaged in polar rivalry through expeditions that too often came to grief. He envisioned instead a scientific bounty from something hitherto unthought of--international cooperation.     There had been nothing like this expedition in the history of Arctic voyaging, which had had a long and tortuous past. It had begun in earnest when eleventh-century Vikings penetrated to the northeastern shores of Greenland. By the late Middle Ages, commercial interests were sponsoring the first attempts to discover a northwest seaway across the top of the world in hopes of forming trade links between Europe and the Orient. With Queen Elizabeth's patronage, Martin Frobisher sought the Northwest Passage and felt he was on the right course, when rumors of gold nearby made him change direction. He found none. Another Elizabethan, John Davis, rediscovered Greenland after its abandonment by Norse colonists and entered the strait later named for him, but was turned back by ice.     In 1615, William Baffin did better, braving the perils of what became Melville Bay to reach a point 300 miles beyond Davis's farthest north, and in the process charted the great bay that bears his name. One after another, British naval expeditions set forth in search of the Northwest Passage. John Ross and Edward Parry took their ships across Melville Bay, too--a stretch of ice-clad water off the Greenland coast that whaling crews dreaded even half a century later. One of the Ross parties carried an astronomer who was not of the Royal Navy at all, but a British artillery captain named Edward Sabine. By the 1860s, Sabine was a general, and president of the Royal Society, and he gave his name to the bleak and rocky island in Smith Sound that would be the setting for the closing scene in the drama of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition.     Parry charted the west coast of Baffin Bay. Finding the Northwest Passage still held priority, though, and in 1829 Ross set forth on what would be his last quest of it, only to be bottled up by ice for four winters before being rescued by a whaler. Undaunted, in 1845, Sir John Franklin set out with 129 officers and men on the Erebus and Terror, on the largest expedition yet to seek the fabled passage. It voyaged by way of Lancaster Sound--and promptly vanished, creating a Victorian exploration mystery that resonated deeply in the public consciousness.     At that point, the prime motive for probing the unknown changed. The goal became to discover the vanished Franklin expedition, and in the ensuing decade, no fewer than forty British and American expeditions were mounted for the search, many of them financed by Lady Jane Franklin, the explorer's wife. In 1853, however, finding Franklin's party was also the widely touted objective of a young Philadelphia surgeon named Elisha Kent Kane, who dreamed not only of finding the missing Britons but of planting the Stars and Stripes at the North Pole. He did neither, but was the first to pass through the northern exit of Smith Sound and into the 100-mile-wide basin that thereafter bore his name. Lionized upon his return to America, he died two years later, was mourned by the teenage spiritualist who loved him, and was given a funeral unequaled in splendor since that of Abraham Lincoln.     Isaac Israel Hayes followed. The ship's doctor under Kane, he crossed perilous Melville Bay in a record-breaking fifty-five hours aboard a fragile schooner, the United States, and explored the coasts of Greenland and Ellesmere, which was not yet known to be a vast island sprawling north. Hayes pushed farther, entering the narrow strait to which Kane had given a friend's name, Kennedy Channel. Its northern outlet, Hayes hoped, broke into an Open Polar Sea. When ice forced the United States to a halt, Hayes and a single companion left the ship for a daring overland dash, which he soon had to abandon. Obsessed by his notion of a prize, Hayes actually believed it within his grasp. He wrote of standing upon "these ice-girdled waters [that] might lash the shores of distant islands where dwell human beings of an unknown race."     Hayes sailed home reluctantly, convinced he had come close to discovering an Arctic paradise, and upon reaching Halifax, Nova Scotia, discovered two startling pieces of news. During his absence, the Civil War had broken out. And, more distressing for Hayes, word came that a rival in the polar stakes had sailed and was by then likely to have already reached the ice-cluttered wastes between northern Greenland and unexplored Ellesmere Island. Charles Francis Hall had sailed almost in Hayes's wake. An ill-educated printer from Cleveland, Ohio, he had left his business, a wife, and two children, determined to be the first American to score where the British had failed. To an unprecedented degree, Hall fraternized with Eskimos, emulated their dress, and immersed himself in their culture.     Twice he braved the Arctic, and then on his third expedition, in 1871, he took the Polaris, a refitted steamer originally named Periwinkle, into an ice-choked Smith Sound, leaving the vessel in a sheltered spot on the Greenland shore that he christened Thank God Harbor. Hall struck inland with a sledge and three companions, and returned to his polyglot and contentious crew boasting of having found a shoreline route clear to the Pole. Within two months, however, he was dead of a mysterious arsenic poisoning. Hall was buried on the shores of Thank God Harbor.     His shipmaster, Sidney Budington, had turned the Polaris toward home, but ice drove him ashore near the mouth of Kennedy Channel, and a gale swept the ship into the pack as the crew were unloading stores. Nineteen men, including George Tyson, chief navigation officer, were left marooned on the ice. What befell them made for an epic in itself. Tyson took command, and for six months the ice carried them southward. They drifted some 1,500 miles before a sealing steamer picked them up off Labrador.     Meanwhile, Budington had managed to steer the Polaris into Lifeboat Cove on the coast of Greenland, where ice crushed the ship to matchwood. Budington's party wintered in a hut built from the ship's timbers. They had saved two boats, however, and in the summer of 1873, they were seeking a landfall at Upernavik when they were rescued by a Dundee whaler.     Notwithstanding their travails and dark rumors about the true cause of Captain Charles Hall's death--apoplexy was officially blamed--this expedition did have positive results, in both scientific observation and coastal survey. Hall's Polaris had voyaged even farther north than Kane Basin, into waters henceforth known as Hall Basin. Beyond lay Robeson Channel, closer yet to the North Pole, but ice blocked penetration through it. Also, by this time, superstitious fears had so affected the crew that Tyson wrote, "I believe some of them think we are going over the edge of the world."     Soon George Strong Nares, a veteran of the Franklin searches, embarked on what would be the British navy's first and last serious attempt to reach the North Pole. En route beyond Kennedy Channel, he left one of his two ships, the Discovery, at Lady Franklin Bay to winter. He carried on in the other, the Alert, and rounded the top of Ellesmere Island. As a disbeliever in the Open Polar Sea myth, he found his skepticism confirmed by icebergs so huge that his first mate, Albert H. Markham, described them as "a solid impenetrable mass no amount of imagination or theoretical belief could ever twist into an `Open Polar Sea!'"     Nares had no faith in dogs. There were more than fifty, with Eskimo dog drivers, on his ships, but he sent out sledge parties man-hauled. First Mate Markham pushed farthest north, and on 12 May, 1876, planted the British flag at the highest latitude, 83° 20', yet attained by man. Scurvy struck a second sledge party, however, and on the grueling trudge south, two men died and were buried not far from Charles Hall's ice-gripped tomb in the vicinity of Thank God Harbor.     With thirty-six cases of scurvy on the Alert alone, Nares turned for home, blasting his way out of the ice with torpedoes. Supplies that the British had deposited on their way up--at Cape Sabine, Cary Island, and other points--would figure in Adolphus Greely's polar program.     For the British it was the end of an era. Besides that Farthest North record, Nares's people had brought home notes full of scientific data. Nares also had added a new adjective to the English dictionary: "paleocrystic," to describe the huge slabs of ancient ice his expedition had encountered north of Ellesmere Island. But it was the dread news of death from scurvy that dominated headlines. A naval court of inquiry censured Nares for failing to provide his sledge crew with fresh lime juice, which Nares had denigrated as a preventive. Much later, his expedition was reappraised, he was promoted to admiral, and in due course was knighted.     It was while the Nares expedition was struggling through Smith Sound that Karl Weyprecht, not long returned from his own sortie above the Arctic Circle, formulated plans for a new and revolutionary approach. To Weyprecht's thinking, such ordeals as the paralyzing cold, the crushing force of ice, the terror of scurvy, the peril of starvation, and the psychological tensions induced by long Arctic nights that could drive men mad were too formidable to be taken on by separate, often badly led or ill-organized groups of men in frail ships. The prizes sought were not worth the price paid. Searching for the Northwest Passage or a nonexistent Open Polar Sea, planting national flags in previously untrodden Arctic wastes, and racing to islands to see who could get farthest north or even reach the Pole itself--none of these, in Weyprecht's judgment, was anywhere near as important as the gathering of scientific data. Weyprecht believed that scientific research was the only justification for cosily expeditions beyond the Arctic Circle and was better achieved by nations in concert rather than in rivalry.     On 17 September, 1873, Weyprecht had spelled out his ideas at the fourth annual meeting of the Association of German Naturalists and Physicists. Weyprecht argued that nations should join in building and maintaining a chain of observation posts encircling the North Pole and that the time for polar expeditions of individual nations was past. What Weyprecht proposed, reported the prestigious journal Nature, was a "girdle of stations around the entire Arctic region to record simultaneously observations relating to various branches of Physics and Meteorology, also Botany, Zoology and Geology."     Weyprecht's plan had won favorable notice: Prince Otto von Bismarck appointed a commission to study it, and the International Meteorological Congress gave strong support. An encouraged Weyprecht hoped to amplify his proposal for this group at its next meeting, scheduled for Rome in 1877, but Balkan wars intervened and the whole subject was shelved, much to Weyprecht's impatience. He was in frail health and knew how slim his chances were for recovery. Interest in his idea revived in 1879, however, when ethnic quarrels could no longer stay the more universal and popular absorption in science, fueled by well-publicized Darwinian theories, fresh astronomical discoveries, breakthroughs in the field of medicine, the spread of international telegraphy, and such inventions as the typewriter, the telephone, and electric light. When the Fifty-fourth International Meteorological Congress met in Rome in April 1879, Weyprecht was ready with his updated notions. They resulted in plans for an International Polar Conference to be held in Hamburg six months later, which Weyprecht anticipated would secure multinational agreement for a ring of stations on the roof of the world.     And he wanted American participation. He advised General Albert J. Myer in Washington that "this polar girth would show a large void if the United States excluded themselves." Myer was head of the Signal Corps, the Army branch specializing in meteorology, and he had just authorized the installation of a weather station at Point Barrow, the northern extremity of Alaska. But the Weyprecht plan stirred no great interest elsewhere in the War Department, and Americans in general suspected anything resembling foreign entanglements. On 13 September, the general told the Europeans that it was "not practicable" for the United States Signal Corps to be represented at the Hamburg meeting as requested.     At the same time, however, Myer wrote separately to Karl Weyprecht, asking for suggestions as to how the United States might still assist. When read before the conference, Myer's letter dismayed delegates who had hoped for more direct American involvement, but representing Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Austro-Hungary, Sweden, and Russia, they decided that their countries would go ahead without the Americans. Expeditionary forces would go north to make one year's simultaneous observations. The work would begin in July 1880 and continue for twelve months. Russia promised a station at the mouth of the Lena and another on New Siberian Islands, Norway one at North Cape, and Sweden one at Spitzbergen. Germany, Holland, and Denmark made similar pledges.     At first, action faltered. By 1880, only seven stations were under way, and a second International Polar Conference held at Berne that year had given up on the Americans. But the conference decided to press on, and optimistically designated 1881 to 1882 International Polar Year. More stations were added to the circumpolar ring. As an aid to those who would man them, Weyprecht published a bulky handbook titled Metamorphosis of Polar Ice and Guide for Observation of Polar Lights and Magnetic Fields in Northern Regions . He could at last see his vision approach reality. Countries never remotely acting in concert before had pledged contributions toward the success of the world's first International Polar Year. But Karl Weyprecht would not live to learn of the project's outcome--nor of the grim denouement to America's role in his long-cherished grand design. Copyright © 2000 Leonard F. Guttridge. All rights reserved.