Bundle up before sitting down to read this harrowing account of the doomed 1879 voyage of the USS Jeanette, which set sail from San Francisco on a mission to the North Pole—one of the last unexplored blank spots on the map—and never returned. Two years into the voyage, the ship became trapped in the ice a thousand miles north of Siberia. The hull was breached, and within the hour, the Jeanette sank to the bottom of the ocean. The 32 souls onboard were forced to abandon ship, their only hope a long, lonely march across the endless ice. With the narrative skill of a novelist, Sides recounts the struggle to survive an unimaginable ordeal. See all of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2014.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannetteby Hampton Sides
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age
In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans/b>/b>/i>
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded Age
In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.
James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world's attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of "Arctic Fever."
The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice—a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.
With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth.
In a masterful retelling, Sides (Hellhound on His Trail) chronicles American naval officer George Washington De Long’s harrowing 1879 expedition to the North Pole, an account as frightening as it is fascinating. Each page envelops readers in the bravery of De Long and the crew of the Jeannette, their indefatigable quest for the “Polar Grail,” and their dogged will to survive. News mogul James Gordon Bennett Jr., a colorful personality who famously sent Sir Henry Stanley to Dr. David Livingstone, was De Long’s patron, mostly because he desired another front-page stunner for his paper. De Long’s journal entries are mixed in with Sides’s description of a voyage fraught with peril—their steamboat was wedged in ice for two winters and,upon released, was crushed. Seeking rescue, the crew hauled supplies hundreds of miles across Arctic ice fields. Weather was harsh, erratic, and frigid with food and shelter scarce; many succumbed to frostbite and madness. Flawed theories of Siberian geography and settlements caused further setbacks. (Disastrously, De Long had already discovered that prevailing theories about warm currents under Polar icecaps were incorrect.) Impeccable writing, a vivid re-creation of the expedition and the Victorian era, and a taut conclusion make this an exciting gem. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM. (Aug.)
In 1879, U.S. naval officer and explorer George W. De Long (1844–81) set off on a highly publicized attempt to reach the uncharted and mysterious North Pole. Sides (Hellhound on His Trail; editor, Outside magazine) presents a lengthy, gripping, and well-written account of De Long's treacherous expedition. Backed by the vast wealth of newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett, De Long's voyage aboard the USS Jeannette ground to a grim halt when the vessel became trapped in the ice for two interminable years and later sank. After abandoning ship onto the frigid ice fields, De Long and his crew embarked on a desperate trek toward rescue in distant Siberia. Suspenseful and well grounded with biographical and historical context, Sides's work skillfully captures the passionate essence of determined explorer De Long, his indomitable compatriots, and the public's fascination with his quest. VERDICT Using De Long's correspondence with his wife as an especially effective tool to bring the explorer to life, this title will appeal to adventure fans and recreational readers interested in polar exploration, Gilded Age society, or naval history. Readers may also consider Leonard F. Guttridge's Icebound: The Jeannette Expedition's Quest for the North Pole.—Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI
Another crackling tale of adventure from journalist/explorer Sides (Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin, 2010, etc.), this one focusing on a frigid disaster nearly 150 years ago.When the Jeannette, commanded by a dashing officer named George De Long, disappeared in the Arctic waters of Russia on a long expeditionary voyage that began in the summer of 1879, American newspapers thought it did not necessarily mean disaster: They preferred to see it as a sign that the ship had broken through the dreaded polar ice and was now sailing freely, if without communication, in the open polar sea. No such luck: As Sides documents, the Jeannette and its crew met a gruesome end; toward the end of his narrative, we tour their icy cemetery, here the Chinese cook gazing serenely into the sky, there De Long lying barehanded with arm upraised, as if he "had raised his left arm and flung his journal behind him in the snow, away from the embers of the fire." When contemporaries took that tour and reports came out, the newspapers were full of speculation about even more gruesome possibilities, which Sides, on considering the evidence, dismisses. Given that a bad outcome is promised in the book's subtitle, readers should not find such things too surprising. The better part of the narrative is not in the sad climax but in the events leading up to it, from De Long's life and education at sea to the outfitting of the ship (complete with a storeroom full of "barrels of brandy, porter, ale, sherry, whiskey, rum, and cases of Budweiser beer"), personality clashes among members of the crew, and the long, tragic history of polar expedition.A grand and grim narrative of thrilling exploration for fans of Into Thin Air, Mountains of the Moon and the like.
The Times of London
“As our knowledge of the world increases, it must be difficult for audacious explorers to find terra incognita to match their passion. Surely the same frustration holds true for writers in that worthy genre, exploration literature: Haven’t all great stories been told? Never underestimate the ingenuity of a first-rate author. Hampton Sides’s In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, which recounts the astonishing tribulations of a group of seafarers determined to be the first men to reach and reconnoiter the North Pole, is a splendid book in every way… It would be malicious to ruin the suspense about the fate of the Jeannette’s crew… The book is a marvelous nonfiction thriller.”
The Wall Street Journal
"Compelling....Sides spins a propulsive narrative from obscure documents, journals and his own firsthand visits to the Arctic regions visited by the Jeannette and its crew. In the Kingdom of Ice makes for harrowing reading as it recounts the grim aspects of the explorers' battle for survival: illness, crippling frostbite, snow-blindness and the prospect of starvation. As grisly as the details are, you keep turning pages to find out how DeLong and his men pull themselves past each setback — even though there's always another one looming ahead."
“[Sides] brings vividness to In the Kingdom of Ice, and in the tragedy of the Jeannette he’s found a story that epitomizes both the heroism and the ghastly expense of life that characterized the entire Arctic enterprise…With an eye for the telling detail, he sketches the crew members as individuals…The bare facts of what happened to the Jeannette’s crew are easily Googleable, but if you don’t already know the story, In the Kingdom of Ice reads like a first-class epic thriller. De Long and his companions became explorers of not only unknown geographical territory but also extremes of suffering and despair. In his stoic endurance of disappointment and pain, De Long rivals Louis Zamperini, the hero of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken…”
Lev Grossman, Time Magazine
“First-rate polar history and adventure narrative...wonderfully evocative.... Sides vividly recounts the horrors [of the voyage]. In the Kingdom of Ice is a harrowing story, well told.
The New York Times Book Review
“Unforgettable…a pulse-racing epic of endurance set against an exceedingly bizarre Arctic backdrop…[Sides’] descriptions of the physical challenges the men face and the eerie landscape that surrounds them are masterful. As De Long and his crew attempt to save themselves, the story grows in suspense and psychological complexity…More strange and fantastic turns follow, involving uncharted and uninhabited lands, and it pains me that I cannot describe them without spoiling the pleasure of those who have not yet read In the Kingdom of Ice. Sides’ book is a masterful work of history and storytelling.”
The Los Angeles Times
“America’s own brush with epic polar tragedy, the subject of Hampton Sides’ phenomenally gripping new book, is a less well-known affair…What ensued — a struggle to survive and a nearly 1,000-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean and into the vastness of Siberia — stands as one of the most perilous journeys ever. Sides works story-telling magic as he evokes the pathos and suffering of what unfolded: De Long and his crew endured hardships that boggle the mind. But there is also beauty here… [Sides] writes superbly on the geography of Siberia and the Arctic, and the abundant bird and animal life the explorers encountered on their travels, which took them across ice, storm-tossed seas, treacherous tundra, rocky seacoasts, and volcanic islands.”
The Boston Globe
“…harrowing and impeccably paced.”
The New Yorker
"A dazzling page-turner.....”
Nathaniel Philbrick, New York Times bestselling author of In the Heart of the Sea, Bunker Hill and Sea of Glory
“[A] stunningly vivid account.....”
Mark Bowden, New York Times Bestselling author of Black Hawk Down
“An astonishingly good story....”
Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of The Destiny of the Republic and The River of Doubt
"Hampton Sides conjures the doomed USS Jeannette and her courageous crew with haunting power...."
Caroline Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of The Endurance and The Bounty
"A spellbinding tale....”
David Grann, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of Z
"Hampton Sides is one of America’s most expansive and engaging storytellers, and he proves it again with the incredible saga of the USS Jeannette...."
Scott Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Lawrence in Arabia
"A vivid tale of exploration set in a howling, deadly wilderness."
T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
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Read an Excerpt
In the Kingdom of Ice
The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
By Hampton Sides, Arthur Morey
Penguin Random House Audio Publishing GroupCopyright © 2014 Hampton Sides
All rights reserved.
Prologue : Baptism by Ice
On a misty morning in late April 1873, the Tigress, a steam barkentine out of Conception Bay, Newfoundland, was pushing through the loose floes and bergs off the coast of Labrador, heading for the seasonal seal-hunting grounds. Late in the morning, the Tigress encountered something strange: A lone Inuit in a kayak was hailing the ship, waving his arms and screaming at the top of his lungs. The native man was clearly in some kind of trouble. He had ventured much farther out into the perilous open waters of the North Atlantic than any Eskimo ordinarily would. When the Tigress pulled closer to him, he yelled, in accented English, “American steamer! American steamer!”
The crew of the Tigress leaned over the railings and tried to decipher what the Inuit was talking about. Just then, the fog parted enough to reveal, in the middle distance, a jagged floe piece, on which more than a dozen men and women, plus several children, appeared to be trapped. Seeing the ship, the marooned party erupted in cheers and fired guns into the air.
The Tigress’s captain, Isaac Bartlett, ordered rescue boats put in the water. When the stranded people—nineteen in all—were brought aboard, it was immediately apparent that they had suffered a horrific ordeal. Emaciated, filthy, and frostbitten, they had haunted looks in their eyes. Their lips and teeth were greasy from a just-finished break- fast of seal intestine.
“How long have you been on the ice?” Captain Bartlett asked them.
The senior member of the group, an American named George Tyson, stepped forward. “Since the fifteenth of October,” he replied.
Bartlett tried to understand what Tyson was saying. October
15 was 196 days earlier. These people, whoever they were, had been stranded on this ice slab for nearly seven months. Their precarious floe had been, Tyson said, a “God-made raft.”
Bartlett questioned Tyson further and learned, to his astonish- ment, that these pitiful castaways had been aboard the Polaris, a ship famous around the world. (This was the “American steamer!” the Inuit had been screaming about.) The Polaris, an unprepossessing steam tug that had been reinforced for the ice, was the exploring ves- sel of an American polar expedition, partly funded by Congress and supported by the U.S. Navy, that had left New London, Connecticut, two years earlier and, after a few stops along the way to Greenland, had not been heard from since.
A FTER PENETR ATING JUST beyond the 82nd parallel, a nautical latitude record at the time, the Polaris had become trapped in the ice high along the west coast of Greenland. Then, in November 1871, the expedition commander, a brooding, eccentric visionary from Cincin- nati named Charles Francis Hall, had died under mysterious circum- stances after drinking a cup of coffee that, he suspected, had been laced with poison. Following Hall’s death, the leaderless expedition had completely unraveled.
On the night of October 15, 1872, a large piece of ice on which Tyson and eighteen other expedition members were temporarily encamped had suddenly broken away from the vicinity of the ship and started drifting into Baffin Bay. The party of castaways, which included several Inuit families and a newborn infant, was never able to rejoin the Polaris, and they resigned themselves to their slab of ice. They helplessly floated toward the south, through the winter and spring, sleeping in igloos and living on seals, narwhals, seabirds, and the occasional polar bear. Not having any fuel with which to cook, they ate only raw meat, organs, and blood, when they were lucky enough to have it, for the duration of their drift.
Tyson said they had been “fools of fortune.” Huddled miserably on their ever-shrinking slab, they were batted around “like a shuttle-cock,” he said, by heaving seas, crashing icebergs, and powerful gales. Amazingly, though, no one in the stranded party had died. In all, they had drifted eighteen hundred miles.
Dumbfounded by Tyson’s story, Captain Bartlett welcomed the unfortunates to his ship, fed them a warm meal of codfish, potatoes, and coffee, and in due course delivered them to St. John’s, Newfound- land, where they were met by a U.S. Navy vessel and taken straight to Washington. A hasty interrogation of Tyson and other survivors revealed, among other things, that the Polaris, though damaged, was likely still intact and that the balance of the expedition—fourteen members—might yet be alive, trapped on their leaky ship somewhere high in the Greenland ice. Naval authorities, after cross-examining the survivors, learned that the Polaris had suffered a crisis of leader- ship nearly from the start, that mutiny had been discussed, and that Charles Hall may indeed have been poisoned. (Nearly a century later, forensic experts exhumed his corpse and detected toxic quantities of arsenic in tissue samples.) Tyson, though refusing to name names, cried foul. “Those who have baffled and spoiled this expedition,” he roared, “cannot escape their God!”
The American public, stunned by this woeful tale of a national voyage gone spectacularly wrong, clamored for a relief expedition to return to the Arctic to hunt for survivors. And so, with President Ulysses S. Grant’s approval, the Navy promptly dispatched a ship, the USS Juniata, to Greenland to commence a search for the hobbled Polaris.
The Juniata, under the command of Daniel L. Braine, was a battle-scabbed sloop of war that had seen much action in the Atlantic blockade during the Civil War. Newspapers across America celebrated her departure from New York on June 23. The Juniata’s mission to Greenland had all the elements: Here was a thrilling rescue story of national import—and also a detective story, with a whiff of intrigue and possible murder. A correspondent from the New York Herald would be joining the Juniata at St. John’s to report on the search. In large part because of the Herald ’s presence, the hunt for the Polaris would become the sensation of the late summer of 1873.
THE SECOND-IN-COMMAND A BOARD the Juniata was a young lieutenant from New York City named George De Long. Twenty- eight years old, his keen blue-gray eyes framed by pince-nez glasses, De Long was a man in a hurry to do great things. He was large and broad-shouldered and weighed 195 pounds. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, ginger-haired and fair-skinned, he had a shaggy mustache that drooped prodigiously over the corner creases of his mouth. Whenever he had a moment to sit, he could usually be found smoking a meerschaum pipe, his head buried in a book. The warmth of his smile and the softness of his fleshy face were offset by a certain truculence in his jawline, a feature observers often remarked upon. De Long was a determined, straight-ahead sort of man, efficient and thorough, and he burned with ambition. One of his expressions, a motto of sorts, was “Do it now.”
De Long had sailed over much of the world—Europe, the Carib- bean, South America, and all along the Eastern Seaboard—but he had never been to the Arctic before, and he was not especially look- ing forward to the journey. De Long was far more accustomed to the tropics. He had never paid attention to the great quest for the North Pole, which had so ferociously preoccupied explorers like Hall and thrilled the public. To De Long, the Juniata’s cruise to Greenland was just another assignment.
He did not seem to think much of St. John’s, where the Juniata stopped to take on stores and where shipbuilders sheathed her bow in iron for the coming encounters with the ice. When the Juniata reached the half-frozen hamlet of Sukkertoppen, on Greenland’s southwestern coast, De Long wrote to his wife, “I never in my life saw such a dreary land of desolation and I hope I may never find myself cast away in such a perfectly God-forsaken place . . . The ‘town,’ such as it is, consists of two houses and about a dozen huts made of mud and wood. I went into one and have been scratching ever since.”
De Long was positively smitten with his wife, Emma, a young French-American woman from Le Havre. He hated being so far away from her. He and Emma had been married for more than two years but had scarcely seen each other, for De Long’s Navy assignments had kept him almost constantly at sea. Sylvie, their baby girl, was nearly a stranger to him. The De Longs had a little apartment on Twenty-second Street in Manhattan, yet he was never there. Emma said her husband was a man “destined always to be separated from the ones he loved.” There was not much he could do about his prolonged absences—this was the life of a career naval officer.
At times, though, De Long dreamed of taking a leave and liv- ing another kind of existence with Emma and Sylvie, somewhere in the American West, or in the countryside in the south of France. From Greenland, he wrote to Emma about his fantasy. “I cannot help thinking how much happier we should be if we were together,” he said. “When we are apart I devise so many schemes . . . How nice it would be to go to some quiet place in Europe and pass a year by ourselves, where the Navy Department would not bother me with its orders, or any troubles come to make us uneasy. I think, darling, when I finish this cruise I might be able to get a year’s absence and we might spend it together where it would not be expensive and have a little home of our own. Don’t you think we could do that?”
De Long’s disdain for the polar landscape soon wore off. As the Juniata crossed the Arctic Circle and pressed ever farther up the ragged west coast of the world’s largest island, something began to take hold of him. He became more and more intrigued by the Arc- tic, by its lonely grandeur, by its mirages and strange tricks of light, its mock moons and blood-red halos, its thick, misty atmospheres, which altered and magnified sounds, leaving the impression that one was living under a dome. He felt as though he were breathing rarefied air. He became intrigued by the phenomenon of the “ice blink,” the spectral glow in the low sky that indicated the presence of a large frozen pack ahead. The scenery grew more impressive: ice-gouged fjords, towering bergs calved fresh from glaciers, the crisp sound of cold surf lapping against the pack, ringed seals peeking through gaps in the ice, bowhead whales spouting in the deep gray channel. This was the purest wilderness De Long had ever seen, and he began to fall in love with it.
BY L ATE JU LY, when the Juniata arrived at Disko Island, a wind- swept place of bubbling hot springs and Viking legends far up the coast of Greenland, De Long’s baptism by ice was nearly complete. Dressed head to toe in furs and wearing sealskin boots, he had gotten into the swing of things. “We have taken on board twelve dogs for sleds,” he wrote, “and we are now really worth looking at. The ship is black with dirt and coal dust, dogs packed away among the coal, sheep tied up forward and beef hanging around right and left with fish here and there. We are really in a good state to go anywhere.”
As he continued northward, De Long found himself absorbed by the question of what had happened to Charles Francis Hall and his expedition. Where had it gone wrong? What decisions had led to its demise? Where was the Polaris now, and were there any survivors? As a Navy officer, he was intrigued by matters of hierarchy, disci- pline, and motivation—how an operation was organized, and how that organization might fall apart. De Long felt himself being pulled deeper into a mystery infinitely more interesting than the dreary duties of his ordinary life at sea.
On July 31, the Juniata arrived at the tiny ice-clogged village of Upernavik, four hundred miles above the Arctic Circle, and here the plot of this polar detective story began to thicken. De Long and Cap- tain Braine went ashore to meet with a Danish official named Krarup Smith, the inspector royal of North Greenland. Inspector Smith had some interesting things to say about Charles Hall, who had stopped here with his entire expedition two years earlier, before disappearing in the High Arctic. Smith did not know where the Polaris was now, or whether there were any survivors, but he did offer one intriguing detail: Hall, he said, had had a presentiment of his own death.
When he arrived in Upernavik, Hall hinted that there was dissen- sion in the ranks, that some of the men were plotting to remove him from command. He sensed that he would never make it home, that he would die in the Arctic. Hall felt so sure of this that, for safekeeping, he left a bundle of valuable papers and other artifacts with Inspector Smith.
The reporter for the New York Herald, Martin Maher, noted that Smith “narrated with considerable minuteness the details of a quar- rel” in which certain members of the expedition “endeavored to preju- dice the crew of the ship against” Hall.
To hear Smith tell it now, the Hall expedition had been doomed before it even ventured into the ice. “The officers and crew of the Polaris were utterly demoralized,” Maher reported, and “Captain Hall evidently had some kind of misgiving or premonition of death.”
UPERNAVIK WAS AS far north as Captain Braine felt comfortable taking the Juniata. Despite her iron sheathing, she was not really designed or equipped to handle significant quantities of ice. The ship did, however, have a smaller boat, dubbed the Little Juniata, that was more agile, capable of navigating through the confusion of bergs and floes. Rigged as a sloop, the twenty-eight-foot launch carried a small steam engine, which powered a three-bladed screw propeller. Braine wanted a half dozen of his men to take the Little Juniata and continue the search for another four hundred miles along the fjord-riddled coast, up to a place called Cape York.
This secondary probe, which Braine estimated would take several weeks, was a dubious undertaking at best. The Little Juniata seemed a frightfully vulnerable craft, not much more than an open boat. Ice fields like these had crushed entire whaling fleets. Braine knew he could not order anyone to undertake this risky assignment; he had to rely on volunteers.
De Long was the first to raise his hand, and it was soon decided that he would captain the little vessel. De Long’s second-in-command would be a quiet, reliable fellow Naval Academy graduate from upstate New York named Charles Winans Chipp. Seven others cast their lot with De Long, including an Eskimo interpreter, an ice pilot, and Martin Maher from the Herald. Braine bid them farewell, not- ing in his written instructions to De Long, “I shall await with great interest your return to this ship from the hazardous duty for which you have volunteered.”
They nosed away from the Juniata on August 2, carrying provi- sions for sixty days and towing a dinghy loaded with twelve hundred pounds of coal. The little steam engine clanked away as De Long threaded through a series of fog-shrouded islands and thousands of small icebergs called growlers. They stopped at a few remote Inuit settlements—Kingitok, Tessi-Ussak—and then headed into a void, dodging massive bergs that dwarfed the boat.
Maher said he had “never witnessed a more glorious scene . . . Looking abroad on the immense fields of ice, glittering in the rays of the sun, and the thousands of huge, craggy icebergs as they sulkily floated out into Baffin’s Bay, one became awed by the dreadful maj- esty of the elements, and wondered how it would be possible to avoid being crushed to atoms.”
Eventually the Little Juniata was brought to a standstill in fields of unbroken pack, and De Long was forced repeatedly to ram the ice in order to break free, splintering the greenheart planks that reinforced the hull. They were enveloped in a dense freezing fog, and all the rig- ging became rimed in ice. “Absolutely hemmed in, we were now in a most perilous position, and sudden destruction threatened us,” wrote Maher. “We forced a passage westward at length, and after a terrific struggle of twelve hours, found open water again.”
De Long could not have been happier. He and Lieutenant Chipp were enjoying the cruise—and rising to its challenges. “Our boat is a beauty, doing everything but talking,” he wrote in a letter later mailed to Emma. “Now do not be alarmed if you do not hear from me for some time. If by any accident we should be frozen up all winter you will not hear from me again till spring. But be of good cheer. I expect to be back to the ship in fifteen days.”
Forty miles south of Cape York, De Long anchored to a large berg in order to hack away chunks of ice for the Little Juniata’s freshwater stores. A large fracture suddenly developed in an overhanging arm of the berg. Sensing danger, De Long pulled away only moments before a huge block of ice fell, smashing into the sea. This, in turn, caused the entire berg to wobble, then to upend. If De Long had been only a few feet closer, the Little Juniata would have been destroyed.
So far, De Long had not seen any sign of the Polaris, or any evi- dence of survivors; it was perhaps quixotic to think they would, given the scale of this fogbound wilderness. But as the commander inched into higher latitudes, approaching the 75th parallel, he found himself pulled into an ever-larger mystery. The complexity of the High Arctic spread before him like a riddle. He had never felt so alive, so engaged in the moment. He realized that he was becoming what the Arctic scientists liked to call a “pagophile”—a creature that is happiest in the ice.
ON AUGUST 8, the Little Juniata became enveloped in thick fog. The seas grew restive, and within a few hours she was in a full-on gale, the tiny vessel pitching in ice-chunked swells. “At every one of the fearful plunges,” De Long later wrote, “solid seas came aboard and showers of spray were thrown over, deluging everything in the boat. Our bailing made little impression.”
The storm had turned the existing ice fields into a dangerous roil, while also breaking off new slabs from surrounding icebergs and hurling them into the heaving sea. The Little Juniata was in constant peril of being ground to pieces. “Looking back at it now makes me tremble,” De Long wrote, “and I can only say that it was a miracle of Divine Providence that we were saved.” Said Martin Maher in the Herald: “The waves, lashed to a fury, burst against these mountains of ice, breaking off ponderous-looking, solid masses, which fell into the sea with a deafening sound. The destruction of the boat and all on board now seemed imminent. We were bound up in this terrible place, the appalling precipices of ice casting off their missiles of death.”
The gale raged for thirty-six hours. Somehow the Little Juniata held together, and when the storm abated, De Long was determined to resume his dash for Cape York despite the ominous fields of ice spread before him. “I was not disposed to quit without a fight,” he wrote. But he was running dangerously low on coal, and his men were miserable—freezing, hungry, soaked to the bone. He couldn’t get the boiler lit, as the kindling and tinder were thoroughly saturated. One of his men, after holding a friction match against his body for several hours, finally succeeded in lighting a candle, and soon the spluttery steam engine was coaxed back to life.
De Long smashed through the ice for a day, but he could see that continuing the journey would be beyond foolhardy. He had to consider “how far the lives of our little party were to be jeopardized,” he wrote, noting that he felt a responsibility that “I do not desire to have again.” De Long conferred with Lieutenant Chipp, whom he had come to admire for his calm sense of judgment. On August 10, Lieutenant George De Long did something he rarely ever did: He gave up. “Prosecuting the search for the Polaris people any longer was out of the question,” he said. They had ventured more than four hundred miles and had crossed the 75th parallel. But now, only eight miles from Cape York, the Little Juniata was turning around.
(Unbeknownst to De Long, all the remaining survivors of the Polaris—fourteen in total—had been picked up in June by a Scottish whaling vessel. They would eventually be taken to Dundee, Scotland, and would not return home to the United States until the fall.)
De Long steered the Little Juniata through intermittent ice fields toward the south. Running out of coal to fuel the steam engine, he was forced to improvise, burning slabs of pork in the furnace.
After a round-trip journey of more than eight hundred miles, the Little Juniata reunited with her mother ship in mid-August. Captain Braine had all but given up on the little steam launch, but now De Long was welcomed aboard the Juniata as a lost hero. “The ship was wild with excitement,” De Long wrote, “the men manning the rig- ging and cheering us. When I stepped over the side, so buried in furs as to be almost invisible, they made as much fuss over me as if I had risen from the dead, and when the Captain shook hands with me he was trembling from head to foot.”
THE JUNIATA RETURNED to St. John’s, then made its way for New York, where it arrived with much fanfare in mid-September. At the docks, De Long dodged reporters and slipped quietly away to his wife and baby daughter.
When he reunited with Emma, however, she instantly noticed a change. George had turned twenty-nine while in Greenland, but that was not it. Something was fundamentally different about him, something new in his eyes, in his demeanor. It was as though he had contracted a fever. He was already talking about returning to the Arctic. He became absorbed in Arctic literature and Arctic maps. He submitted his name for the next Navy expedition that might head for the High North.
“The adventure had affected him deeply and would not let him rest,” Emma wrote. She began to suspect that their sabbatical in the French countryside, the one he had dreamed about while in Green- land, would never come to pass. “The polar virus was in George’s blood to stay.”
The essential question, the one that had animated Charles Hall and other explorers before him, had begun to pull at De Long: How would man reach the North Pole? And once there, what would it be like? Were there open sea routes? Unknown species of fish and ani- mals? Monsters that lived on the ice? Lost civilizations, even? Were there whirlpools, as many people believed, that led to the bowels of the earth? Were woolly mammoths and other prehistoric creatures still wandering the Arctic solitudes? What other natural wonders might be found along the way? Or was the pole something else altogether—a verdant land warmed by vast ocean currents?
The more he pondered the problem of the North Pole, said Emma, “the greater became his desire to give that answer which alone would satisfy the world. The Arctic had cast its spell over him and from the moment of his return to New York its great mystery fascinated him.”
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides, Arthur Morey. Copyright © 2014 Hampton Sides. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
HAMPTON SIDES is an award-winning editor of Outside and the author of the bestselling histories Hellhound on his Trail, Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers.
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Story of courage ,determination. suffering and leadersh in an area of the world that in its day was akin to voyaging to outer space, the artic ocean and coastal siberia in the 1880's
This book takes you along on a voyage to the arctic that few people have even known occurred. Mr. Side's use of words was, for me, a reason in itself, to enjoy this fascinating tale. I was prompted into memories of various historical people living at the time and learned many new facts. I felt I had been with those unbelievably, determined men. I loved the book!
So beautifully, seemingly without effort and is so good blending stories together. What a rare and wonderful book. Hated to see it end. It became a part of me as I was reading it. No author could hope for more. As a reader, you will laugh, you will cry, and you will wander tributaries of the tundra while fighting frostbite. This fabulous book takes you there. What a glorious book.
Very well written with much research devoted to finding out the truth to this ill begotten mission. I could not put it down!!
Absolutely fabulous book. Best book this year.
Superbly written, extremely informative, hard to put down. For those aficionados of Arctic lore this book is on a par with Fergus Fleming's "Barrow's Boys" and Pierre Burton's "The Arctic Grail"
I liked this book a great deal. The research that had to have gone into this book was pretty impressive. I found myself drawn in, trying to imagine what they went through during and after this voyage. I would recommend this book.
Having read two other books about DeLong's polar exploration, this book far surpasses them in breadth, research, the human reach for the unknown. With every endeavor, there are influences both personal and of the times, and this book explores them, exposes them and makes real of this epic tale.
This is a great story by a great story teller. Gripping details of an incredible journey - I can't imagine living through these events.
Haven't read it yet, but my husband, who has read all of Hampton Sides' books, proclaims this the best yet. It's next on my pile.
Reading it now; off the chart great! Also try Hector's Juice!
Amazing story and well written
Limps in, wimpering " can i live here " she mewels
This forgotten but fantastic episode of American history and Arctic exploration is brilliantly reconstructed and engagingly told by author Hampton Sides. Starting with the backgrounds of the wealthy but eccentric backer, James Gordon Bennett Jr., and the almost obsessively focused captain of the USS Jeannette, George Washington De Long, the story proceeds chronologically through their research into approaches to the Arctic based on the prevailing theories of the late 1800s, acquisition and preparation of ship and crew, and the cruise to Arctic waters. Once they become trapped in the ice, where they'd spend many subsequent months, we gain insight into not only how they staved off boredom and maintained discipline, but also how various crew members dealt, successfully and not, with the privations of their situation. When the icepack crushes the Jeannette and they begin their journey back south to try to find safe haven, the heroism of both individuals, and the crew as a whole, becomes evident. The passion of the worldwide public fascination with the undertaking is counterbalanced by the pathos of De Long's patiently waiting wife. While he did not bring back all of his crew alive, the parallels to Shackleton and Antarctic exploration put this story on par with such classic tales of exploration and adventure.
Facinating tale of early polar exploration, overwhelming hardship and perseverance.
This book is the story of the voyage of exploration undertaken by the USS Jeanette in 1879. Her mission was to break through the ice belt in the north, reach the open polar waters and finally make it to the North Pole. Yep, that's right. In those days it was a commonly held belief that the North Pole was located in a warm open sea filled with teaming life. It was entirely possible, many argued, that there was a lost tribe of humans there. The Arctic was the great unknown, and there was huge public and national interest in the exploration of this region. It was the equivalent of the race to be the first on the moon. The USS Jeanette was the United States’ moonshot, and the cost of the expedition was funded by the most powerful newspaper of the time, the New York Herald. This book is the story of the people involved in this grand adventure and a factual account of the events before, during, and after the USS Jeanette’s Arctic journey. The author used many sources including current accounts in the news, personal journals, and the ship’s logs. It is rich, fascinating, and reads like a novel. It is a window into another time, and yet the motivations and emotions of those people echo our own times. It is a love story, an adventure story, a tale of survival in the face of horrific conditions, and even better, it is a story of science. The officers and crew of the USS Jeanette went to heroic lengths to collect and preserve their maps and data; their information changed the world’s understanding of the Arctic. After the voyage of the USS Jeanette, it was never again assumed that the North Pole was located in an open sea, and all other efforts to reach it involved trips over sea ice. Just as the trips to the moon changed our view of the Earth, so did the voyage of the USS Jeanette. I am very glad that I read this book and I highly recommend it to other readers.
I usually get bored with documentary type books but this one kept me interested right until the end. It was well written and taught me a lot, not only about the Jeannette but also about environmental conditions above the Arctic. I'm still amazed that these guys could survive for so long. Great Read!