In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

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by Hampton Sides

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New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded AgeIn 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,

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New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded AgeIn 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.Ebook edition includes over a dozen extra images

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Editorial Reviews

A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2014

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.

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A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death

Close to midnight on the evening of Sunday, November 8, 1874, as the early edition of the next day’s New York Herald was being born, the gaslit building at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street bustled. The telegraph machines hammered away, the press platens churned, the setting room clinked with the frenetic rearranging of movable metal type, the copy editors clamored for last-minute changes--and outside, in the cool autumn air, the crews of deliverymen pulled up to the freight docks with their dray horses and wagons, waiting to load the hemp-tied bundles and carry them to every precinct of the slumbering city.

Following routine, the night editor had the draft edition of the paper brought up to the publisher for his approval. This was no mean feat: The proprietor of the New York Herald could be a tyrannical micromanager, and he wielded his blue pencil like a bowie knife, often scribbling barely legible comments that trailed along the margins and then off the page. After his usual wine-drenched dinner at Delmonico’s, he would return to his office to drink pots of coffee and torment his staff until the paper was finally put to bed. The editors dreaded his tirades and expected him to demand, well into the wee hours, that they rip up the entire layout and start over again.

James Gordon Bennett JR. was a tall, thin, regal man of thirty-two years with a trim mustache and fine tapering hands. His blue-gray eyes seemed cold and imperious, yet they also carried glints of mischief. He wore impeccable French suits and dress shoes of supple Italian leather. To facilitate his long, if erratic, work hours, he kept a bed in his penthouse office, where he liked to snatch an early-morning nap.

By most reckonings, Bennett was the third-richest man in New York City, with an assured annual income just behind those of William B. Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt. Bennett was not only the publisher but also the editor in chief and sole owner of the Herald, probably the largest and most influential newspaper in the world. He had inherited the paper from his father, James Gordon Bennett Sr. The Herald had a reputation for being as entertaining as it was informative, its pages suffused with its owner’s sly sense of humor. But its pages were also packed with news; Bennett outspent all other papers to get the latest reports via telegraph and the transatlantic cable. For the newspaper’s longer feature stories, Bennett did whatever was necessary to acquire the talents of the biggest names in American letters--writers like Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, and Walt Whitman.

Bennett was also one of New York’s more flamboyant bachelors, known for affairs with burlesque stars and drunken sprees in Newport. He was a member of the Union Club and an avid sportsman. Eight years earlier, he had won the first transatlantic yacht race. He would play an instrumental role in bringing the sport of polo to the United States, as well as competitive bicycling and competitive ballooning. In 1871, at the age of twenty-nine, Bennett had become the youngest commodore in the history of the New York Yacht Club--a post he still held.

The Commodore, as everyone called Bennett, was known for racing fleet horses as well as sleek boats. Late at night, sometimes fueled with brandy, he would take out his four-in-hand carriage and careen wild-eyed down the moonlit turnpikes around Manhattan. Alert bystanders tended to be both puzzled and shocked by these nocturnal escapades, for Bennett nearly always raced in the nude.

James Gordon Bennett’s most original contribution to modern journalism could be found in his notion that a newspaper should not merely report stories; it should create them. Editors should not only cover the news, he felt; they should orchestrate large-scale public dramas that stir emotions and get people talking. As one historian of American journalism later put it, Bennett had the “ability to seize upon dormant situations and bring them to life.” It was Bennett who, in 1870, had sent Henry Stanley to find the missionary-explorer David Livingstone in remote Africa. Never mind that Livingstone had not exactly needed finding. The dispatches Stanley had sent back to the Herald in 1872 had caused an international sensation--one that Bennett was forever seeking to re-create.

Critics scoffed that these exclusives were merely “stunts,” and perhaps they were. But Bennett had a conviction that a first-rate reporter, if turned loose on the world to pursue some human mystery or solve some geographical puzzle, would invariably come back with interesting stories that would sell papers and extend knowledge at the same time. Bennett was willing to spend profligately to get these kinds of articles into his paper on a routine basis. His paper was many things, but it was rarely dull.

Now, on this early November morning, the Herald’s night editor must have been cringing as he had the still-warm draft of the first edition sent to his mercurial boss. The Herald contained a lead story that, if executed properly, was guaranteed to cause the kind of stir Gordon Bennett delighted in. It was one of the most incredible and tragic news exclusives that had ever run in the Herald’s pages. The story was headlined “A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death.”

The Commodore scanned the paper and began to take in the horrifying details: Late that Sunday afternoon, right around closing time at the zoo in the middle of Central Park, a rhinoceros had managed to escape from its cage. It had then rampaged through the grounds, killing one of its keepers--goring him almost beyond recognition. Other zookeepers, who had been in the midst of feeding the animals, had rushed to the scene, and somehow in the confusion, a succession of carnivorous beasts--including a polar bear, a panther, a Numidian lion, several hyenas, and a Bengal tiger--had slipped from their pens. What happened next made for difficult reading. The animals, some of which had first attacked each other, had then turned on nearby pedestrians who happened to be strolling through Central Park. People had been trampled, mauled, dismembered--and worse.

The Herald reporters had diligently captured every detail: How the panther was seen crouching over a man’s body, “gnawing horribly at his head.” How the African lioness, after “saturating herself in the blood” of several victims, had been shot by a party of Swedish immigrants. How the rhino had killed a seamstress named Annie Thomas and had then run north, only to stumble to its death in the bowels of a deep sewer excavation. How the polar bear had maimed and killed two men before tramping off toward Central Park’s upper reservoir. How, at Bellevue Hospital, the doctors were “kept busy dressing the fearful wounds” and found it “necessary to perform a number of amputations . . . One young girl is said to have died under the knife.”

At press time, many of the escaped animals were still at large, prompting Mayor William Havemeyer to issue a proclamation that called for a rigid curfew until “the peril” had subsided. “The hospitals are full of the wounded,” the Herald reported. “The park, from end to end, is marked with injury, and in its artificial forests the wild beasts lurk, to pounce at any moment on the unwary pedestrians.”

Bennett did not break out his blue pencil. For once, he had no changes to suggest. He is said to have leaned back among his pillows and “groaned” at this remarkable story.

The HERALD report was written in an even tone. Its authors had peppered it with intimate details and filled the roster of victims with the names of real, in some cases quite prominent, New Yorkers. But the story was entirely a hoax. With Bennett’s enthusiastic encouragement, the editors had concocted the tale to demonstrate that the city had no evacuation plan in the event of a large-scale emergency--and also to point out that many of the cages at the Central Park Zoo were flimsy and in bad need of repair. The outmoded Central Park menagerie, the editors later noted, was a far cry from the state-of-the-art zoo at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. It was time for New York City to rise to the level of a world-class city, and for the nation, whose one hundredth birthday was approaching in just over a year and a half, to have at least one world-class park to display the planet’s wildest creatures.

Lest anyone say that the Herald had deceived its readers, the editors had covered their bases. Anyone who’d read “A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death” to its end (buried discreetly in the back pages) would have found the following disclaimer: “Of course, the entire story given above is a pure fabrication. Not one word of it is true.” Still, the paper contended, the city fathers had devoted no thought to what might happen in an authentic emergency. “How is New York prepared to meet such a catastrophe?” the Herald asked. “From causes quite as insignificant the greatest calamities of history have sprung.”

Bennett knew from experience that very few New Yorkers would bother to read the article all the way to its conclusion, and he was right. That morning, as the usual clouds of anthracite coal fumes began to rise over the stirring city, people turned to their morning papers--and were plunged in chaos and confusion. Alarmed citizens made for the city’s piers in hopes of escaping by small boat or ferry. Many thousands of people, heeding the mayor’s “proclamation,” stayed inside all day, awaiting word that the crisis had passed. Still others loaded their rifles and marched into the park to hunt for rogue animals.

It should have been immediately apparent to even the most naïve reader that the piece was a spoof. But this was a more credulous era, a time before radio and telephones and rapid transit, when city dwellers got their information mainly from the papers and often found it hard to tease rumor from truth.

Later editions took the story even further. Now the Herald reported that the governor of New York himself, a Civil War hero named John Adams Dix, had marched into the streets and shot the Bengal tiger as a personal trophy. A much-expanded list detailed other animals that had escaped from the zoo, including a tapir, an anaconda, a wallaby, a gazelle, two capuchin monkeys, a white-haired porcupine, and four Syrian sheep. A grizzly bear had entered the St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, and there, in the center aisle, it “sprang upon the shoulders of an aged lady, and buried his fangs in her neck.”

The editors of rival newspapers were thoroughly perplexed. It was not the first time the Herald had scooped them, but why had their reporters failed to glean even an inkling of this obviously momentous event? The city editor of the New York Times stormed over to police headquarters on Mulberry Street to scold the department for feeding the story to the Herald while ignoring his esteemed paper. Even some staffers of the Herald fell for the prank: One of Bennett’s most celebrated war correspondents, who apparently had not gotten the memo, showed up at the office that morning armed with two big revolvers, ready to prowl the streets.

Predictably, Bennett’s rivals excoriated the Herald for its irresponsible conduct--and for spreading widespread panic that could have resulted in loss of life. A Times editorial observed, “No such carefully prepared story could appear without the consent of the proprietor or editor--supposing that this strange newspaper has an editor, which seems rather a violent stretch of the imagination.”

Such expressions of righteous indignation fell on deaf ears. The Wild Animal Hoax, as it came to be affectionately known, only brought more readers to the Herald. It seemed to solidify the notion that Bennett had his finger on the pulse of his city--and that his daily journal had a sense of fun. “The incident helped rather than hurt the paper,” one historian of New York journalism later noted. “It had given the town something to talk about and jarred it as it had never been jarred before. The public seemed to like the joke.”

Bennett was enormously pleased with the whole affair--it still ranks as one of the great newspaper hoaxes of all time. The story even managed to accomplish its ostensible goal: The zoo’s cages were, in fact, repaired.

True, it was not nearly as sensational a success as Stanley’s finding Livingstone. Bennett would have to keep looking for an encore to that lucrative saga. His reporters were out in the field, in every corner of the globe, hunting down the next blockbuster story. He had correspondents in Australia, in Africa, in China. They were covering the debauchery of faded European royals, the high jinks of Wall Street, and the gunslinging of the Wild West. They were wandering throughout the Reconstruction South, too, reporting on all its colorful frauds.

The direction that most interested Gordon Bennett, though, was north. He sensed that the greatest mysteries lay in that direction, under the midnight sun. The fur-cloaked men who ventured into the Arctic had become national idols--the aviators, the astronauts, the knights-errant of their day. People couldn’t get enough of them. They were a special breed of scientist-adventurer, Bennett felt, their quest informed by a kind of dark romance and a desperate chivalry. Bennett, who took reckless risks in his own sporting life, expected his reporters to do the same while pursuing their assignments. In this heroic age of exploration, the Commodore was adamant that his best correspondents should head for the ice zones to follow the gallant and obsessive characters who now were aiming for the ultimate grail.

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In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 57 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
  Absolutely fabulous book.  Best book this year.
cascadervr More than 1 year ago
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
faesydaisy More than 1 year ago
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!
Tsunami767 More than 1 year ago
Very well written with much research devoted to finding out the truth to this ill begotten mission.   I could not put it down!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great story by a great story teller. Gripping details of an incredible journey - I can't imagine living through these events.
Eve1124 More than 1 year ago
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. 
XMontreal More than 1 year ago
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"
Maggie42 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading it now; off the chart great! Also try Hector's Juice! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Pads in. He looks around. He laid his eyes on brightstar. He felt his jaw drop as he stared at her, transfixed in her beauty.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Two cats padd in. One with a stone grey pelt and one with soft and fluffy brown calico fur. "May we join?" Asked the vgrey tom. The she cat looks around excitedly.
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Go4Jugular More than 1 year ago
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.
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Facinating tale of early polar exploration, overwhelming hardship and perseverance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Midnight_ReaderMA More than 1 year ago
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.
PatyPH More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although the age of this amazing adventure has obscured it's history somewhat, this is still an example of exceptional daring and bravery. What the crew of the Jeanette endured is incredible.