We are developing this page to constitute a collection of papers, articles and documents about Admiral Peary, his accomplishments and his family, with the hope that this can become a research source for students and others interested in the subjects.
We suggest the first two items as a starting point for research. After that, the items will not be arranged in any particular order. Just browse and select what might interest you.
- A chronology of the life of Admiral Peary. A good way to keep track of his life.
- A biography of the Admiral, written in 1996 by Dr. Vincent Transano , Command Historian, Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
- Pole Seekers: A Comparison." By Captain Donald M. Taub, USCG (Ret.). Three expeditions to the North Pole by dogsled are compared: Robert E. Peary's in 1909, Will Steger's in 1986, and Tom Avery's in 2005.
- "Snow Babies." The story of how Marie Ahnighto Peary, the Admiral's daughter, born in Greenland September12, 1893, got her name.
- "Pinky's Last Trip." A story, written by Marie Peary about her father's pinky schooner the "Mary" and it's last trip. An exciting sea story about a ship and the men who sailed her.
- Josephine Diebitsch Peary. A new biography of the Admiral's wife, written by her grandson, Cdr. Edward Peary Stafford. (Photos are being added 7-1-2011.)
- The S. S. Roosevelt, A Very Special Ship. An article, first published in the Spring 2005 issue of the Eagle Island Journal, describing this ship.
1856 - Peary was born in Creson, PA, only son of Charles and Mary Webster (Wiley) Peary. Charles died in 1859 and was buried in Brown Hill Cemetery, South Portland where Peary and his mother came to reside.
1869 to 1873 - Peary attended and graduated from Portland High School. He and his mother had moved to 119 Oxford St. at the base of Munjoy Hill
1873 to 1877 - Peary attended Bowdoin College having received the Brown Memorial Scholarship. He majored in Civil Engineering. He graduated second in rank in a class of 54 students (Phi Beta Kappa).
1877 to 1879 - He and his mother moved to Fryeburg where he was the town surveyor and well known taxidermist.
1879 - Peary moved to Washington, DC where after competitive examinations, he had received an appointment as a draftsman for the U S Coast and Geodetic Survey.
1881 - Peary applied for and received an appointment to the Civil Engineering Corps of the United States Navy and became a Lieutenant. The exam was not a cake-walk. It extended over ten days of eight hour periods.
1884 to 1885 - Peary was second in command of the first survey of the Nicaraguan Canal Route. Peary also did the preliminary design of the locks with some unique features.
1886 - Peary made his first expedition to Greenland where he made a 100 mile penetration of the ice cap and developed a fund of information to be used on later expeditions. Accompanied by Maigaard, a Dane.
1887 - 1888 Peary was again second in command of the second Nicaraguan Canal Survey. Matthew Henson accompanied Peary on this trip.
1888 - Peary married Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch after a 6 year tumultuous courtship.
1891 - Peary made his second expedition to explore north Greenland taking Josephine with him. She stayed at his base on Whale Sound in Northwest Greenland while he traveled 1300 miles over the ice cap to the north establishing that Greenland was an island.
1893 to 1894 - Peary’s third expedition to explore north Greenland with Josephine. She bore their first child Marie Ahnighto (the Snow Baby) Sept. 12, 1893. The attempt of 1894 ended early because of adverse weather conditions.
1895 - Peary, Lee, and Henson traveled in North Greenland 600 miles but were forced back because of low provisions. Before leaving for home they were able to find and bring back 2 meteorites, “The Woman” 5500 pounds and “The Dog” 1000 pounds on display at Museum of Natural History, New York City.
1896 - Peary attempted to bring back “The Tent” 100 Ton meteoriite but was thwarted by an early change in the weather.
1897 - Peary returned and this time succeeded in getting the meteorite aboard the ship. Being magnetic, the return trip was very difficult without the use of a compass. The “Tent” is also at the Museum of Natural History.
1898 to 1902 - Peary made his fifth and sixth expeditions and with great difficulty established his most northernmost depot at Fort Conger. He lost 8 toes to frostbite but continued. In 1902 Peary reached a latitude 84 17’ 27”, the farthest north of any man but had to turn back because of low supplies.
1903 - Robert E. Peary Jr. was born in Washington, DC on Sept 29th.
1905 to 1906 - Having designed his own ship, the powerful “Roosevelt” as well as most of the expedition’s equipment, Peary was able to force his way north through the pack ice to the north side of Ellesmere Island at Cape Sheridan.He reached 87 6’ 00” but had to turn back due to low supplies and large open leads.
1908 to 1909 - Completely refitted, Peary led his party of 6 teams north from Cape Sheridan and this time the weather was kinder and the open leads not so difficult. Peary’s team consisting of Matthew Henson and four Eskimos reached the pole on April 6, 1909.
1911 - Congress passed legislation giving the nation’s thanks to Peary, promoted him to Rear Admiral and placed him on the retired list.
1910 to 1914 The house on Eagle Island was modernized and expanded.
1916 Having studied the airplane carefully, Peary recognized the importance of aircraft for exploration and military purposes. He was among the first to seek the creation of a Dept. of Aeronautics separate from the Navy and Army. Through a 20 city fund raising tour, Peary raised $250,000 for the Aerial Coastal Patrol and established four bases on the East Coast which were in operation during the latter half of World War 1.
1917 - Peary was diagnosed as having pernicious anemia untreatable at the time.
1920 - Peary died at his Washington home on February 20, 1920 and was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery with a large globe monument honoring his many achievements. Josephine, his remarkable supporting wife, died Dec. 19. 1955 and is buried beside him. Matthew Henson, his able assistant of many years, is also buried here.
By Captain Donald M. Taub, USCG (Ret.)
Three expeditions to the North Pole by dogsled are here compared; that of Robert E. Peary in 1909, of Will Steger in 1986, and that led by Tom Avery in 2005.
The Barclay’s Capital “Ultimate North” expedition to the North Pole led by Tom Avery in 2005 in 37 days confirmed Robert E. Peary’s successful 37 day expedition in 1909. Avery’s expedition closely duplicated Peary’s route of 413 nautical miles by dogsled. Their sleds were the “Peary” design with very similar loads. Avery’s team included a 53 year old female member, about the same age as Peary in 1909.
The expedition led by Will Steger and Paul Schurke in 1986 also closely paralleled Peary’s. All three expeditions were done without external material support. Like Peary, Steger’s navigation was done solely by sextant, magnetic compass, and visual sastrugi wind surface markings, and was accurate to within less than one mile of the North Pole as confirmed by Global Positioning System (GPS). In various ways these 1986 and 2005 expeditions were more difficult than Peary’s, yet matched key aspects of Peary’s speeds.
Avery’s 2005 trek matched Peary’s total time of 37 days to the Pole, and except for bad weather near the end, they likely would also have matched or exceeded Peary’s final 5-day dash speed between 88O N and 90O N. Steger’s 1986 trek did match Peary’s speeds in their last 5 days of northward travel, but took 6 days with no headway on the fifth day due to problems with their sextant. Their progress was monitored externally by GPS for safety purposes, and showed that their travel path was essentially a straight line to the pole.
While these three expeditions were very similar; there were significant differences. Peary’s pioneering trek was easier for several reasons. Global warming has altered the polar pack ice. Avery stated that the average ice thickness in 2005 was less than 8 feet. Steger reported it at 10 feet in 1986 compared to 12 feet in Peary’s time. This thinning lends to more breaking of the ice with more raised pressure ridges, more open water and more drifting. Steger and Avery also started onto the polar sea ice later in the season than Peary did, giving them brighter daylight and higher temperatures.
Peary’s teams took to the sea ice on Feb. 28 with sled loads of less than 500 lbs and reached the Pole on April 6, 1909. Steger’s party set out on March 8 with sled loads of 1200 lbs. This required back and forth relaying of supplies during their first 24 days, thus tripling their travel distance until they got beyond the shear zone’s rough ice. Here they encountered an early start of the spring ice break-up so they didn’t reach the Pole until April 30, 1986, for an exhausting total of 53 days.
Avery’s party set out still later on March 20 and reached the Pole on April 27, 2005. They were occasionally hampered by periods of strong head winds that caused the ice to drift south. Per Avery, had this not occurred, they would have averaged about 27 to 28 miles per day for that final dash, 88ON to 90ON (120 miles). (Peary’s final five days dash average speed was 25 miles per day for his last 125 miles, or 26.6 miles per day for his last 133 miles, depending upon which distance was counted as his final dash.)
Then there was the different manner and make-up of the travel parties in the number of persons, sleds, and dogs. Avery and Steger were handicapped by what they started out with to the Pole. Peary had the benefit of others designated to break the trail and set the course. Two experienced arctic navigators did most of it; Capt. Robert Bartlett for 19 marches and Professor Ross Marvin for 2 marches, and Matthew Henson for 4 marches. The magnetic compass variation was found to be essentially constant on their longitude all the way northward, since the Magnetic North Pole was about 1000 miles to their southwest. Indeed, it is constant as stated by Steger. Setting the clock at noon on the meridian starting point enables an easy check along the way, and tells if one is east or west of the desired longitude, and in any case, the direction of true north.
Peary set out onto the polar sea ice with 6 expedition members, 21 Eskimos, and the best 140 dogs (out of 246) with 19 sleds carrying loads of 450 to 500 lbs. He formed them into 6 teams (divisions) and they broke the trail, established igloo camps, and carried out a system of one-way relays to move supplies forward, sending the injured and poorer performers back to land, one team at a time along the way to 88O N, while Peary saved his own energy for the final dash. By 88ON, Peary had the choice of the 4 most motivated Eskimos, the best 40 dogs and 5 sleds. (Bartlett had established their position at 87O47’N; 133 miles left to go.) There Peary had to choose between his long time companion of all his arctic expeditions, Matthew Henson, or his ship’s Captain, Robert Bartlett, who at that time was a British citizen. Henson knew the Eskimo language best, had rapport with them, and was arguably the better dogsled driver of the two.
All three expeditions experienced improving ice conditions beyond the wide shear zone that separates the drifting polar pack ice from the shore fast ice, at and beyond Ellesmere Island’s relatively shallow continental shelf which extends out about 50 miles. Both Peary and Steger encountered the so-called “big lead” of open water at approximately 84O N, while Avery apparently did not.
Steger’s expedition set out with 7 men and a woman, 5 large sleds and 49 dogs with average loads of 1200 lbs, vs. Peary’s nominal 450 lbs. During their first 24 days, they had to relay partial loads, going back and forward, thus tripling their travel distance until they got beyond the rough ice of the shear zone. Steger’s party encountered two major storms with very strong winds at about 84ON and at 85ON, which caused slight northeasterly drift of the sea ice. They were delayed three times while they sent out 2 men and 28 dogs by aircraft. This left them with 3 shortened sleds, 21 dogs and 5 persons on their 36th day at 86O10’N. They too enjoyed better ice north of 86ON. (In this stretch, they also met solo skier Jean-Louis Etienne who also made it to the Pole.) Between 88ON and 89ON, they had a problem with their sextant, and finally corrected it at 89O30’N. Moisture had gotten into its internal mirrors and frozen. This caused the loss of one day’s travel northward and a detour during their final dash from 88ON. Otherwise as above, they would have matched or even exceeded Peary’s final 5-day dash to the pole. Like Peary, they achieved the Pole solely by sextant and magnetic compass, and their position was within a few hundred yards of the Pole by GPS; 6 of 8 persons and 20 of 49 dogs remaining. They were picked up at the Pole by aircraft.
Avery’s expedition in 2005 set out on March 20 with 5 persons (one, a woman about Peary’s age) with 2 Peary design sleds and 16 dogs, 21 days later in the season than Peary. Based on the limited available details they apparently did not encounter the so-called “big lead” in the shear zone, but did encounter 40 to 50 open leads en-route, and strong winds that caused them to drift south on their 34th day of 37. As above, Avery wrote that lacking this happening, they would have matched or exceeded Peary’s final dash speeds. They did match Peary’s total of 37 days to the pole, even beating him by a few hours.
Polar Sea Currents: Peary’s and Avery’s routes to the Pole were along the 70O W meridian from Cape Columbia, and Steger’s from adjacent Ward Hunt Island at 75O W, essentially the same distance to the Pole. This is mostly within a zone of sea current null, wherein the currents have little effect until near to the North Pole. The drift of the pack ice is affected more by strong winds. And as we have seen, the magnetic compass variation is approximately constant all the way to the Pole.
Water flows north from the Pacific Ocean into the polar sea where its multiple directions are effected by the surrounding land configurations, and finally outward into the Atlantic Ocean. The primary outflow is via the east side of Greenland with lesser flows southward through the Canadian arctic islands to the west of Ellesmere Island, and through the narrow channel between Ellesmere Island and northwest Greenland, with gyral currents flowing in different directions. The distinctive clockwise Beaufort Gyral is well to the west of this 70O or 75O W longitude route with its drift rate of one to three miles per day. On the east side of this route to the pole, the currents vary in direction as one goes northward; first southeastward toward NW Greenland’s Smith Sound, then into a lesser clockwise gyre’s westward flow, then northward, then eastward, then west again, and finally east again as one reaches the transpolar stream flowing to the Atlantic via the east coast of Greenland.
The net effect of these multi directional and frequently opposing currents was illustrated by the track line of Steger’s expedition that was plotted externally by GPS. Their actual track was essentially a straight line from land until they had problems with their sextant and thence to within less than one mile west of the pole. Two minor deflections eastward were caused by very strong winds at about 84ON and 85ON, and one westward at 89O30’N to avoid bad ice and open water near the pole late in the season.
As one approaches the North Pole (beyond 88ON), longitudes become increasingly meaningless and the Sun’s elevation approaches being constant except for its daily rise. Thus one has to depend on the compass heading in order to maintain direction north and distance by “dead reckoning”. Peary made his initial polar sextant observation to determine his latitude just after noon on April 6th, and then did a series of observations; 10 miles further, then back, then from 8 miles at a right angle, and then back again taking sights at midnight, then at 6 am, one in between and at noon again on April 7th. This, as a sailor knows, amounted to a “4 line running fix” spanning 12 hours. Per his calculations, the Pole was somewhere within his “fix”, or close enough. Steger’s observations were similar and, put him within less than one mile from the pole by GPS. Peary’s primary concern at that point, with no aircraft to take him home, was their safe return to land.
Recap (distance 413 nautical miles
Peary (37 days) Feb 28 to April 6, 1909 - Set out with 7 expedition members, 21 Eskimos, 19 sleds, 140 dogs with sled loads of 450 to 500 lbs. Final dash 88ON to 90ON in 5 days ; Peary and Henson, 4 Eskimos, 5 sleds, and best 40 dogs
Steger (54days) March 8 to May 1, 1986 - Set out with 7 men, 1 woman, 5 sleds, 49 dogs with sled load of 1200 lbs. Reached Pole with 6 persons, 2 sleds, and 20 dogs. A close match to Peary’s final dash speeds.
Avery (37 days) March 20 to April 27, 2005 - Set out with 4 men, 1 woman, 2 sleds, and 16 dogs with same sled loads as Peary’s. Final dash was close match to Peary’s and slightly shorter overall.
The term “Snow Baby” has been around for more than 100 years. Literally millions of them have been made and sold since the late 1800’s. Some of them were edible and are no longer with us; others were more enduring, being made of bisque, porcelain, cast iron, plaster of Paris, and various other compositions. They were often coated with porcelain chips to look like snow, and usually only the face was painted although some had hands and shoes painted as well.
Historically it is thought that they first appeared in Germany made of sugar and used as Christmas tree decorations, an early lollypop, so to speak. Later they appeared as decorations on cakes and pastries made from marzipan. Chefs all over Germany, France, and England were carried away with the idea.
Snow Baby with lantern
In 1893 Marie Peary, daughter of Robert E and Josephine Peary, was born in the Arctic. The news of the birth of this white baby in the land of ice and snow traveled all over the world and was the talk at every dinner table. The Inuit men, women, and children came from hundreds of miles around, riding on their sledges pulled by dogs, to see this curiosity. They wanted to touch her to see if she was warm and not made of snow, she was so white. They gave her the name, AH-POO-MIK-A-NINNY, which translates to “Snow Baby,” and they brought her many presents. Josephine Peary’s book “The Snow Baby” shows pictures of Marie lying on reindeer blankets and in her own fur snow suit. The stories and pictures of this beautiful white baby born in the Arctic fascinated people world- wide. Children and infants were even dressed in furry Eskimo-like parkas because of the event.
Marie Ahnighito Peary
As the news traveled world-wide, manufacturers, particularly in Germany, saw the market for a more durable doll and started making them from bisque in much higher production. They came in many different poses and sizes from as small as 1” to as big as 12” and were exported all over the world. Needless to say, they have become collectors’ items much prized today in thousands of private doll collections. It is thought that the larger Snow Babies were made to be used as displays in the show windows of stores, especially around Christmas time. Along with Santa Claus, the Snow Baby had become kind of a symbol for Christmas.
The publication of Josephine’s book the “The Snow Baby” in 1901 precipitated a resurgence in production of Snow Babies in a wide variety of poses. They could be sitting in a sledge, sliding on a sled, snowshoeing, waving, or patting a dog. Later, in the 20’s, whole displays of Snow Babies in groups performing different activities were made for display in the home on tables, mantelpieces, or bookcases. Production of Snow Babies came in surges throughout the 20th century. During World War I the supply from Germany ceased, but it was soon replaced by manufacturing in England. The Japanese also entered the market from time to time. Mail order stores like Sears Roebuck did a high volume in Snow Babies during the Christmas season. Many of those early Snow Babies survive today because they were used only at Christmas time and put safely away the rest of the year.
Kissing Snow Baby
Snow Babies ultimately were made by many different manufacturers, most of whom did quality work, but the buyer should be aware that some were made so hurriedly that they deteriorate rapidly and often suffer from pealing paint improperly fired. Some were made as bisque shoulder head dolls with stuffed cloth bodies.
Snow Babies are a delightful collector’s item and seem to undergo periodic rebirths and reissues. Many collectors prize them so highly that they are quite rare and often expensive. New Snow Babies are still made and are of good quality but somewhat hard to find.
Excerpts taken from an article written by Jean Grout (with her permission) in "Doll News" summer 1998.
Snow Baby Standing on her head
Steve and the “Old Man” sailed her from Boothbay Harbor
To Eagle Island on a voyage that was a mite rough
By Marie Ahnighto Peary
Those of you who read Mr. Elder’s excellent article in the Transcript for January the seventh, will be familiar with the term ”pinky”. An old-time pinky schooner, the type of which is now extinct, had two masts, a blunt bow which caused it to pound badly in a sea, and a high overhanging crotched stern which was it’s distinguishing feature. The Mary and an older pinky, the Polly, were the last ones of their particular kind to remain afloat, for fishermen all along the coast were discarding pinkies for sloops, or schooners with cutter bows and not so much waste space caused by the high stern.
My father, the late Admiral Peary, was an ardent son of Maine and interested in anything pertaining to the glory and history of his native state. I can well remember his purchase of the Mary, because although my brother and I were not at the age where historical relics meant much to us, we were charmed with the idea of having a useable sailboat moored off Eagle Island!
To many people throughout the country, Casco Bay is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and to the Peary family, Eagle Island represents their idea of heaven on earth. Our friends have been known to refer to it, half mockingly, half affectionately as “The Promised Land”. It captured Dad’s fancy while he was still an undergraduate at Bowdoin, spending part of his summer vacation camping on nearby Haskell’s Island. Eagle Island was bought with the first money he earned after leaving college, and although we did not go there to live until 1904, it is safe to say that from then until his death in 1920, the Island was never long out of my father’s thoughts. To own the last of the existing pinky schooners and to provide her with a fitting berth off Eagle Island was the materialization of only one of his many plans.
The Mary was discovered and purchased at Saint George in Maine, and I have no information as to how she was brought from there to Boothbay Harbor. I do know however that it was from Boothbay Harbor to Eagle Island that she made her last real voyage and her crew on this eventful trip was picturesque enough to warrant a description.
They would not linger
First of all there was “Charlie” known to our family ever since I could remember as “The Old Man”. It never occurred to us to call him anything else, and it never seemed an unusual form of address until we noticed the astonishment on the faces of some of our guests. The Old Man was a Newfoundlander who followed the sea from boyhood. He had been steward on nearly every one of Dad’s Arctic expeditions, and was the greatest comfort to mother and to me when we went north. Many a fascinating hour have I spent listening open-mouthed to his tales of voyages to the Barbados and to “Rio”. When his arctic duties were over, he became caretaker of Eagle Island and served there faithfully until his death.
The other member of the crew was “Steve”. Steve was a typical “Down East” fisherman. There was no sailboat made that he could not handle, and handle better than most! Dad’s acquaintance with him dated from the days of the camping trips to Haskell’s Island, when Steve’s father was the keeper of a nearby lighthouse, and Steve brought firewood and drinking water to the “town” boys and showed them the best fishing grounds.
These then were the two men who, early one summer morning, caught the steamer to Portland and there transferred to the steamer for Boothbay Harbor. They both had a fine scorn for anything propelled by mechanical means and when asked about their trip replied scornfully that it had been a dull, uneventful and stale trip, “What could happen? Any dumb idiot could navigate one of them things!”
They arrived in Boothbay Harbor when the afternoon was well advanced. Their first act was to search out the Mary, and see what condition she was in. She had been pronounced by the former owner as ready to put to sea at once, but they found her with her hull badly dried out as a result of being hauled up out of the water all winter. Also there were no provisions on board nor were her sails “bent”.
The old man made a hasty trip to the village store to stock up with such food as they might need, and during his absence Steve looked over the sails and rigging. The villagers showed great interest in the proceedings and urged the men to remain for supper and the night. But although they never said so, I imagine in both these old sailors there surged a certain repressed excitement at the thought of going to sea again and in such a strange craft. So they refused to be tempted by the thoughts of an evening of smoking and gossip and hurried on with their preparations.
A small stove was set up in the tiny cabin and supper was hastily prepared and as hastily eaten. Then came the lengthy and not too easy task of “bending on” the sails. From the moment of their arrival on board the Mary, an interested crowd, constantly augmented by newcomers, had watched them from the wharf above. Now without any preliminaries, a young man swung himself down onto the deck beside Steve and quite simply offered to lend a hand. His services were accepted in the same laconic fashion and the work went on.
An old-timer volunteered the information from the wharf that he “cal’ated” they would make better weather of it if they had more ballast aboard. And of all the suggestions that had been showered upon them during the progress of their task, Steve and the Old Man seemed to incline most favorably towards this one. Accordingly, more ballast was taken on board before they started.
Everything was propitious for a record-breaking trip. The moon was almost full, there was a strong tide running, and the wind which had been fitful all day, had hauled around into the northeast and was blowing steadily and with increasing force. Just as the crew of the Mary were about to cast off, the young man who had been helping them asked to be allowed to come along. He said he would like to have the trip, would work his passage, and might be of use to them in a tight place. Steve grunted scornfully at the possibility of “a tight place” but let the boy accompany them.
Sailing along the coast was a picnic. Steve knew the entire region as he knew the palm of his hand. He knew where there were reefs and submerged rocks; how fast the tide “made” through this inlet; where to hug the land to take advantage of the wind; where to sheer off in order to dodge the pull of the surf. The wind was dead behind them and they could have lashed the rudder and taken life easy had they not been more or less excited.
With dawn and a changing tide, however, conditions changed. The wind backed around into the north and then the northwest, making it necessary to flatten the sheets and keep the pinky as close to the wind as possible. The sea, too, grew contrary and rose in great choppy masses, seeming to come from all directions at once. The pinky was seaworthy, but because of the blunt bow, she was soon pounding badly. The extra ballast weighed her down so heavily that instead of riding the waves, as she should have done, she stuck her nose deep into each one and let it sweep her length from bow to stern. And how she rolled!
The young man from Boothbay Harbor disappeared into the cabin almost immediately and the Old Man found him there later curled around the foot of the foremast, his head stuck on a coil of rope and suffering as only the seasick can suffer.
It soon became evident that what with her dried out condition and the waves that had come on board, the water in the Mary was rising rapidly. So while the Old Man took the tiller, Steve got out the pump and set to work. This is a miserable job at best and under the existing conditions on board the little schooner, it was at its very worst. And it had to be repeated every half-hour, as the wind was freshening all the time. Steve kept the course well off the land, to avoid the tide rips at the mouths of the rivers and the bays.
They say you can get used to anything in time and apparently this is what happened to the seasick youth in the cabin, for after a while he dragged himself out on deck, able to lend a much-needed hand. He was far from being the man he had been when he sailed from Boothbay Harbor, but his presence was a great physical relief to the other two men.
Over the rail and back
Suddenly, with the sound of a pistol shot, the foot lashings on the staysail carried away, unwinding like a frenzied serpent and causing the sail to slat about crazily, and whip over the side. Thrusting the tiller into the hands of their assistant, Steve and the Old Man jumped forward to repair the damage. It was not so easy.
The pinky was careening drunkenly in the choppy sea, her bowsprit under water at each forward lunge, the deck slippery and uncertain, and the wind flapping the sail and lashing, just out of their reach. Time after time, they would succeed in catching the flying rope end, only to have it whipped out of their hands before they could make it fast.
As a last resort, the Old Man worked his way well out onto the bowsprit, clinging desperately with his legs and arms and miraculously keeping his balance, as wave after wave of icy water buried him up to the waist. Finally he succeeded in grabbing the elusive rope and passing it in triumph to Steve, when a particularly vicious wave gave him a buffet and before he could recover his footing a cross-wave caught him and he disappeared overboard in a smother of foam.
He was dressed in heavy oils and sea-boots and like every other Newfoundland sailor I have ever known, could not swim. There was a small punt in tow of the pinky but it was so waterlogged as to be practically useless. Besides it wouldn’t have lived a minute in such a sea. While the two men left on board were still paralyzed with fright and with the sense of their helplessness, one of those things occurred which are in truth “stranger than fiction”.
The Old Man’s head appeared, apparently riding the crest of a wave, which was coming swiftly towards the pinky. Before he had time to go down again, another wave much larger than the first swept over him, hiding him once more from the horrified eyes of his companions. This huge wave struck the schooner full amidships, swept across her deck with tremendous force, and when it receded left behind on the deck, the Old Man, gasping like a hooked fish but safe.
It was only a matter of minutes after that before Steve had seized the tiller, straightened the Mary on her course once more and he saw the Old Man apparently none the worse for his adventure, had made fast and re-lashed the staysail.
Steve now decided it was time to beat for home and so they came about. The wind had freshened to what experienced sailors conservatively call “half a gale”, the tide was against them, and they were all pretty tired. Besides, the incessant pumping was beginning to tell on their dispositions.
But their troubles were not over yet. The boy at the pumps reported that, although he had been working steadily for twenty minutes, he didn’t seem to be gaining at all. Steve took a hand and found that the boy was right except in one particular. Instead of gaining, they were losing. At the end of half an hour there was more water in the hold than when they started.
With Pail and Saucepan
This was serious. Pinkies as a rule are so long legged that they are very fair for beating to windward, in spite of their blunt bow. But the Mary was so waterlogged that she was making heavy weather of it. How Steve regretted the extra ballast he had taken on board at Boothbay Harbor. He and the boy began at once to throw a great deal of it overboard and as a result the boat rode the waves better but tossed about even more crazily than before. And the water still gained.
It was no longer a joke. It was grim reality, and as such the two men faced it. I think old sailors have a certain philosophy that carries them along—something to the effect that ”We’ve been in tighter places than this and pulled through” – and it is this that gives them that air of insouciance when landlubbers are struck cold with terror.
At any rate, here were these three; still miles from home, in the midst of a furious storm and with a boat which threatened to sink under their feet any moment. But apparently, neither Steve nor the Old Man turned a hair. The boy’s reactions have never been placed on record. He, although younger than the other two, did not have their physique nor stamina, and was pretty well exhausted, so they put him at the tiller and began their unequal battle.
They decided at the outset that the pump was too slow and ineffective at this stage of the proceedings, so Steve ripped up some of the deck boards and with an old pail and a granite ware saucepan, they actually bailed the Mary by hand for over three hours! How they stood it will always remain a mystery, because that is the one phase of the trip which neither man was ever willing to discuss. At any rate, they brought the pinky safely to her mooring at Eagle Island and there cold, tired and hungry (for they had had no time to prepare meals or even think about them, for twenty-four hours!) they were faced with a new problem. It was obvious to both men that the strain of sailing in such a gale had opened a seam in the old hull and it was only their constant bailing which had kept her afloat. Further bailing for either Steve or the Old Man was a physical impossibility, and they were each too much of a sailor, with a sailor’s inborn love of anything afloat, to entertain the idea of leaving the pinky to sink at her mooring while they went ashore.
A great inventive mind came to their rescue and evolved the “wave pump”. The old despised pump was set up and lashed into position. A long pole was made fast to the handle of the pump and loosely lashed into the crotch of the high pinky stern. The end of this pole trailed in the water and to that end was attached a life preserver. A high sea was still running, and as each wave swept under the Mary’s stern, the life preserver alternately rode the crest or sank into the trough and so gently and persistently all night long, kept the pump going and the water in check. What is the tradition about the maternal ancestry of invention?
Charlie came up to the house at once to report to Dad and tell him the essential facts about the trip. A story never lost anything when the Old Man told it but, still, we kids were eager for more. So we dashed down to the Old Man’s house to find Steve. He was in his favorite position, when ashore, tipped back in a chair with stockinged feet thrust into the cozy depths of the oven. And uncommunicative? Not a word would he say but “yes” and “no”, not even sometimes! Finally, goaded into desperation, I said: “Wasn’t it the worst storm you were ever out in, Steve?”
At this he gently lowered his chair to it’s original quadrupedic position, gazed at us reflectively for a few moments and then said quite calmly: “Mite rough!”
As a Memorial
This then is the story of the last real sail the Mary ever took. The story of the circumstances leading to her present state is rather long and depressing. Caulked and made seaworthy, she rode out her first summer at her mooring off Eagle Island, a graceful and picturesque addition to the seascape. That fall she was taken to Stover’s Cove and hauled out for the winter. The following summer, Dad went North on his final and successful search for the North Pole and on his return, the press of duties at home, and the honors showered upon him abroad, left him little time for thoughts of the pinky or numerous other things in which he was deeply interested.
Then came the war, and it is a matter of history how Dad devoted every minute of his time to traveling about the country, urging preparedness and the vital necessity to the United States of an aerial coast patrol system. He threw himself into this project with the enthusiasm and the forgetfulness of personal interests, which always characterized him, and then, abruptly came his death in 1920.
Since living in Cambridge, I have had the pleasure of seeing at first hand the remarkable work that has been done in reconstructing the “Constitution”. The whole country should be proud and happy to have this old ship preserved for them in such a thorough and vivid way. They should be proud also, of a Navy which can produce such a man as Lieutenant Lord, who has done all the necessary research work (a terrific task in itself) and has superintended the reconstruction with almost affectionate care.
Realizing how little there was left of the old Constitution with which to begin, my family feels hopeful that perhaps there may be time to do something with the Mary. My mother, who is always ready and eager to carry out any of Dad’s former plans; my brother, who is a civil engineer by profession but a sailor at heart; and I, who have an almost exaggerated reverence for relics of a by-gone day; are planning to have the Mary reconstructed as soon as we can find someone to do it accurately. We then hope to have it set up in some accessible place for the enjoyment and instruction of future generations and as a memorial to that hardy and gallant band of men, the “Down East” fisherman.
Reprinted from the Boston Evening Transcript, March 25, 1931