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THOSE JEANNETTE "RELICS."
They Were Placed On An Icefloe As A Joke By Boys On the Yantic.
Dr. Dall and Commodore Melville Give Strange Reasons For Not Crediting The Report That Nansen Has Found the Pole.
Washington, Feb. 17 -- "Nansen knew that no Jeannette relics had ever been found in Greenland, and whatever thought he may have given to the Arctic currents must have demonstrated to him that a drift across the Pole was utterly impracticable." This was Dr. Dall's comment today when his attention was called to the fact that surprise had been expressed at his statement yesterday to the United Press discrediting the long-accepted Jeannette relic theory. Dr. Dall is the Arctic expert of the Smithsonian Institution, and has devoted most of a long life to scientific research in the North Frozen Ocean. He believes that should the reported return of Nansen by way of Siberia be verified, it will be found that he has not been to the Pole, and that his expedition was a failure, though to some extent more successful than others entering the ice in the same region through the fact that some one has returned to tell the tale. In that case it will be a repetition of the Jeannette expedition.
That Nansen would return in the Fram Dr. Dall has never for an instant believed, and in this he is supported by Melville, Greely, Nordenskiold (sic) and a host of other explorers. He declares that there are records of more than a hundred ships going into the ice between Point Barrow and the Lena Delta, and not a single relic of one of them has ever been found. All the wood that reaches Greenland, he says, is treasured as if it were gold. In that treeless land the sleds are frequently made of small bits of wood pegged together with the most rigid economy of material, and yet scientists examining those sleds have found nothing from any Siberian source. Records of unquestioned accuracy demonstrate that no system of currents exists in the North Polar Ocean such as are well known in temperate or tropical waters.
In regard to the Jeannette relic story, Dr. Dall says this fiction was exploded the moment it gained currency. He had associated with him in the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Emil Bessel, surgeon of the Polaris Expedition under Dr. Hall, when the announcement came from Europe that fifty-eight objects from the Jeannette had been found on an icefloe on the southwest coast of Greenland and had been exhibited by the Danish Government at Amsterdam. This was so totally at variance with all knowledge of Arctic matters that he and Dr. Bessel proceeded to investigate it. They questioned a number of seamen who had been on the United States man-of-war Yantic, under Commander Wilde, to that portion of Greenland at the time the relics were said to have been discovered. Among them were Ninderman and Novos, of the Jeannette party. The Yantic had gone to the north looking for clews (sic) of De Long's party, under the supposition that survivors might possibly make their way south through Greenland. These sailors united in the statement that some of the younger officers on the ship, the midshipmen or ensigns, had gotten up a lot of alleged relics and put them on an icefloe near the ship to fool some of their superior officers. It was simply intended as a Naval academy prank, a boyish joke, and wholly without seriousness. The floe drifted off; the Yantic's officers did not find the "relics," but, as subsequently appeared, they fell into the hands of Esquimaus and passed thence to the Danish Government.
After the joke miscarried, its seriousness became apparent to the perpetrators, and for their own safety and to avoid probable court-martial they pledged to secrecy all the sailors who knew about the affair. Dr. Dall and Dr. Bessel never learned the names of these young officers, but they wrote Nordenskiold about it, and Dr. Dall gave a full account of it to Dr. Rings, the Danish official at Copenhagen having charge of Greenland affairs. This may account for the destruction of the alleged relics as soon as they were returned from Amsterdam to Denmark, their worthlessness having been proved. Dr. Dall says there never was a concealment of the discovery made by Dr. Bessel and himself. They were constantly thrown in with persons interested in Arctic exploration, and they exploded the relic fake whenever it was mentioned to them.
Commodore Melville, chief engineer of the Navy, brands the Jeannette relic story as an utter impossibility. He says the first report from Europe of the "find," which came a little over ten years ago, described two men's bodies as being found side by side, covered with canvas, on an ice floe, with a lot of other articles. He promptly nailed that a lie, accounting for every one missing from the Jeannette and proving that not a man could have been on a floe covered with canvas. Except those in Lieutenant Chipp's boat, which sank in open water, the whereabouts of everybody was known. Then the Danes retracted that portion of the discovery, but still claimed to have the other relics.
"I tried in every way in my power," Commodore Melville says, " to have the story sifted. I offered every inducement to secure an opportunity to examine the relics, knowing that I could tell in an instant every article on board the Jeannette and every inch of wood in her. I pointed out that such relics, or at least a portion of them should come to America, where they belonged, but I could get no satisfaction in any direction. I was convinced that if any such relics were found in Greenland they were taken there by the hand of man, and not by currents."
None of the systematic currents that Nansen relied upon to take him to the Pole exist,according to Commodore Melville's experience. As drift expert of De Long's expedition he became more familiar, perhaps, than any man with the supposed currents. "On that expedition," he said, "we drifted twenty-two months after entering the ice near where Nansen entered, and went only 1,800 miles. In March of our first winter we came almost to the point where we put in the previous October, in sight of Wrangell Land -- not thirty miles difference in position in five months. Every mile we went for nearly two years we dredged and got Siberian River mud, and between sixteen and thirty fathoms. We never found a current in that whole time. We were simply blown along by the prevailing winds.We zigzagged generally toward the northwest, and the wind was nearly always from the southeast. Along the edge of the ice cap we found eighty fathoms of water, and they called it Melville's Hole, because I talked so much about it. Everywhere else the water was shallow. No currents could have existed in it.
"The great equatorial currents toward the Pole run in water 4,000 to 5,000 fathoms deep, and when they reach the shallows they dissipate. None ever enter the Arctic. One of my duties was to keep the drift charts. We had half a shipload of books to read, and all the officers had orders from the captain to note and report all drift information in their reading to me. I had over a thousand notes turned in, running back 300 years, and they almost without exception showed the effect of the southeast wind blowing the ice in summer toward the northwest. Everything on our voyage pointed to a circular ice cap around the Pole 600 miles in diameter unaffected by tides and practically impassable. Everything which went up from Behring Strait got ground to pieces between that ice cap and the floes driven by the southeast wind, and there is no record that anything ever escaped. The western shores of Nova Zembla and Franz Joseph Land and Spitzbergen are piled high with driftwood from the Siberian rivers, and they are the only places to search for Jeannette or Fram relics."
Captain E.P. Herendeed, captain of the watch at the Smithsonian, has had over thirty years' experience as an Arctic whaler north of Behring Strait, having wintered half a dozen times at Point Barrow. among the numerous instances of vessels entering the pack and disappearing which came under his observation, he says that in 1876 twelve whalers got caught, and portions of their crews, including one woman, escaped to the coast. The natives said that the next winter one of the ships was sighted with men evidently alive aboard, as the sails were being handled. None of the ships were ever heard of again. Captain Herendeed says he has taken whales off Point Barrow carrying harpoons with which they had been struck in the Atlantic. All harpoons have the names of their vessels, as well as the year, on them, for the purpose of identification. He was in San Francisco when the Jeannette started and says the whalers in rendezvous all told Captain De Long that he would find an open streak of water from Behring Sea tending to the northwest which lead "to the pole or to the devil," no one ever having returned to tell which.
Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.
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