Spurlock Museum talk highlights 20th century arctic expedition

Photo by Kelcey Williams | Adam Doskey presents at the Spurlock Museum of Cultures on March 15.

Photo by Kelcey Williams | Adam Doskey presents at the Spurlock Museum of Cultures on March 15.

David Saveanu

Staff Writer

The University of Illinois’ Spurlock Museum of Cultures held a talk about a group of explorers and their expedition into the Arctic, presented by Adam Doskey on March 15.

Speaker Adam Doskey, who is with the University’s Department of Rare Books & Manuscripts, explained how the story originally began with Robert Peary, an American explorer who during one of his trips to the North Pole believed he saw a land near the coast of the Canadian Arctic. He named it Crocker Land after one of his financial backers who often funded his expeditions.

Peary had hoped that this would motivate his backer to finance another trip, but the backer refused.

As time went on, many challenged Peary, claiming that they had reached the North Pole before him. Competing parties also claimed that they did not see the land Peary described, which would imply that his claim was false.

Peary’s backers set off on a journey to protect his claim. The expedition was organized in part by the University of Illinois and began in 1913.

The explorers faced many troubles along the way, as Doskey explained in a story about their first ship crashing because of a drunk captain and their needing to find a replacement.

Upon arrival in northwest Greenland, the team built a shed that served as their home base while they surveyed the region.

The explorers then ventured off to find Crocker Land, on a 1,200 mile trek, and upon reaching its supposed location, they found this supposed land was a hoax.

The team returned to home base, but due to weather conditions had trouble getting home, Doskey explained. Multiple ships were sent to rescue the expedition, but all ended up trapped in ice and failed. The explorers were stuck for four years from 1913–1917.

During this time, they explored the land around them and interacted with the native Inuit people. This allowed them to bring back records of a multitude of small regions around them and artifacts from the Inuit.

Their expedition resulted in numerous photographs documenting the indigenous people, their culture, and the natural geology of the region. Along with these, the explorers also brought back over 200 artifacts, which are displayed in Spurlock Museum.

Books played a big part in the expedition to defend Peary. Doskey told the audience about how the group had collected books on numerous scientific subjects, in hopes of being able to investigate all aspects of Crocker Land.

Doskey told the audience about one specific book from the expedition, signed by one of the explorers, that was found by a coworker in a used bookstore. The book was addressed to Acacia Fraternity. He shared this story to show that although all the artifacts from the expedition were returned to the museum, the books the explorers read in their four years in the shack were not all found, and may turn up anywhere.

To find out more about upcoming events like this, visit the Spurlock Museum website at spurlock.illinois.edu.