January 2013 Archives

01/01/2013

Maine and the North Pole

Some folks look at a distorted map of the US, where Maine curves up like a hitchhiker’s thumb and think Maine is the last stop before the North Pole. This post is not about Maine’s undeserved reputation as an arctic peninsula, but how many expeditions to the North Pole had something to do with Maine. This was because of Maine’s seafaring traditions, not its proximity to the Arctic. After all, most of France and all of the British Isles lie north of Maine. The googlemap to the left shows how we line up with Europe if the Atlantic Ocean were to disappear. Bar Harbor and Bordeaux share the same latitude. Too bad we don’t have a gulf stream. If so the temperature would have been in the 60s today (Bordeaux) instead of the upper 20s.

Geography lesson (and whining) over. Perhaps the first Mainer with polar ambitions was Herbert Leach. Born in 1858 here in Hancock County he joined the expedition to the North Pole on the steam ship Jeannette from San Francisco led by Lieutenant Commander G. W. DeLong on 3 July, 1879. The long ordeal is beyond the scope of this blog but the ship got frozen into the ice for two years and rode with the ice pack for thirteen hundred miles. The crew survived by hunting polar bears and walruses. After the Jeannette was finally crushed by the ice the crew set out in their three lifeboats to Siberia. Only one of the three survived, the one with Herbert Leach and twelve others. After being fed by natives and a trip to Yakutsk, Siberia, the crew took a long train ride to Europe and back to the U.S. Herbert Leach died in 1935 at the age of 77. He is buried in Hillside Cemetery, North Penobscot, Maine.

from Wikipedia

The big kahuna of Maine polar explorers was Robert Edwin Peary (May 6, 1856 – Feb. 20, 1920). Although born in Pennsylvania, Robert graduated from Maine’s Bowdoin College in 1877 and lived in Fryeburg Maine. His home is now the Admiral Peary Inn and the island he bought in Casco Bay, near Portland, is now open to all. Find out more about Peary’s Eagle Island here.

Robert Peary’s goal of reaching the North Pole left no stone unturned. He had a special steamship built, the S. S. Roosevelt (after Teddy). It was a shallow-draft, coal burning steamship with extremely rugged construction. It had 30 inch thick steel covered white oak hull planking and a solid battering-ram bow meant to withstand ice crushing and a rounded hull design meant to be frozen in pack ice.

The S. S. Roosevelt from www.pearyeagleisland.org

I imagine he read up on the Jeannette. Below decks was so crammed with machinery and coal that crew quarters had to be above deck. The ship was also sail-rigged to save fuel. He made several voyages to the north of Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northerly land mass and the world’s tenth largest island. Here he positioned men, dogs and supplies in preparation for his 1909 push to the Pole, his third attempt. The island was by no means close to the pole, he still had to travel 500 miles by dog sled and foot, over frozen pack ice with ridges up to 100 feet high. The polar night was no time to travel, so he had to wait until early spring to set out, and had to hurry back to beat the breakup.

Matthew Henson, from his book

Interestingly, Peary send most of his crew back short of the pole and chose as his closest co-explorer an African American, Matthew Alexander Henson (Aug. 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955), who reached the North Pole with Peary on April 6, 1909, along with four Inuits. Henson wrote about his adventures an a book called A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, published in 1912. It is available as a free download at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20923. Peary wrote the forward, in which he said,

Again it is an interesting fact that in the final conquest of the “prize of the centuries,” not alone individuals, but races were represented. On that bitter brilliant day in April, 1909, when the Stars and Stripes floated at the North Pole, Caucasian, Ethiopian, and Mongolian stood side by side at the apex of the earth, in the harmonious companionship resulting from hard work, exposure, danger, and a common object.

Peary’s motto,  Inveniam viam aut faciam, “Find a way or make one”, seems like a requirement for successful explorers. Admiral Peary died on 20 Feb, 1920 at the age of 63. He lies in Arlington National Cemetery.

from findagrave memorial #799

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01/07/2013

Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith, from http://www.americanrhetoric.com

Maine Republicans, with a few exceptions, are a breed apart. Being Republican in Maine meant being in favor of abolitionism, state’s rights, your father’s fiscal conservatism and personal freedoms. For the most part modern Maine Republicans have steered clear of the Bible-thumping, “other”-bashing, anti-compromise, gun toting, conspiracy-spewing qualities our congress now seems infected with. We can be proud of our Maine senators and congresspeople of both parties. Fare thee well, Olympia Snowe.

Margaret Madeline Chase Smith was one of our Republican senators we can be especially proud of.  She confronted bully Joseph McCarthy and brought him down…eventually.

Margaret and her parents from http://www.mcslibrary.org

Margaret was born in Skowhegan, Maine on December 14, 1897 to George Emery and Carrie Matilda (Murray) Chase. George was the town barber and Carrie was a waitress, store clerk, and shoe factory worker. Daughter Margaret graduated from Skowhegan High School and was captain of her girl’s basketball team. During  high school she worked as an operator at the telephone company where she met local businessman and politician Clyde Smith, 21 years her senior. After high school she taught school and also worked as an executive for the Maine Telephone and Telegraph Company. From 1919 to 1928 Margaret  joined the staff of the Independent Reporter, a Skowhegan weekly newspaper (owned by Clyde Smith) for whom she was circulation manager. During these years she became active in women’s organizations, first the Skowhegan chapter of the Business and Professional Woman’s Club and later serving as president of the Maine Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. On On May 14, 1930, Chase married Clyde Smith at the age of 32.

She soon became active in politics, and was elected to the Maine Republican State Committee, on which she served from 1930 to 1936. Clyde Smith was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1937 and Margaret accompanied her husband to Washington and became his secretary, speechwriter, researcher and office manager. It was because of this training that she was prepared for what was to follow in the spring of 1940: Clyde suffered a heart attack and convinced his voters his wife could stand in for him in the fall election. He died on April 8, 1940. In November Margaret was elected with 65% of the vote. She continued to serve in the House until 1948 when she was elected to the Senate with the slogan, “Don’t change a record for a promise.”

Joseph McCarthy, from wikipedia

Margaret Chase Smith, in the tradition of New England Republicans, maintained an independent streak. She often supported FDR’s New Deal policies and later opposed some Republican judicial appointments. But her greatest act of independence, and the one for which she will always be remembered, is her Declaration of Conscience.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy terrorized his fellow Americans with his witch hunt for Communists, first in government and then branching out into all spheres. At first Margaret welcomed this search for spies but soon became convinced that most of the accusations were without evidence, and were done for hysterical or self-promoting reasons.  After only a year in the Senate, Senator Smith delivered her famous fifteen minute address, never mentioning Sen. McCarthy by name. The full text can be seen here. In it she express the following:

  1. The right to criticize;
  2. The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
  3. The right to protest;
  4. The right of independent thought.

But she also took her own party to task:

Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

…But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of “know nothing, suspect everything” attitudes.

The immediate fallout of this speech was her loss of membership on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (the Senate version of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee). She was fired by McCarthy and replaced by Richard Nixon. She and her co-signatories to the Declaration of Conscience were referred by McCarthy as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs”. It would take another four years before McCarthy was censured in the Senate. Margaret voted in favor.

Can the current House of Representatives learn something from our esteemed senator? I hope so.

1962 convention, from http://www.mcslibrary.org

Margaret continued to serve until 1972. She was a presidential candidate in the 1962 Republican primary but the nomination went to Barry Goldwater. She was the first woman to have her name be placed in nomination for the presidency at a major political party’s convention. At the end of her political life she moved back to Skowhegan and worked on her library. She also lectured at universities and in 1989 received the Presidential Metal of Freedom from George H.W. Bush. She died in 1995 at the age of 97. Come to Maine and you will see her name everywhere, we’re proud of our First Lady of the Senate.

Filed under Acadia, colorful characters, History by on . Comment.

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