Monday, January 28, 2013

Death in the Arctic

by Erin Doane, Curator
The cold, snowy weather lately has gotten me thinking about Ross Gilmore Marvin who was very well-acquainted with this type of weather.  Ross was only 29 years old when he died on the ice as part of Admiral Robert E. Peary’s 1908-1909 expedition to reach the North Pole.  The circumstances surrounding his death are still a mystery.
Ross Gilmore Marvin
Born in 1880, Ross was the youngest of six.  While he was never an outstanding student in grade school, he did earn a scholarship to Cornell University.  On the day he graduated with his degree in engineering, he received a letter from Admiral Peary inviting him on his 1905-1906 Polar expedition.  The team was not successful in reaching the North Pole that time because they ran out of supplies and had to turn back.  Ross returned home with souvenirs from the voyage and he would let the neighborhood children come over and try on his fur coat and mittens.   
Fur Mittens worn by Ross Marvin
Ross joined Admiral Peary’s next expedition to the North Pole in 1908-1909, this time as chief scientist and Peary’s first assistant.  Admiral Peary successfully reached the pole but on April 10, 1909, about 45 miles north of Cape Columbia near the northern tip of Greenland, Ross went through the ice and died.  A telegram reporting his death reached his family on September 12.  It read: “Marvin drowned eighty-six degrees north latitude, April 10th.  Party very sad. Notify mother before press dispatches.”  His mother took the news very hard, even denying its truth for many years.  It is said that following Ross’s death that she existed only in the memory of her son.  Her love for Ross, and her worry for him, was expressed in a poem she wrote during his first expedition.
Poem written by Mary Marvin
Seventeen years after Ross Marvin was lost on the ice, one of his Eskimo guides named Kudlooktoo confessed to killing him.  He said that Ross went crazy and tried to abandon another Eskimo named Harrigan on the ice.  Knowing that Harrigan would die if he was left behind, Kudlooktoo shot Ross.  As the Arctic was a sort of no-man’s land with no laws or governance, Kudlooktoo was never tried for the murder.  Some doubt the man’s stories, including Admiral Peary’s daughter who thought the guide’s confession was “induced by religious hysteria and an attempt to please the white man by having a ‘sin’ to confess.”  Whether Ross’s death was an accident or murder will probably never be known for sure.  James Vinton Stowell tells the story of Ross Marvin in A Tragedy in the Arctic.  The booklet includes transcripts of pages of Ross’s journal from the 1908-1909 expedition. 
Available to purchase at the Museum's Gift Shop

1 comment:

  1. An intriguing situation, isn't it? (By the way, that's an engaging drawing on the cover of Stowell's 1954 booklet.)