by Erin Doane, Curator
Ross Marvin’s story is one of tragedy and mystery. Perhaps that’s why I go back to it again and again in my research, writing, and exhibits. Back in 2013, I wrote a brief blog post about him that you can read by clicking here. After eight years, it seems like it’s time to revisit Ross Marvin’s story.
was born on January 28, 1880, the youngest of six. He graduated from EFA in
1899, and surprised everyone by earning a scholarship to Cornell University. In
1901, he transferred to the New York Nautical School where he learned nautical
astronomy. After graduating from there a year later, he returned to Cornell. In
1905, he graduated with a degree in civil engineering. Before finishing school,
Marvin had heard about the Arctic voyage that Robert Peary was planning for
1905-1906. He made it his goal to be part of that expedition. It is said that
on graduation day, he received the letter from Peary inviting him to join his
Ross Gilmore Marvin
Peary’s 1905-1906 attempt to reach the North Pole was not a success but he tried again two years later. Marvin served as chief scientist and Peary’s first assistant on that 1908-1909 voyage. His responsibilities included taking meteorological readings, solar observations, and depth soundings.
|According to the caption of this image from an article written by Peary that appeared in the August 1910 issue of The Geographical Journal, that pile of furs is Ross Marvin taking observations at 86 degrees 38 minutes north on March 25, 1909.
The story of Ross Marvin may have ended there with the local hero’s tragic death, but 17 years later, his name was back in the news. In 1926, Kudlooktoo confessed to killing him. He claimed Marvin went crazy and tried to abandon Harrigan on the ice. Knowing that Harrigan would die if he was left behind, Kudlooktoo shot Marvin.
|Kudlooktoo posing with George Borup and other Inuits, from A Tenderfoot with Peary, by George Borup, 1911
Despite the dark turn of Marvin’s story, his life and accomplishments have been memorialized in many ways over the years. Peary erected a stone cairn with a wooden cross at Cape Sheridan overlooking the Central Polar Sea in his honor.
|Marvin Memorial, Cape Sheridan, Left from The North Pole, By Robert E. Peary, 1910
Right from Susan Kaplan/Genevieve LaMoine, Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College, 2011
|Ross Marvin Monument at the corner of Church and Lake Streets
|Dedication of Ross Marvin plaque at Cornell University, c. 1926, Sunday Telegram, April 5, 1931
In 1948, Marvin and all the other men who had served on Peary’s 1908-1909 Expedition were awarded medals by the U.S. government. I have heard that the reason it took so long – nearly 40 years – to be officially recognized for their efforts in reaching the pole was because there were some in congress who did not want to honor Matt Henson, who was an African American, along with the rest.
|Peary Polar Expedition medal awarded posthumously to Ross Marvin, 1948
Ross G. Marvin
Jan. 28, 1880 – April 10, 1909
with the Peary Arctic Expedition
Which discovered the North Pole
Drowned in the Arctic Ocean Lat 84 degrees North
he sleeps in his watery grave.
Tho no marble shaft marks his last resting place
it is watched o’er by towering sentinels of snow and ice.
The stars too keep silent vigil while the north winds
sing a requiem for a brave soul gone to meet his maker.
|Ross Marvin marker in Woodlawn Cemetery, 2018