Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The grave of Heinrich Klutschak

It often seems to be part of the story, and the saddest by far, when a famed explorer suffers an ignominious end: James Weddell (he of the Sea) freezing in his London flat because he couldn't afford a scuttle's worth of coal; Parker Snow, reduced to paying his rent by selling his books and papers; and Frederick Schwatka, a victim of his addition to laudanum, dead in an alleyway in Portland, Oregon with a bottle beside him. Yet few perhaps have suffered such an ignominious end as Heinrich Klutschak, the gifted artist and draughtsman whose service in Schwatka's expedition of 1878-1880 earned him accolades in America and the Cross of Honor from Emperor Franz Joseph. Following that honor, and the success of his book, Als Eskimo unter den Eskimos, he returned to the United States, but apparently found little success in any of the many lines of work in which he was skilled; he'd hoped to head north again, but ended up working as an errand boy at the firm of Morrison & Brown (known for having supported many such ventures with its ships and resources). Suffering from the effects of tuberculosis in a tiny flat at 330 Broome Street in New York's Bowery, he had been offered, through the kindness of his few friends, a rent-free room at Sailors' Snug Harbor in Staten Island, but was too ill to travel there. Finally, in early March of 1890, he decided to make the journey, but his choice of date was an unlucky one; a huge late-winter snowstorm swallowed the city in drifts, and he was forced to turn back, sicker than before. Finally on March 26th, he succumbed to his illness -- he was only 41 years old.

Photo courtesy Doug Wamsley
The same few friends who had arranged for his new home now arranged for his burial: J.C. Morrison (of Morrison & Brown), a certain "Dr. Franklin," who may have been his physician, and his landlady. The funeral home was Diehl's on Essex Street; in an irony that Klutschak -- who also served as the Schwatka expedition's cook -- might have appreciated, its premises are now a restaurant, the "Sons of Essex." The horse-drawn carriage then conveyed his coffin to the "Lutheran Cemerery," now known as the All Faiths Cemetery, in Flushing, Queens. Thanks to the kindness of the staff there, we now have located his burial plot, and thanks to my good friend and fellow Arctic historian Doug Wamsley, we now have a photo!  If you look very closely, or save the image and increase the contrast, you can make out HEINRICH in the first line, and the first few letters of KLUTSCHAK in the second. It’s my hope that, at some point, we might hold a fresh ceremony of remembrance there.

For now, his account of the Schwatka expedition, translated and edited by the ever-capable William Barr, remains as a testament; the original artwork and map for the German edition are preserved in Ottawa at Library and Archives Canada. And he who served an expedition that collected much valuable Inuit testimony is now fittingly the subject of that testimony; in oral histories preserved in David F. Pelly's Ukkusiksalk: The People's Story, the elders remembered him as Henry the cook, a man who always "spoke very loudly." And yet today from his grave, for those who know how to listen, he speaks louder still.

[With thanks to Russ Taichman, who first asked where Klutschak was buried, Gina Koellner, who joined in the search, and Doug Wamsley, who made it to the grave site!]

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

"Death in the Ice" comes to Gatineau!

Courtesy Canadian Museum of History
Next Thursday evening, March 1st, the exhibition "Death in the Ice" will finally open in Canada. I say "finally" without any sense of undue delay -- other than my own impatience! -- but only to answer the  question asked by so many Canadians as to when this remarkable, material embodiment of the Franklin mystery, combining relics from archives with those newly discovered aboard HMS "Erebus," would come home to a nation for whom this story has become so central, so generative. As Margaret Atwood has observed, the Franklin story has been 'adopted' by Canadians, for whom, as she says, blood and ice are part of the national mythos -- "You thought the national flag was about a leaf, didn't you?" as she puts it, "Look harder. It's where someone got axed in the snow."

And, while it's the second iteration of an exhibition that originally opened in the UK last summer at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, it's by no means a re-run -- the narrative here is uniquely and specifically Canadian, and includes a number of key items that were not part of the Greenwich exhibit. For one, the segment of the ship's wheel of Franklin flagship (shown above) is perhaps even more iconic than that same ship's bell. Here rested the hands that steered, here stood the eyes that scanned the horizon, here one fateful turn of those hands spun both ships into the pack ice, from which they were to be released only when all hope was gone, or nearly so. The charts, alas, showed (erroneously) that the eastern passage around King William Island dead-ended in a bay, and so the western one was chosen, in all likelihood before the ships encountered the heavy multi-year ice that streams down what's now known as the McClintock channel. And here, too, a table leg, from Franklin's own great cabin, upon which those fateful charts lay. For a true Franklinite, there can be very few items as richly significant as these.

And there are other surprises, too -- I won't give them all away! -- but let it be known that not all the forks and spoons and medals associated with Franklin's men are stored away in the UK! And, from the Greenwich archives, comes one item that has never before been publicly viewed in Canada -- Sir John Franklin's Guelphic Order of Hanover, the very one which shone upon his breast in the Daguerreotype by Richard Beard that was to be his first -- and his last -- photographic portrait.

I hope that many thousands of Canadians -- as well as those visiting Canada from abroad -- will find their way to the Canadian Museum of History to see this remarkable exhibition. There's a public opening reception at 6 p.m. with a cash bar (which, for the especially thirsty, opens at 5:30). I'll be there, as will many others -- curators, Inuit representatives, underwater archaeologists, descendants of Franklin's men, historians both amateur and professional, and modelers of ships. It will be a rare and wondrous occasion to take in, at one place and in person, the full sweep of this remarkable story.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Franklin Searcher of the Month: Stephen J. Trafton

Image courtesy Stephen J. Trafton
Long before Owen Beattie's taking up the Franklin cause, before David C. Woodman's searches of King William Island and the coast of the Adelaide Peninsula, and decades before the involvement of Parks Canada, the search for evidence of the fate of the Franklin expedition was in the hands of a few persistent trekkers who made the journey north on their own dimes. We've hailed a few of these, such as Dick Finnie and Paul Fenimore Cooper in previous columns, but I'm especially glad this month to recognize Stephen J. Trafton as our Franklin searcher of the month. He led many expeditions to the shores of King William Island, tracing some familar areas as well as mapping out new discoveries. He also had an experience which -- I think it's fair to say -- is the kind of thing that happens only once in a lifetime, and would be the envy of any searcher: he found a note in a cairn. True, it wasn't one left by Franklin's men, but it was nearly as fantastic: a note left by Frederick Swchatka on his Franklin search expedition in 1879!

Happily, Mr. Trafton is still alive and well, and has in fact just published a book recounting his treks, both in search of Franklin and for other great geographical challenges. Its apt title is At The Edge, and in its pages one gets quite the curriculum vitae of Trafton's achievements, including decades working for mountain rescue in the North Cascades, his crossing of the Vatnaj√∂kull glacier in Iceland, treks in remote corners of Baffin and Ellesmere,  and a series of ascents of mountains in the British Empire range whose names will instantly resonate with readers here: Hecla, Fury, Griper, Resolute, North Star, Victory, and Investigator. And yet, though these journeys involved at times no little risk from cold, exposure, or treacherous ice, Trafton's tone is mostly light-hearted, evidence of a sense of humor which seems to have been as regular a part of his equipment as his snow-mitts and Sorels.

Of course, for those of us who have come down with incurable cases of the bug known as "Franklinitis," the chapters on King William Island will be of greatest interest. Two of his journeys there -- one a long retracing on foot of the greater part of the southern coast of King William Island, the other, an extensive search of the northwest corner of that same island -- were groundbreaking in every sense of the word, and it was on the second that Trafton was rewarded with a find that the rest of us only idly dream of, that of Schwatka's note. Using that commander's own account, as well as that of his comrade William Gilder, Trafton re-located that cairn they'd taken down and rebuilt to mark their furthest north. As Gilder described it:
Lieutenant Schwatka found a well-built cairn or pillar seven feet high, on a high hill about two miles back from the coast, and took it down very carefully without meeting with any record or mark whatever. It was on a very prominent hill, from which could plainly be seen the trend of the coast on both the eastern and western shores, and would most certainly have attracted the attention of any vessels following in the route of the Erebus and Terror, though hidden by intervening hills from those walking along the coast. It seemed unfortunate that probably the only cairn left standing on King William Land, built by the hands of white men, should have had no record left in it, as there it might have been well preserved. When satisfied that no document had been left there, the inference was that it had been erected in the pursuit of the scientific work of the expedition, or that it had been used in alignment with some other object to watch the drift of the ships. Before leaving we rebuilt the cairn, and deposited in it a record of the work of the Franklin search party to date.
And there, nestled in the rocks of that cairn, he spotted a green bottle with the stopper still in it, and a paper inside. He dared peep no further than the top edge, where he could make out the date: July 5th, 1879.

And then, of course, on his return, he faced the dilemma that everyone who joins in the Franklin search and finds an item of value faces: what to do? By regulations, the note ought to be turned over to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, but in Trafton's view, an American note left by an American explorer would be more at home in the United States. On the advice of his mentor, George Hobson, Trafton agreed to send them the note for conservation and study, though he found a clever way (which one will have to read his book to discover) to hold on to the bottle which contained it. The note, which passed into the Nunavut collection upon the creation of that territory in 1999, is currently in storage, but Trafton is hopeful that someday it will be shown to the public, and he'll be able to lay eyes on it again.

The book is supplied with a goodly number of color photographic illustrations, as well as clear, readable maps. In it, we get a glimpse of what it was like to take up the long search for traces of Franklin in the days before it became a more celebrated cause. When Trafton, stumbling into a D.E.W. Line station in search of shelter, was asked what he was doing there, he first told the officer he and his friends were selling magazines -- would he be interested in any? The joke unappreciated, he explained his real mission was to retrace Franklin's footsteps. Back then might have been the last time when either explanation might have seemed equally implausible!

Mr. Trafton has very graciously agreed to answer any questions here that readers may have about his Franklin searches, or his other many adventures -- please post them as comments, and I'll work to ensure that his responses are posted here in a timely manner.