The Arctic Voyage of the Polar Bear
From April 1913 through September 1914 the schooner Polar Bear, captained by Louis Lane, took nineteen men from Seattle up through the Aleutian Islands, around Alaska, and to parts of Siberia. The initial objective of this voyage was to collect natural history specimens, but later also became a whaling cruise because of the high demand for baleen at the time..
The Polar Bear's crew consisted of seamen, engineers, two Alaskan natives, and also five young sport hunters from Harvard and their two taxidermist-assistants. Throughout the voyage, the crew killed and recovered countless numbers of arctic birds, walruses, mountain sheep, and whales. All but the whales were then skinned and preserved.
Although the original plan was for these men to return back to Seattle at the end of September in 1913, that summer had been exceedingly icy in the Arctic and the Polar Bear was caught and frozen in the ice for eight months.
After the winter housing was constructed, four of the men, Captain Louis Lane, Eben Draper, Dunbar Lockwood, and camera man Will Hudson, decided to make a journey across the land to Cordova where they would be able to catch a ship back to Seattle. It was a grueling trip and most of the men endured some form of frostbite while en route. They traveled many hours daily stopping only for rest, to set up camp, or to visit with natives who often let the four men stay with them. Photographs included in this exhibit document this journey across land as well as the winter for the men who stayed behind at camp.
In July of 1914 the Polar Bear became free from the ice and Louis Lane returned from his overland journey. He captained the Polar Bear on a whaling cruise back to Nome, Alaska. The Polar Bear took approximately ten whales, a few walruses, and seven polar bears before landing back at Nome on September 23, 1914 when the men dispersed from the schooner.
Special Thanks To:
The New Bedford Whaling Museum Departments of Photography and Digital Initiatives thanks John Bockstoce, Ph.D. for his guidance and the exhibit introduction; The Ladera Foundation and Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations (ECHO), whose financial backing made this exhibit possible; interns Justine Spillane, Melanie Correia, and Photo Archivist Kate Mello for their research, dedication, and hard work; and finally SmallFish-Design for turning our ideas from concept into reality.
© New Bedford Whaling Museum 2022