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December 31, 2009

Arctic explorer stuck in Maryland snow

This is just too perfect, and wonderfully written, to require any elaboration by me. From the archives of The Baltimore Sun, Dec. 31, 1909, just as it appeared exactly one century ago (with thanks to Sun Librarian Paul McCardell):

Commander Robert E. PearyHeadline: PEARY STUCK IN SNOW

Sub-heads: Explorer Finds Rural Maryland Like the North Pole; HAD TO DIG OUT THE TAXICAB; Host's Ears Frozen And Is Rushed Away From Dinner To Have His Ears Rubbed In Snow

Washington, Dec. 30 - Commander Robert E. Peary, one of our leading discoverers of the North Pole, had the liveliest kind of an Arctic experience last night in Maryland within six miles of Washington.

With Mrs. Peary and her sister he was sledding in a taxicab briskly along Bradley lane to keep an 8 o'clock dinner engagement at the home of Ralph P. Barnard, son of Justice Job Barnard, at Drummond, Md., just across the District line. The taxicab suddenly paused, dashed forward, halted again, jumped off the road, and finally came to rest in six feet of snow. The engine snorted a couple of times, backfired once and stopped.

After the first surprise was over the explorer picked up the speaking tube dangling at his right hand and hailed the bridge.

"Stuck," said the chauffeur, "and stuck good. I guess you'd better take command of this expedition. I hain't no Eskimo."

(PHOTO/Robert Peary/National Geographic Society/No date)

Commander Peary discontinued his whispered scientific observations.

"This is quite reminiscent," he remarked, without particular enthusiasm.

About 10 minutes later, after the chauffeur had decided there wasn't a ghost of a show of getting the taxi out of the drift without assistance, Commander Peary, who was in evening dress and wore low shoes of the pump variety, started across country for Mr. Barnard's home in Drummond.

The intrepid discoverer didn't care to talk of his trip today. He plowed more than a mile across country in deep snow and sometimes in drifts up to his shoulders, before he reached his destination.

The Commander, recalling the picture of Mrs. Peary and her sister sitting in a snowbound taxicab in the middle of Bradley lane didn't waste much time in explanations.Commander Robert E. Peary

"Infernal cab got stuck," he told his host. "Ladies in it. Come on get 'em out. Never saw worse weather in latitude 90."  And a few minutes later the Commander, still in evening dress, but with a pair of rubber boots replacing the pumps, and accompanied by Mr. Barnard, his host; Josiah B. Callahan and Dr. Charles P. Kiefer, started on the back track to effect the rescue.

It was a job getting that taxicab out of the drift, and all the ropes and poles and shovels and chains carried by the party were utilized before the machine gained the road again. Then they all piled in and after very careful running landed back at the Barnard home in time to sit down at 10 o'clock to that 8 o'clock dinner.

Naturally, everybody supposed that all troubles were over then. But the soup had no more than been served when Commander Peary jumped out of his chair, grabbed Mr. Callahan with one hand and Dr. Kiefer with the other and rushed them outside.

"Ears frostbitten," he told those astonished gentlemen, as he picked up great handfuls of snow and began to massage their faces. After about an hour of this rough treatment the Commander decided their ears would be saved for future use and all tramped back into the house.

That dinner party wound up long after midnight, and as the cars had stopped running, the Pearys came into town in an open automobile, although the temperature was hovering around near zero.

"I ab nod zure," said Commander Peary today, "bud I thig I toog gold."

"We'd like to know," said Messrs. Barnard, Callahan and Kiefer, in chorus, "if our ears were really frozen."

(AP Photo/Peary and his huskies in 1939)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:12 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: History


Great little story. Love the historic irony.

FR: Almost too perfect. Makes me wonder whether the reporter enhanced the narrative with a little imagination.

I'm not sure how one would have gone "sledding in a taxicab." What kind of vehicle would it have been?

FR: I'm pretty sure it was an automobile, on wheels. I suspect the writer was being colorful, his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, his choice of verbs meant to suggest the car was skidding on the snow. There was a pretty big storm in the Northeast on Christmas, a few days before this incident.

Dear Frank-
Thanks for this post. What a great New Years story- no matter how accomplished or how well prepared a person has been, they can always get blind sided when least expected. I wonder what prompted the "Frostbite" incident. Was Peary just a jokester, or perhaps he wanted his hosts to share in the embarrassment or gain the upper hand? Maybe some obscure arctic initiation ceremony? Now I'll have to find a good biography of Peary.

Thanks to Paul McCardell too.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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