BY JUNE 4, 1922, the Sunday this waterfront scene first appeared in The Seattle Times under the banner “In Quest of Great Unknown,” its principal subject, Capt. Roald Amundsen, was long known to readers, from pole to pole. Twenty years earlier with provisions for four years and a crew of seven aboard a converted herring boat, the Gjøa, the “athletic Viking” set out from Oslo, Norway, to locate the magnetic North Pole.
While it did not reach the North Pole, this expedition was the first to complete the Northwest Passage by ship alone in 1906. The Norwegian’s name then rose to the top of the long list of explorers who had bundled their bodies in bear skins for sailing through freezing seas in the service of science and self.
In 1910 the fearless Viking left Oslo for Antarctica and reached the South Pole Dec. 14, 1911. Amundsen later reflected, “The area around the North Pole — devil take it — had fascinated me since childhood, and now here I was at the South Pole. Could anything be more crazy?”
The explorer returned to his fascination in 1918 with the Maud, a Norway-built ship meticulously designed by Amundsen to complete his arctic circumnavigation of the globe by sailing east from Norway across the top of Russia. Victorious with this Northeast Passage, the Maud (named for the Norwegian queen who had helped finance it) reached the Ballard Locks on Sept. 11, 1921, and thereby made it onto the first Clemmer Graphic, the local newsreel produced for the Clemmer theater, one of the larger motion-picture houses in Seattle.
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The Seattle Yacht Club moored the Maud while Amundsen went lecturing and looking for more sponsors to make another run at the North Pole. He reached it on May 12, 1926 — but not aboard the Maud. He and his American sponsor were in the airship Norge, piloted by Italian Umberto Nobile. The airship flyover was the first undisputed sighting of the North Pole. Two years later, Amundsen disappeared with a crew of five while trying to rescue Nobile, who went down while returning from another flight to the North Pole.
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.