Sadness reigns tonight in Columbus as the heavily favored Buckeyes of Ohio State University, the nation's top-ranked football team, fell to the Michigan State Spartans. But a month ago, the campus built around a football stadium, was a cheerier hub of activity as perhaps 200 people congregated at the Byrd Polar Research Center for the American Polar Society's "Polar Pioneers" Symposium. During those two days I found ample opportunity to poke around in search of Antarcticana.
As I walked from the parking lot the first thing that struck me was the
name of the building where BPRC resides: Scott Hall! One wonders who plans
such things. As you enter you're greeted in the foyer by a bronze statue of
Byrd, the same as the one at Arlington National Cemetery, by Felix de
Weldon. Apparently, this was previously in Reedsport, Oregon. On a nearby
wall are mounted two snowshoes.
The main point of interest on the ground floor is the Goldthwait Polar Library. Other than a good supply of books and journals, there are several paintings displayed: a couple of Peter McIntyre's with penguins and icebergs, one set at Cape Hallett. Also, a framed photograph of Lincoln Ellsworth and a tinted colored photographic portrait of Byrd in formal uniform. In a corner stands a coat rack on which hang bits and pieces of polar clothing, and throughout are odds and ends of the penguin motif variety. In a nearby room stands a line of metal map cases on the top of which lies a sleeping bag once used by Byrd; it must be reindeer or similar as it's in a full state of shedding! Also here is a wood crate that bears the printed inscription "R. E. Byrd, 9 Brimmer Street, Boston, Mass, Books."
Out in the corridor is a glass-fronted case displaying items associated with Byrd's ship, The City of New York. A plaque notes: "City of New York artifacts donated to the Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program by Robert Wiskoff, Garibaldi, Oregon, 1994." Among the items: two large ice anchors; what appears to be a whale harpoon; two red and green brass running lights; the ship's wheel, brass telegraph plate, brass binnacle and a wood rigging block; and three mounted photographs. The one in the center shows Byrd with an American flag tied to a rock. The caption reads: "Admiral Byrd just before taking off for the South Pole holding the flag and a stone from Floyd Bennett's grave which he dropped at the Pole." The photo to the right is of The City of New York tied up to the Ice Barrier. The photo on the left shows the ship's ice-covered bow.
On a back corridor of the ground floor is a snowmobile. The caption reads: "This Polaris snowmobile was used extensively in the United States Antarctic Program pulling a Nansen sled. It transported scientists and their equipment to research sites." Elsewhere along the corridors throughout the building are modern-day maps, posters and photographs of both arctic and antarctic subjects.
The BPRC auditorium is on the second floor and on display are some interesting objects. Flanking the stage are large standing oil portraits of Sir Hubert Wilkins and his wife. On the side walls hang two sledges, the upper one apparently associated with Byrd; opposite are two ice axes, the bottom one used by Wilkins. Below that is a wooden aircraft ski from one of Byrd's planes.
Not far away is the University Archives building with its fixed stacks that seemingly reach to the heavens. Here reside the Byrd papers as well as collections associated with Sir Hubert Wilkins, the Frederick A. Cook Society, and the American Polar Society. One of the artifacts that caught my eye was a box of matches on which was written: "From Amundsen's cache, brought back by Geological Party BAC. Left by Amundsen January 6, 1912."
Update 20 March 2000: On my last visit to the Archives (10/99), I saw its most recent acquisition (via Ebay for $100!): A large mahogany field desk used by Richard B. Black, commander of East Base on Stonington Island during USAS 1939-41.