Polar Archives Acquires New Collection


Richard E. Byrd show sitting at a desk in a remote weather station in Antarctica surrounded by books, papers, a chair and tools.
Richard E. Byrd in the remote weather station Advance Base in Antarctica

With an annual acquisitions budget of zero dollars, the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program (Polar Archives) relies heavily on donations – of both collection materials as well as cash. Subsequently, when materials come up for sale, we must get creative to find ways to purchase materials. Such was the case with a recently acquired collection that we were able to purchase.

In 1934, Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in the remote outpost of Advance Base located in the interior of Antarctica. While there, Byrd was slowly poisoned by carbon monoxide and eventually had to be rescued. Many have written about this event, including Byrd’s own account, which was published in a book titled, “Alone.”

What many don’t know is that Byrd’s publicist, Charles JV Murphy, was also his ghostwriter. The two worked together to produce the final version of “Alone.” The writing and editing process produced more than 1,200 pages of Byrd’s manuscript and typescript drafts. These pages give researchers insight into the editorial process, showing the finished version of the book that bears little resemblance to Byrd’s handwritten and typed pages.

On the left shows handwritten documentation of Richard E. Byrd's time in Antarctica. On the right show the conversion of the handwritten document to a typed manuscript.
Handwritten documentation of Byrd's time in Antarctica, later converted to typed manuscript.

Several Polar Archives patrons alerted us to this material soon coming to auction, including a relative of Admiral Byrd’s. He felt strongly that the collection should be with the Polar Archives and donated $5K to help Polar Archives purchase the materials. Between that donation and a special collections funds contribution from the budget of Gene Springs, collections specialist and associate professor at The Ohio State University, we were able to bid on the items at auction and ultimately win. 

It took a team of people from University Libraries to make this happen, including Dana DeRose in acquisitions who managed the bid process with the auction house. Thanks to everyone's help and contributions, we now have more insight into a historical event that has become legendary in polar exploration, and we look forward to seeing what researchers do with this collection.