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Happy Mother’s Day from the Polar Archives!

It’s Mother’s Day today in the United States, which means that many mothers in the States are opening letters and cards given to them by their children in honor of today’s holiday. Mothers play a critical role in the lives of their children. This was just as true in the past as it is in the present. Every explorer that made history exploring the polar regions and made contributions to science through their efforts was also someone’s child. In honor of Mother’s Day, we’d like to share a few (of many) items in which explorers write to their mothers and share with them their experiences.

Sir George Hubert Wilkins, before exploring the polar ends of the Earth, served his country as an official photographer for the Australian War Records Section during the First World War. Writing a few months before the end of the war, Wilkins explains to his mother his thoughts and experiences with enemy prisoners under his care. Sir George Hubert Wilkins Papers: Box 12, Folder 6.


Dear mother,

You will have seen by the papers that we have been pretty busy over here, so busy in fact that I have not written a private letter for three weeks until today. Two of my staff; I have fifteen now are in hospital and it makes ever so much more work for me. They are not seriously ill however and may soon be back at work again.

The happenings for the last few weeks makes it seem that the tide has turned. And that we may… at last that we are on the road at last toward making the enemy understand that we mean to fight to a finish. It may not take long but now I’m sure that everyone wants to go on until the job is done.

I think I told you before that I do not carry arms for fighting yet I have captured two prisoners lately myself. They have been hiding when others went past and came out and surrendered to me.

It is curious to feel you have the custody of another man who would have, a few minutes before, done his best to kill you but after all we all are human and have yet to find a really blood thirsty enemy.

Many of them now are glad to be captured and some seem to think they have much chance against our numbers.

If only the people at home could see the war as the soldiers see it the war would soon be over. I have received with pleasure several of your letters lately and look forward to them anxiously. You maybe by now have seen some of our work on exhibition in Australia. Anyway it will be there soon.

Much love from your loving son,


Admiral Richard E. Byrd‘s wife, Marie Donaldson Ames, probably received this handmade card from her children,  Richard, Evelyn, Katharine, and Helen, around the time of one of Admiral Byrd’s early expeditions. Richard E. Byrd Papers: Box 29, Folder 1299.

Richard Lockhart aboard the USS Pine Island as an naval ensign during Operation Highjump (1946-1947), which was was the largest expedition into the Antarctic to date and was the first expedition to Antarctica officially sponsored by the United States in over a century. Richard Lockhart Papers: Box 1, Folder 2.

January 17, 1947

On ice fields of Cape Dart

Dear folks,

The destroyer “Brownson” is coming alongside for provisions today or tomorrow and will take off some mail and will then transfer it to the states somehow.

You have probably been getting all sorts of news from the expedition especially concerning the missing plane from the Pine Island. As you no doubt know, we found them and they are being sent back to the states with this letter. All the survivors except Captain Caldwell are being sent home, as the skipper don’t want to leave the ship. As you also know, three of our boys won’t be back, among them Ensign Lopez, a good buddy of mine, who now lies buried in the snow on Cape Dart.

We have been ice bound for the past two weeks but it looks as if we may be able to move further south in a short while which will put us in totally unexplored and uncharted waters. I am keeping up a chart of the Antarctic and am plotting in our positions every so often. Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty to show you and all yours when I get back.

I sure do miss all of you and feel so awfully far away down here. It is now thirty-seven days since we last saw land! And it will be a heck of a lot more, too. All we see is ice, ice, ice. When I get home, if you have iced tea, don’t put ice in mine. I am inclosing a picture which I took and developed myself to give you a rough idea of the ice we have; this is a shot of a huge ice berg we just missed.

Not much more news except that I am O.K. and in good health. Tell everybody hello for me and take care of yourselves.

Well, that’s about all for now. So be good and I’ll see you. Oh, by the way, a promotion list came out and I just missed it. In about four or five months, you’ll; be calling me Lieutenant.

Love to all,


Donald L. Jeanroy participated in Operation Deep Freeze I, II, and III, which were United States military missions that dated from 1955-1958 undergone to support the scientific expeditions of American scientists. Around the time of this letter, Jeanroy likely had just left the Machinist Mate School, Great Lakes National Training Center in Illinois to report to the USS Arneb. Donald L. Jeanroy Papers: Box 1,  Folder 4.

May 8, 1955

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mom! I hope you are well and happy on this bright and cheerful Sunday afternoon.

Well, tomorrow morning I’ll be boarding the USS Arneb, starting my three and a half years of cruising the world. We’ve waited down here at Norfolk for over a week for this ship to come in and yesterday when we went down to the piers there she set “AKA 56”. It looks like a great big, scufty son of a gun, which has really seen the roughest of seas and mightiest of battles. But all this shine and glitter will soon where off once I get aboard. This boy from Texas and myself went down to the pier and was talking to the dock watch off of the Arneb. He said that the old ship really gets around. She has just gotten back from the Carilion, bringing down a load of supplies to the marines down there. He also said that in mid-July we’re going up to Greenland for maneuvers until October and then we’re coming back to the States for a few days and then we’re going down South again. But this time, way down Sough. They call the cruise “Expedition Deep Freeze” to the Antarctic for six months to a year. I shake at the thought of going way down there but it’s a place that not many people can say they’ve been at. Especially traveling by cargo ship.

You might wonder how all this information gets around. Well the Bureau of Ships in Washington makes up a schedule for each ship, a year in advance, and then passes the word along. It’s only during wartime and secret missions that this info isn’t given out. There are a few other minor operations that the Arneb is going to get but I can tell you more about it when I get aboard.

The liberty down in this place is terrible. In Norfolk there is no type of entertainment, women or pass-times which are worth our while going to. We went down last Saturday to see the town. After we walked up and down the couple of main and side streets, and a stroll through the colored sector we went into a bar and spent the rest of the evening there, listening to the jukebox and drinking beer. We’ve found out since that that’s the only thing you can do in that town.

Yesterday, a couple of fellows and myself went over to Newport News to see the carrier Forestal and the naval shipyard over there. We couldn’t get into see neither but we got a good view of the Forrestal. It sure is a big hunk of ship and a mighty powerful weapon in war. I took my camera along and got a few pictures of it but I don’t know how they’ll turn out. We have to come back from Newport News by ferry. When we got on it was just about sunset, the prettiest part of the day. So we rode the thing back and forth three times all on the same 20₵.

Today we’re just hanging around the base, trying to find something to do. Later on tonight we might go downtown and have a few beers. I’ve found out that this town surely deserves its name of “Shit City”. The people down here are as unfriendly as hell (not like Milwaukee) and when we do find one that will talk we can’t understand them with their Rebel talk (accent). But we really have ourselves a ball when we meet some trueblooded Yankee, we all talk the same language then.

The USS Iowa was in port last weekend but I didn’t get a chance to go aboard to see Billy Milligan. It was long gone when I went down the following Monday to see it. But I’ve been aboard a couple of other ships and seem quite a few buddies from boot camp. When we go aboard they show you all around the ship from stem to stern. Last Friday night this kid from Cincinnati, Ohio and myself went aboard the battleship Wisconsin and saw most all the whole ship. Those ships are surely built to precision and to a lot of expense.

Well to get down on the ground again, how are things going back home? I haven’t heard anything yet because all the mail is probably over aboard ship I hope things are okay. Have you gone into New York for the medical check-up yet and when are you going to see Min and Eric and the rest of the family in Chicago? When you do go travel only airplane. Never by bus of train, except when you’re going on a short hall. Take the word of advice from the “Traveler” himself.

Well it looks like I’ve just about ran out of words. I’m sending you a clipping from the base newspaper telling about the Arneb’s Antarctic cruise. Maybe you can save it for me or put it in a scrapbook or picture book for safe keeping. It’s a nice little souvenir.

So I’ll sign off about here but until I write again or hear from you it with lots of

Love, Don

P.S.: Send my love to Nancy and Claudette and a hello to Bob and Alice for me


Paul A. Siple was the “Boy Scout with Byrd”, the young man  who was selected to accompany then-commander Richard Byrd on his first expedition to the Antarctic (1928-1930). On that expedition, Byrd made his historic flight over the South Pole, something no one had done before. Siple was only nineteen when he became a part of this expedition. Paul A. Siple Papers: Box 3, Folder 2.

Little America, Antarctica

November 22, 1929

Dear Ones at home:

Mother, Father, Grandmother, Uncle Loyd, Pierce- and also to all my home friends, yes in short all my friends- do I address this letter;

On this intended eve of the South Polar flight I am writing this note to my loved ones at home. By good luck this letter will be taken in the Floyd Bennet over the pole by the Commander to prove that it can be done. But for me the letter is to convey my love and best wishes to those at home.

Your loving son, grandson, etc.,

Paul A. Siple

Well, that’s all for the Polar Archives today. Be sure to check out our newly redesigned website and have a look around all of our collections! Happy Mother’s Day!

Written by John Hooton

Frozen Fridays: ‘Z’ is for Zeppelin!

This blog post is the final part of the Frozen Friday Series, an A-Z journey of the Polar Archives.  Each week, we featured some aspect of the history of polar exploration with a blog post written by our student authors. Last year, Autumn Snellgrove interned at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program and worked with new materials acquired by the program. In short, she scanned and researched these materials and wrote two blog posts about them. This is one of them.

In May of 1937, an airship—the largest ever to fly—set out on its sixty-third flight, headed from Frankfurt, Germany to Lakehurst, N.J. This was supposed to be just another passenger flight carrying the well-to-do across the Atlantic Ocean. While landing, however, a spark ignited hydrogen leaking from a gas cell and created a huge mushroom of fire and smoke from the dirigible’s tail. In half a minute, the flames stripped the airship down to its metal frame and the carcass collapsed on the ground. Amazingly, half of the airship’s travelers survived. Sadly for those who did not survive the explosion, this particular airship was originally designed to contain non-flammable helium. The U.S., however, refused to export helium due to its trade sanctions against the Nazis. So the makers of the airship—the German Zeppelin Company—resorted to using hydrogen. The massive explosion was caught on film and promptly broadcast to the world. Today, we know this as the infamous Hindenburg Disaster.

Front view of the Graf Zeppelin

View of the Graf Zeppelin as it lands
in N.J. after completing its
circumnavigation of the world.

This disaster and the controversy surrounding it tend to overshadow the longer history of airships (also called dirigibles). An airship is a lighter-than-air craft which employs gas to fly. There are two types of airship: the ridged, metal-framed airships (like the Hindenburg) and non-ridged airships, frequently called blimps.

While airships have their origins in the 18th century, they did not really take off until World War I when Germany used its dirigibles for reconnaissance and bombing missions. While this proved largely ineffective (airships are highly susceptible to ground fires and bombing from high enough altitudes to avoid flames makes it hard to aim) the German airships lurked so large in public imaginations that they were explicitly banned from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles.

Most of the dirigibles employed by the Germans in World War I were produced by the Zeppelin Company (who were also the makers of the Hindenburg). This company and their creations have a greater legacy than simply blowing things up, however. After barely surviving Germany’s forced airship ban, the Zeppelin Company produced one of their largest and most notable dirigibles: the LZ-127, also known as the Graf Zeppelin. Like the later Hindenburg, this airship was simply massive; ten stories high and barely shorter that the Titanic, the Graf Zeppelin cast a mountain-sized shadow while flying. This became the airship which would ignite modern commercial flying.

Incomplete Graf Zeppelin frame

Image from a German postcard,
showing the frame of the Graf
Zeppelin while it was being built.

In order to gain publicity and future financing for his company after years of war, Dr. Hugo Eckener (who had taken over when Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin died) planned an incomparable trip: a circumnavigation of the world. Eckener was rapidly joined by the news mogul William Hearst, who frequently publicized spectacular events to promote his own newspapers. In exchange for funding half the trip, Hearst got exclusive rights to the story in the U.S. and Great Britain. Hearst sent three reporters on the trip to cover all the bases: the famous correspondent Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, Karl von Wiegand and the Arctic explorer Hubert Wilkins. Wilkins, who has an innate love of science and weather, specialized in the technical and scientific side of flying a balloon through poorly understood skies. As the trip progressed, Wilkins became fascinated with Dr. Eckener’s understanding of the weather and how Eckener used his knowledge of the wind to catch the fastest air currents.

When the Graf Zeppelin began its record-breaking flight, it carried twenty passengers (who paid over ten thousand dollars for the privilege and who came from ten different countries), thousands of pieces of mail and all the necessary supplies for an emergency landing with it. The ship’s route took it from New Jersey across the Atlantic to Germany then over Siberia to Tokyo before flying on to California and returning to Lakehurst, N.J. This circumnavigation broke the previous record, with the whole trip lasting just over twenty-one days and the flying time clocking in at a mere twelve days.

Sketch of the Graf Zeppelin

Sketch of the side view and floor plan of the Graf
Zeppelin, reproduced here on a German postcard.

The Graf Zeppelin was luxuriously outfitted for this trip with a full kitchen, nice passenger rooms and a dining hall. The passenger accommodations, navigational room and the engines all resided in the dirigible’s gondola, which hangs below the gas cells. However, the ship was also unheated (probably a good thing as it was flammable); when it flew over Siberia, even Wilkins, who had lived in Antarctica, was forced to don a coat.

The Graf Zeppelin made another famous trip four years later, in 1931, when it flew over the Arctic. The Graf Zeppelin was far from the first dirigible to travel over the top of the world; people had been trying it since 1907. Merely five years earlier, Roald Amundsen and the Italian airship Norge had been the first to successfully cross the Arctic. Dr. Eckener, however, wanted to aid science as much as he wanted a publicity stunt. So in 1931, with a team of scientists, the Graf Zeppelin set out.

Freud, the radio operator aboard the Graf Zeppelin

Freud, the radio operator aboard
the Graf Zeppelin, dangling out a

Originally the airship planned to meet up and exchange passengers with the submarine Nautilus. The Nautilus was Hubert Wilkin’s submarine, which he proposed to take under the Arctic ice from Spitzbergen to Alaska. For various reasons, Wilkins was unable to complete this rendezvous. The Graf Zeppelin, however, proved much more successful than Wilkins. In preparation, the airship had been stripped of its luxuries to provide room for the necessary scientific equipment. Dirigibles were better equipped to handle the heavy scientific equipment than airplanes of the time, given their relative stability. While flying over the Arctic, the team of scientists made meteorological observations and studied the Earth’s magnetic field. The Zeppelin was also equipped with a pair of cameras which took nine images every few seconds. These images allowed for a better mapping and understanding of the Arctic landscape. Overall, the Graf Zeppelin’s Arctic flight was a grand success and upon its return the ship and crew found a hero’s welcome waiting for them, one that included the first man to fly over the North Pole, Richard Byrd (although, he used an airplane).

The Zeppelin’s very public successes kicked off a new era of passenger flight. In 1931, the Graf Zeppelin and the Zeppelin Company began flying from Germany to South America and back[i]. By 1936, these trips became a bi-weekly event. As the service became ever more popular (reducing the travel time from weeks to mere days) the Graf Zeppelin became “the first regularly scheduled, non-stop, intercontinental airline service in the history of the world.”[ii] The Graf Zeppelin alone would make 136 trips across the South Atlantic over its lifetime. The passenger flights of the Zeppelin Company came to an abrupt end after the explosion of the Hindenburg, however, and the legacy of commercial flying was handed over to airplanes.

For more information about Richard Byrd, Hubert Wilkins, the Graf Zeppelin or polar exploration, please visit the Polar Archives.

Written by Autumn Snellgrove and published by John Hooton.

[i] They traveled to South America because Brazil and several surrounding countries had a large German population.


Happy World Environment Day!

Happy World Environment Day! In 1972, the United Nations General Assembly designated June 5 as a day to focus and take active steps towards the preservation of the Earth’s often too fragile environment.[1] With that focus in mind, we would like to draw attention to the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center Archival Program.

The namesake of the Byrd Polar and
Climate Research Center, Admiral
Richard E. Byrd.

The Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center is the Ohio State University’s oldest research institution. Founded in 1960 as the Institute of Polar Studies, the Center was renamed in 1987 in honor of one of the greatest Polar explorers of the twentieth century.[2] Admiral Richard E. Byrd was a man of many feats. An adventurous sort, Byrd was one of the few contenders vying for the status as the first man to fly over the North Pole. Admiral Byrd claims to have flown over the North Pole in May of 1926 in his plane Josephine Ford along with his copilot Floyd Bennett.[3] The claim has been controversial almost from the moment Byrd announced the achievement, but became especially contentious after Byrd’s death in 1957.  Undisputed however, are Byrd’s numerous contributions to Antarctic exploration. Byrd led no less than five expeditions to Antarctica. His many “firsts” and accomplishments include: established “Little America, “the base of operations during his first expedition from 1928-1930 that would live on in subsequent expeditions, was the first to fly over the South Pole in 1928, sent the first radio broadcasts from Antarctica to the American mainland in 1934,  and would be nicknamed the “Mayor of Antarctica”.[4]

Carrying on Admiral Byrd’s legacy of Polar study and exploration, the Byrd Center’s mission is “to conduct multi-disciplinary research, offer enhanced educational opportunities, and provide outreach activities with the goal of promoting understanding of the ever-evolving Earth System.”[5] Scientists at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center have traveled the entire globe researching the Earth’s climate. They study current and past environmental patterns from not just the Poles, but also glaciers in the tropics and other important ecological resources.

Dr. Lois Jones and her team stand before the marker
denoting the South Pole.

The Byrd Center’s Archival Program was officially established in 1990.  The cornerstone of the program is the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, acquired by the University in the mid-1980s.  Today, the Polar Archives houses much more than just the papers of Admiral Byrd. The achievements of many great polar explorers are remembered in the Archives, including collections for Dr. Frederick Cook, Sir George Hubert Wilkins, and even Dr. Lois M. Jones, the leader of the first all-female expedition to Antarctica! The Archives contains memorabilia, items from expeditions, papers, and many other artifacts from polar explorers and their adventures. All of these items are available to the public upon request; the job of any archives is to both preserve and make available primary sources from the past.

For more information on the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center or the BPCRC Archival Program, please check out their respective websites! The Archival Program has some materials online and also is open to the public. The Byrd Center itself frequently gives tours of its facilities and strives to conduct public outreach.

Written by John Hooton

[1]   “World Environment Day,” United Nations, accessed June 2, 2017.

[2] “About BPCRC”, Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, accessed June, 2, 2017.

[3] Autumn Snellgrove, “B is for Byrd,” Frozen Fridays, November 4, 2016, accessed June 2, 2017.

[4] Snellgrove, “B is for Byrd.”

[5] “About BPCRC.”

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