The Arctic Voyage of the Schooner Polar Bear

A Traditional Knowledge Learning Center

In this Learning Center you will learn about the voyage that the schooner Polar Bear took to the Arctic in 1913. You will learn how crew members lived, what they wore, who they met along the way, and what animals they took in. See the New Bedford Whaling Museum's entire online exhibit at The Arctic Voyage of the Polar Bear.

Why the Polar Bear?

This voyage of the schooner Polar Bear was perhaps one of the most thoroughly photographed expeditions of the early 20th century. During its 1913-1914 voyage at least five passengers documented their adventure through photography.

One photographer, engineer Bernhard Kilian, stayed with the ship for the entire trip. His journal was published in 1983 by the New Bedford Whaling Museum. "The Voyage of the Schooner Polar Bear" includes Kilian's journal as well as that of Dunbar Lockwood recounting the overland journey in the winter of 1913.

A second photographer, William E. Hudson, was a professional photographer. He joined the crew at the commencement of the voyage in Seattle, but departed overland from the north coast of Alaska with Captain Lane and other passengers. He published a book in 1937, Icy Hell, about his adventures in the Arctic.

The Collection

The New Bedford Whaling Museum's photographic archives contain four collections from the Polar Bear's voyage of 1913-1914: the Eben Draper Collection, which is the largest, the John Heard, Jr. Collection, the Bernhard Kilian Collection, and the Dunbar Lockwood Collection. Draper, Kilian, and Lockwood photographed their own images and gathered those taken by other members of the expedition, including Joseph Dixon and William E. Hudson, and possibly others as well. After the conclusion of the voyage the participants exchanged their photographs with one another. The collection in the NBWM's photo archive contains about 600 images.

Who They Met

The Polar Bear left from Seattle, Washington in the spring of 1913 and the men did not return until October 1914, a year later than initially planned. During their year-and-a-half journey the crew visited the Aleutian Islands, Point Hope, Attu, Atka, Russia, Herschel Island, the Chukchi Peninsula, Nome, Indian Point, Siberia and Point Barrow among others (see the map of the voyage, below).

Along the way the ship encountered Natives who traded, educated and helped them. A number of those Natives joined the crew on its voyage. These included Sam Brown from Cape Chaplin, Napasak who was a Siberian Yupik Eskimo leader from East Cape, Eskimo Tommy from Nome, and Jodo.

From Bernhard's journal we know of one particular couple who was very close to him. This couple, Mr. and Mrs. Itloon, let Ben, 21, stay with them for a week. They shared stories from their culture and imparted knowledge about their way of life. Bernhard wrote that his "stay with Itloon and his wife was one of the highlights of the trip and [he] sure enjoyed every minute of it."

Frozen Winter

Although the original plan was for these men to return to Seattle at the end of September 1913, that summer had been exceedingly icy in the Arctic and the Polar Bear was caught and frozen in the ice for eight months. Ben's journal, dated September 7, says, "We started for the beach, nearly seven miles away ... We had not gone more than a half mile when the ice closed in around us and lifted us straight up nearly two-and-a-half feet just like we were sitting in a lift type drydock." The captain decided to winter at Pokok Lagoon, Alaska.

The men had built a house by September 30 and by October 24 they were already living in it, warehouse finished, and completely under snow. There they saw the last bit of sun, living in the Arctic darkness with dusky light at only at midday for three months. They went back afloat on June 23, 1914.

While the Polar Bear caught by Arctic pack ice and forced to overwinter on the exposed coast of northern Alaska, four of the crew hiked out from the ship with dog-teams on a punishing overland trek, traveling south across the uncharted Brooks Range and reaching home safely just before Christmas 1913.

The four men, Captain Louis Lane, Dunbar Lockwood, Eben Draper and William Hudson, traveled south following the Kongakut River. All the men suffered from some sort of frostbite during their trek. They stopped at Fort Yukon, Fairbanks, Cordova and at multiple roadhouses along the way. Captain Lane returned to the Polar Bear while the other three finished their journey home.

The rest of the men returned home with the ship in October 1914.