The Jeannette Expedition of 1881, a mission doomed to failure, was undermined by hubris and overcome by catastrophe.
On a high overlook at the historic U.S. Naval Academy cemetery is a large and mysterious pyramidal mound of granite surmounted by a 12-foot-high cross of white marble, strangely draped in sculpted cascades resembling ice. A bronze anchor lies atop a plaque that reads: “Commemorative of the heroic officers and men of the United States Navy who perished in the Jeannette Arctic Exploring Expedition, 1881.”
A white marble cross draped in formative “icicles” carved in high relief, it is heavily soiled and sorely in need of attention. Its original bronze memorial plaque was replaced in 1965 and cleaned and treated in 1994, and it is in readable condition. But a second bronze plaque, containing selected names of Navy men who perished in the 1881 Arctic expedition, is blackened and illegible.
I had the great opportunity to attend Tabor as a result of two things.
The Ocean Classroom Foundation, a nonprofit sail-training organization that closed its doors at summer’s end after 20 years of educating students at sea, has sold its tall ships — Harvey Gamage, Spirit of Massachusetts and Westward — to operators who plan to put one, maybe two, of the schooners back on the water in semester-at-sea programs and the third into service as a dockside attraction in southern Maine.
The search for survivors from the sailboats Niña and Cheeki Rafiki ended badly for both, with no lives saved. Yet friends and family of Cheeki Rafiki’s crew fought for a second Coast Guard search and won, with help from a massive political and public relations blitz, while the push for renewing the search for Niña fell on deaf ears in New Zealand.
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