North Pole

Crocker Land: The Land of Mist

Posted on Updated on

By Robert Jaeger

During Robert Peary’s attempt at reaching the North Pole in 1906, he claimed to have spotted a previously unidentified island off the northwest coast of Greenland. He named it Crocker Land, after one of his primary financial supporters, George Crocker.

While Peary may have fabricated the island’s existence in order to obtain further funding from Crocker for his next attempt at the Pole in 1909, Crocker Land nevertheless became a hot topic in 1909 after Frederick Cook and Peary both claimed to have reached the Pole.

During his expedition to the Pole, Cook stated that he traveled across the area Peary called Crocker Land and there was no land present. In an effort to prove the existence of Crocker Land and discredit Cook, George Borup and Donald MacMillan, both assistants of Peary on his trip to the Pole in 1909, were chosen to lead an expedition to Crocker land. However, Borup died unexpectedly, delaying the start of the expedition and leaving MacMillan to lead the expedition by himself.

MacMillan set out 1913, and the expedition was immediately beset with a series of misfortunes. Among them, a shipwreck on the way to Greenland, two failed rescue missions, the alleged murder of an Inuit guide, and the biggest of all: that Crocker Land turned out to be an illusion. At first MacMillan refused to believe it was a mirage caused by mist, but after several days of attempting to reach it, he was forced to accept the truth and turn back.

Sealskin coat worn by MacMillan.
Sealskin coat worn by MacMillan.

The expedition finally returned in 1917. As the AGS was one of the main sponsors of the expedition, the AGS-NY Archives at UW Milwaukee contains many of the records from it. These records provide much scientific data, helping to salvage something from the expedition. Included are geographical, mammalogical, and ornithological reports, along with meteorological and astronomical records. There is also a large wooden box, containing numerous artifacts from previous Arctic expeditions. Among these are items from Elisha Kent Kane and Robert Peary.

Crocker2
Artifacts brought back from earlier Arctic explorations held at the AGS Library, UW Milwaukee.