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Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?

Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?
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But for most of those years between their marriage and Peary’s final homecoming in 1909, husband and wife were separated. Even when the explorer was not in the Arctic, he was on a grueling treadmill of public lectures, which raised money for expenses. At one point he gave 165 lectures in 103 days, netting $20,000.Jo, whose childhood nickname was “Peppy,” lost a lot of her pep as the children came — a second daughter, Francine, who died in infancy while Peary was in the Arctic in 1899, and a son, Robert, Jr., in 1903 — and, as children do, caught the measles and scarlet fever, or cried incessantly, or needed new clothes. Jo’s letters to her husband began to exhibit the same peevish tone as his mother’s, as both women realized that their places in Bert Peary’s heart would always be secondary.

Had I known how matters stood when we were first married things might be very different now. But I do not feel equal to the separation from you again…(1893)

It is useless for me to say take care of yourself for my sake because that has lost its effect long ago but for the sake of the thing you love best in this world. success and glory, you ought to be careful…(1898)

Surely God will not take (Marie) from me too. She is all I have left to live for. I mean the only one to whom it makes any real difference…(March 1900, after Francine’s death)

You will wish yourself back with your sleek fat Eskimo woman after you have seen me… (April 1900)

When she wrote that last message, Jo was apparently unaware of her husband’s relationship with the Eskimo woman Alakasingwah, who was to bear him two sons. When she learned of it later that year, from Alakasingwah herself, it must have been a stunning blow. It is interesting that in her letters to Peary up to 1900, she generally saluted him as “My darling” or “My husband.” Afterwards, she adopted a cooler, oddly nostalgic tone: “My dear Old Man” (1902), “My dear Bert” (1904), “My dear old sweetheart” (1904).

As for Peary, he was capable of writing passionate love letters, and did, but there is a distracted quality to much of his correspondence with Jo that she was quick to notice. In 1905, for example, he wrote:

Am very sorry I can be with you only in spirit on your birthday, but you will be in my thoughts, you and the years during which you have doubled the joy and value of life for me,’ and I wish you many happy returns, for your sake, for my sake, for the children’s sake. My birthday present I shall deliver in person when I give you your birthday dinner….

The last line is followed by a penciled note — Never did — in Jo’s hand.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Tim Clark


Tim Clark


Tim Clark has been writing for Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac since 1975. Subjects of his many Yankee profiles have included filmmaker Ken Burns, historian Barbara Tuchman, pediatrician and political activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, and World War II General James Gavin. Tim left his job as Managing Editor in 1999 to teach English at ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. for 13 years, but since retiring from that demanding and rewarding profession in 2012, he has continued to contribute articles and book reviews. Tim lives in Dublin, N.H., two miles from the offices of Yankee Publishing, and serves as Town Moderator, a post previously occupied by Rob Sagendorph, the founder of Yankee Magazine.

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One Response to Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?

  1. Katherine Carrigan April 9, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    From the age of 12, I summered on Chebeague Island, where I went to
    sailing camp, and later operated a sailing school. Many times I encircled Eagle Island,
    wishing to learn more about Admiral Peary’s adventures.

    Your fascinating story was most interesting, not that I wanted to dismantle the heroism
    we all felt about him, but to unveil the speculations that have followed his story.

    Well done. Thank you!

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