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EARLY LIFE OF PEARY.
The career of Commander Peary, like that of Dr. Cook, has been given over almost wholly to adventure and exploration. With Peary, however, it has been, almost from the first, a ceaseless quest for that farthest north both now have seen.
Peary is a veteran of the Arctic. A chronology of his trips into polar seas is as follows:
1886 — Reached 70 degrees north latitude on Greenland's inland ice cape, east of Disco Bay.
1891-92 — Discovered Melville Land and Heilprin Land and proved Greenland an island, working as chief of the expedition of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Reached latitude 81 degrees 37 minutes north.
1893-95 — Failed to reach northern Greenland, but discovered Iron Mountain.
1896-97 — Brought Cape York meteorites to the United States.
1898-1902 — Rounded most northerly cape in the world — Cape Morris, 83 degrees, 39 minutes — and reached "farthest north," 84 degrees 17 minutes. In command of expedition of the Peary Arctic Club.
1906 — Attained nearest point to the pole at that time, 87 degrees 6 minutes.
1909 — Reached the goal of his ambition at last.
Before presenting a narrative of these voyages, some account must be given of the youth that went to mold Peary's illustrious maturity.
Polar exploration was the great passion of Peary's life. That passion had its beginning when, as a boy, he read the story of Kane's exploits in the far north. Through all vicissitudes of fortune, changes of circumstances, alterations in environment, his mind seemed to turn steadily and constantly toward the North Pole. At an age when young men of his age were just entering upon their life careers, Peary set forth upon his first expedition into the land of eternal cold.
Peary was born in Cressen, Pa., May 6, 1856. As a boy he was big and boisterous. After he had finished the work of the schools at Cressen his parents sent him to Bowdoin. He was graduated there at the head of a class of fifty-one, being in addition the school's prize essayist. His mother, of notable character, exerted a great influence on the development of her son. She went to the college town with him and made him a home where his friends were always welcome.
At the end of his college career Peary astonished his friends by going out to the little town of Fryeburg in the mountains of Maine, where he became a land surveyor. At 23 he got a place in the coast and geodetic survey at Washington. Thereafter he spent two years patiently making maps. Then suddenly he rented a room and spent several weeks at mysterious studies. When finally he gave up the room he surprised his fellow employees by announcing that he intended taking the examination held by the Navy Department for the admission of engineers. When the records of that test were compared it was found that out of the forty who took it, Peary was the youngest of the four who passed.
In the very first year of his naval service he was ordered to make a report on plans for a new pier for Key West, Fla. Contractors had given up this pier as impossible of construction at the figure set by the government. Peary reported that the pier not only could be built, but that it could be built for at least $25,000 less than the government estimate.
The Secretary of the Navy ordered Peary to build the pier himself. When the pier was finished it was found that he had saved the Navy Department $30,000.
In 1885 an incident occurred which started him on his first expedition northward.
"One evening," he writes, "in an old bookstore of Washington I came upon a fugitive paper on the inland ice of Iceland. A chord, which, as a boy, had vibrated intensely in me at the reading of Kane's wonderful book, was touched again. I read all I could on the subject and felt that I must see for myself what the truth was of this mysterious interior."
No record of the life of Commander Robert E. Peary could be complete which did not include an account of the loyal part his wife played in it.
Mrs. Peary is possessed to a marked degree of some of the characteristics of her husband. By virtue of native ability, persistence and remarkable courage she has carved for herself a place in the history of polar exploration unequalled by any woman in the world.
Mrs. Peary, whose maiden name was Josephine Diebitsch, was born and educated in Washington, D. C. As a girl she was fond of outdoor exercise and upon reaching womanhood she was possessed of an uncommonly rugged constitution. She was married to Commander, then Lieutenant Peary, in 1888 and first accompanied him on an expedition into the north in 1891. This was when her husband headed the Arctic expedition of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the trip lasting until September, 1892. She also went with the explorer in 1893, when for two years he devoted himself to explorations in Greenland. On both occasions Mrs. Peary went with her husband as far as the winter quarters in Greenland.
It was while they were on the last Arctic trip that a baby was born to them. This occurred September 12, 1893, on the northwest coast of Greenland at Bowdoin Bay, Inglefield Gulf, 77 degrees 40 minutes of north latitude. The baby was christened Marie Ahnighito Peary, the second name meaning "snow baby." The Eskimos gathered from far and near to see the child and called it the "snow baby" because of the whiteness of its skin. In using the latter appellation they spoke of it as "Ah-Poo-Mik-A-Nin-Ny."
In addition to Marie, the Pearys have a son, Robert E. Peary, Jr. Mrs. Peary is an honorary member of the Philadelphia Geographical Society and the American Alpine Club, and honorary vice president of the Alaska Geographical Society. Among her writings is a volume entitled "My Arctic Journal," written in 1894, and "The Snow Baby," published in 1901.