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Andree’s Arctic Ballooning Expedition

by Jeffrey Kraus

Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897 was an effort to reach the North Pole in which all three expedition members perished. S. A. Andrée, the first Swedish balloonist, proposed a voyage by hydrogen balloon from Svalbard to either Russia or Canada, which was to pass, with luck, straight over the North Pole on the way. The scheme was received with patriotic enthusiasm in Sweden, a northern nation that had fallen behind in the race for the North Pole.

Andrée ignored many early signs of the dangers associated with his balloon plan. Being able to steer the balloon to some extent was essential for a safe journey. But there was much evidence that the drag-rope steering technique Andrée had invented was ineffective. Yet he staked the fate of the expedition on drag ropes. Worse, the polar balloon Örnen (The Eagle) was delivered directly to Svalbard from its manufacturer in Paris without being tested. When measurements showed it to be leaking more than expected, Andrée refused to acknowledge the alarming implications. Most modern students of the expedition see Andrée’s optimism, faith in the power of technology, and disregard for the forces of nature as the main factors in the series of events that led to his death and those of his two companions Nils Strindberg and Knut Frænkel.

After Andrée, Strindberg, and Frænkel lifted off from Svalbard in July 1897, the balloon lost hydrogen quickly and crashed on the pack ice after only two days. The explorers were unhurt but faced a grueling trek back south across the drifting icescape. Inadequately clothed, equipped, and prepared, and shocked by the difficulty of the terrain, they did not make it to safety. As the Arctic winter closed in on them in October, the group ended up exhausted on the deserted Kvitøya (White Island) in Svalbard and died there. For 33 years the fate of the Andrée expedition remained one of the unsolved riddles of the Arctic. The chance discovery in 1930 of the expedition’s last camp created a media sensation in Sweden, where the dead men had been mourned and idolized.

Andrée’s motives have since been re-evaluated, along with assessing the role of the polar areas as the proving-ground of masculinity and patriotism. An early example is Per Olof Sundman’s fictionalized bestseller novel of 1967, The Flight of the Eagle, which portrays Andrée as weak and cynical, at the mercy of his sponsors and the media. The verdict on Andrée by modern writers for virtually sacrificing the lives of his two younger companions varies in harshness, depending on whether he is seen as the manipulator or the victim of Swedish nationalist fervor around the turn of the 20th century.


Andrée’s scheme

The second half of the 19th century has often been called the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. The inhospitable and dangerous Arctic and Antarctic regions appealed powerfully to the imagination of the age, not as lands with their own ecologies and cultures, but as challenges to be conquered by technological ingenuity and manly daring.

Salomon August Andrée shared these enthusiasms, and proposed a plan for letting the wind propel a hydrogen balloon from Svalbard across the Arctic Sea to the Bering Strait, to fetch up in Alaska, Canada, or Russia, and passing near or even right over the North Pole on the way. Andrée was an engineer at the patent office in Stockholm, with a passion for ballooning.

He bought his own balloon, the Svea, in 1893 and made nine journeys with it, starting from Gothenburg or Stockholm and traveling a combined distance of 1,500 kilometres (930 mi). In the prevailing westerly winds, the Svea flights had a strong tendency to carry him uncontrollably out to the Baltic Sea and drag his basket perilously along the surface of the water or slam it into one of the many rocky islets in the Stockholm archipelago.

On one occasion he was blown clear across the Baltic to Finland. His longest trip was due east from Gothenburg, across the breadth of Sweden and out over the Baltic to Gotland. Even though he saw a lighthouse and heard breakers off Öland, he remained convinced that he was traveling over land and seeing lakes.

During a couple of Svea flights, Andrée tested and tried out the drag-rope steering technique which he had developed and wanted to use on his projected North Pole expedition. Drag ropes, which hang from the balloon basket and drag part of their length on the ground, are designed to counteract the tendency of lighter-than-air craft to travel at the same speed as the wind, a situation that makes steering by sails impossible. The friction of the ropes was intended to slow the balloon to the point where the sails would have an effect (beyond that of making the balloon rotate on its axis). Andrée reported, and presumably believed, that with drag rope/sails steering he had succeeded in deviating about ten degrees either way from the wind direction.

This notion is rejected by modern balloonists; the Swedish Ballooning Association maintains that Andrée’s belief that he had deviated from the wind was mistaken,[5] being misled by inexpertise and a surfeit of enthusiasm in an environment of variable winds and poor visibility. Use of drag ropes—prone to snapping, falling off, or becoming entangled with each other or the ground, in addition to being ineffective—is not considered by any modern expert to be a useful steering technique.

Promotion and fundraising

The Arctic ambitions of Sweden were still unrealized in the late 19th century, while neighboring and politically subordinate Norway was a world power in Arctic exploration through such pioneers as Fridtjof Nansen. The Swedish political and scientific elite were eager to see Sweden take that lead among the Scandinavian countries which seemed her due, and Andrée, a persuasive speaker and fundraiser, found it easy to gain support for his ideas. At a lecture in 1895 for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Andrée thrilled the audience of geographers and meteorologists; a polar exploration balloon, he explained, would need to fulfill four conditions:

  1. It must have enough lifting power to carry three people and all their scientific equipment, advanced cameras for aerial photography, provisions for four months, and ballast, altogether about 3,000 kilograms (6,600 lb)
  2. It must retain the gas well enough to stay aloft for 30 days
  3. The hydrogen gas must be manufactured, and the balloon filled, at the Arctic launch site
  4. It must be at least somewhat steerable

Andrée gave a glowingly optimistic account of the ease with which these requirements could be met. Larger balloons had been constructed in France, he claimed, and more airtight, too. Some French balloons had remained hydrogen-filled for over a year without appreciable loss of buoyancy. As for the hydrogen, filling the balloon at the launch site could easily be done with the help of mobile hydrogen manufacturing units; for the steering he referred to his own drag-rope experiments with the Svea, stating that a deviation of 27 degrees from the wind direction could be routinely achieved.

Andrée assured the audience that Arctic summer weather was uniquely suitable for ballooning. The midnight sun would enable observations round the clock, halving the voyage time required, and do away with all need for anchoring at night, which might otherwise be a dangerous business.

Neither would the balloon’s buoyancy be adversely affected by the cold of the night. The drag-rope steering technique was particularly well adapted for a region where the ground, consisting of ice, was “low in friction and free of vegetation”. He said that the minimal precipitation in the area posed no threat of weighing down the balloon. If some rain or snow did fall on the balloon, Andrée argued, “precipitation at above-zero temperatures will melt, and precipitation at below-zero temperatures will blow off, for the balloon will be traveling more slowly than the wind.”

The audience was convinced by these arguments, so disconnected were they from the realities of the Arctic summer storms, fogs, high humidity, and the ever-present threat of ice formation. The academy approved Andrée’s expense calculation of 130,800 kronor in all, corresponding in today’s money to just under a million U.S. dollars, of which the single largest sum, 36,000 kronor, was for the balloon. With this endorsement, there was a rush to support his project, headed by King Oscar II, who personally contributed 30,000 kronor, and Alfred Nobel, the dynamite magnate and founder of the Nobel Prize.

There was also considerable international interest, and the European and American newspaper-reading public was curious about a project that seemed as modern and scientific as the books of the contemporary author Jules Verne. The press fanned the interest with a wide range of predictions, from certain death for the explorers to a safe and comfortable “guidance” of the balloon (upgraded by the reporter to an “airship”) to the North Pole in a manner planned by Parisian experts and Swedish scientists.

“In these days, the construction and guidance of airships have been improved greatly”, wrote The Providence Journal, “and it is supposed, both by the Parisian experts and by the Swedish scientists who have been assisting M. Andree, that the question of a sustained flight, in this case, will be very satisfactorily answered by the character of the balloon, by its careful guidance and, providing it gets into a Polar current of air, by the elements themselves.”

Faith in the experts and in science was common in the popular press, but with international attention came also for the first time informed criticism. Andrée being Sweden’s first balloonist, no one had the requisite knowledge to second-guess him about buoyancy or drag ropes; but both Germany and France had long ballooning traditions and several of their more experienced balloonists expressed skepticism about Andrée’s methods and inventions.

However, just as with the Svea mishaps, all objections failed to dampen Andrée’s optimism. Eagerly followed by national and international media, he began negotiations with the well-known aeronaut and balloon builder Henri Lachambre in Paris, the world capital of ballooning, and ordered a varnished three-layer silk balloon, 20.5 metres (67 ft) in diameter, from his workshop. The balloon, originally called Le Pôle Nord, was to be renamed Örnen (The Eagle).

Special technical solutions had to be designed for the accommodations for three adults to be confined in a small balloon basket for up to 30 days. The sleeping berths for the crew were fitted at the floor of the basket, along with some of the stores and provisions. The highly flammable hydrogen meant that cooking could not be done in the basket itself. The solution was a modified primus stove—designed by a friend of Andrée’s—that could be dangled eight metres (26 ft) below the crew and then lit from the basket, at a safe distance. An angled mirror attached to the specially designed stove allowed the crew to determine whether it was successfully lit or not.

First expedition

For his 1896 attempt to launch the balloon, Andrée had many eager volunteers to choose from. He picked Nils Gustaf Ekholm, an experienced Arctic meteorological researcher and formerly his boss during an 1882–1883 geophysical expedition to Spitsbergen, and Nils Strindberg, a brilliant student who was doing original research in physics and chemistry. The main scientific purpose of the expedition was to map the area by means of aerial photography, and Strindberg was both a devoted amateur photographer and a skilled constructor of advanced cameras.

This was a team with many useful scientific and technical skills, but lacking any particular physical prowess or training for survival under extreme conditions. All three men were indoor types, and only one, Strindberg, was young. Andrée expected a sedentary voyage in a balloon basket, and strength and survival skills were far down on his list.

Modern writers all agree that Andrée’s North Pole scheme was unrealistic. He relied on the winds blowing more or less in the direction he wanted to go, on being able to fine-tune his direction with the drag ropes, on the balloon being sealed tight enough to stay airborne for 30 days, and on no ice or snow sticking to the balloon to weigh it down.

In the attempt of 1896, the wind immediately refuted his optimism by blowing steadily from the north, straight at the balloon hangar at Danes Island, until the expedition had to pack up, let the hydrogen out of the balloon, and go home. It is now known that northerly winds are to be expected at Danes Island; but in the late-19th century, information on Arctic airflow and precipitation existed only as contested academic hypotheses. Even Ekholm, an Arctic climate researcher, had no objection to Andrée’s theory of where the wind was likely to take them. The observational data simply did not exist.

On the other hand, Ekholm was skeptical of the balloon’s ability to retain hydrogen, from his own measurements. His buoyancy checks in the summer of 1896, during the process of producing the hydrogen and pumping it into the balloon, convinced him that the balloon leaked too much to ever reach the Pole, let alone go on to Russia or Canada. The worst leakage came from the approximately eight million tiny stitching holes along the seams, which no amount of glued-on strips of silk or applications of special secret-formula varnish seemed to seal.

The balloon was losing 68 kilograms (150 lb) of lift force per day. Taking into account its heavy load, Ekholm estimated that it would be able to stay airborne for 17 days at most, not 30. When it was time to go home, he warned Andrée that he would not take part in the next attempt, scheduled for summer 1897, unless a stronger, better-sealed balloon was bought. Andrée resisted Ekholm’s criticisms to the point of deception. On the boat back from Svalbard, Ekholm learned from the chief engineer of the hydrogen plant the explanation of some anomalies he had noticed in his measurements: Andrée had from time to time secretly ordered extra topping-up of the hydrogen in the balloon. Andrée’s motives for such self-destructive behavior are not known.

Several modern writers, following Sundman’s Andrée portrait in the semi-documentary novel, The Flight of the Eagle (1967), have speculated that Andrée had by this time become the prisoner of his own successful funding campaign. The sponsors and the media followed every delay and reported on every setback, and were clamoring for results. Andrée, Strindberg, and Ekholm had been seen off by cheering crowds in Stockholm and Gothenburg, and now all the expectations were coming to nothing with the long wait for southerly winds at Danes Island.

Especially pointed was the contrast between Nansen’s simultaneous return, covered in polar glory from his daring yet well-planned expedition on the ship Fram, and Andrée’s failure even to launch his own much-hyped conveyance. Sundman theorizes that Andrée could not face letting the press report that he did not know the prevailing wind direction, and had also miscalculated in ordering the balloon, and needed a new one to rectify his error.

After the 1896 launch was called off, enthusiasm declined for joining the expedition for the second attempt in 1897. From the candidates Andrée picked the 27-year-old engineer, Knut Frænkel, to replace Ekholm. Frænkel was a civil engineer from the north of Sweden, an athlete who was fond of long mountain hikes. He was enrolled specifically to take over Ekholm’s meteorological observations. Despite lacking Ekholm’s theoretical and scientific knowledge, he handled this task efficiently. His meteorological journal has enabled researchers to reconstruct the movements of the three men during their last few months with considerable precision.

Expedition of 1897

Launch, flight, and landing

Returning to Danes Island in the summer of 1897, the expedition found that the balloon hangar built the year before had weathered the winter storms well. The winds were more favorable, too. Andrée had strengthened his leadership by replacing the older and critical Ekholm, an authority in his field, with the 27-year-old enthusiast Knut Frænkel.

On 11 July, in a steady wind from the south-west, the top of the plank hangar was dismantled, the three explorers climbed into the already heavy basket, and Andrée dictated one last-minute telegram to King Oscar and another to the paper Aftonbladet, holder of press rights to the expedition. The large support team cut away the last ropes holding the balloon and it rose slowly. Moving out low over the water, it was pulled so far down by the friction of the several-hundred-meter-long drag ropes against the ground as to dip the basket into the water. The friction also twisted the ropes around, detaching them from their screw holds. These holds were a new safety feature that Andrée had reluctantly been persuaded to add, whereby ropes that got caught on the ground could be more easily dropped.

Most of them unscrewed at once and 530 kilograms (1,170 lb) of rope were lost, while the three explorers could simultaneously be seen to dump 210 kilograms (460 lb) of sand overboard to get the basket clear of the water. Seven hundred and forty kilograms (1,630 lb) of essential weight was thus lost in the first few minutes. Before it was well clear of the launch site, the Eagle had turned from a supposedly steerable craft into an ordinary hydrogen balloon with a few ropes hanging from it, at the mercy of the wind; its crew had no means to direct it to any particular goal and had too little ballast for stability. Lightened, the balloon rose to 700 metres (2,300 ft), an unimagined height, where the lower air pressure made the hydrogen escape all the faster through the eight million little holes.

The balloon had two means of communication with the outside world, buoys and homing pigeons. The buoys, steel cylinders encased in cork, were intended to be dropped from the balloon into the water or onto the ice, to be carried to civilization by the currents. Only two buoy messages have ever been found. One was dispatched by Andrée on 11 July, a few hours after takeoff, and reads “Our journey goes well so far. We sail at an altitude of about 250 m (820 ft), at first N 10° east, but later N 45° east […] Weather delightful. Spirits high.” The second was dropped an hour later and gave the height as 600 metres (2,000 ft).

The newspaper Aftonbladet had supplied the pigeons, bred in northern Norway with the optimistic hope that they would manage to return there, and their message cylinders contained pre-printed instructions in Norwegian asking the finder to pass the messages on to the newspaper’s address in Stockholm. Andrée released at least four pigeons, but only one was ever retrieved, by a Norwegian steamer where the pigeon had alighted and been promptly shot. Its message is dated 13 July and gives the travel direction at that point as East by 10° South. The message reads: “The Andree Polar Expedition to the “Aftonbladet”, Stockholm. 13 July, 12.30 p.m., 82 deg. north latitude, 15 deg. 5 min. east longitude. Good journey eastwards, 10 deg. south. All goes well on board. This is the third message sent by pigeon. Andree.”

Lundström and others note that all three messages fail to mention the accident at takeoff, or the increasingly desperate situation, which Andrée described fully in his main diary. The balloon was out of equilibrium, sailing much too high and thereby losing hydrogen faster than even Nils Ekholm had feared, then repeatedly threatening to crash on the ice.[28] It was weighed down by being rain-soaked (“dripping wet”, writes Andrée in the diary), and the men were throwing all the sand and some of the payload overboard to keep it airborne.

Free flight lasted for 10 hours and 29 minutes and was followed by another 41 hours of bumpy riding with frequent ground contact before the inevitable final crash. The Eagle traveled for two days and three-and-a-half hours altogether, during which time, according to Andrée, none of the three men got any sleep. The definitive landing appears to have been gentle. Neither the men nor the homing pigeons in their wicker cages were hurt, and none of the equipment was damaged, not even the delicate optical instruments and Strindberg’s two cameras.

On foot on the ice

From the moment the three were grounded on 14 July, Strindberg’s highly specialized cartographic camera, which had been brought to map the region from the air, became instead a means of recording daily life in the icescape and the constant danger and drudgery of the trek.[30] Strindberg took about 200 photos with his seven-kilogram (15 lb) camera over the course of the three months they spent on the pack ice, one of the most famous being his picture of Andrée and Frænkel contemplating the fallen Eagle.

Andrée and Frænkel also kept meticulous records of their experiences and geographical positions, Andrée in his “main diary,” Frænkel in his meteorological journal. Strindberg’s own stenographic diary was more personal in content, and included his general reflections on the expedition, as well as several messages to his fiancée Anna Charlier. All three manuscripts were eventually retrieved from the ice on Kvitøya in 1930.

The Eagle had been stocked with safety equipment such as guns, snowshoes, sleds, skis, a tent, a small boat (in the form of a bundle of bent sticks, to be assembled and covered with balloon silk), most of it stored not in the basket but in the storage space arranged above the balloon ring. These items had not been put together with great care, or with any acknowledgment of adopting indigenous peoples’ techniques for dealing with the extreme environment. In this, Andrée contrasted not only with later but also with many earlier explorers.

Sven Lundström points to the agonizing extra efforts that became necessary for the team due to Andrée’s mistaken design of the sleds, with a rigid construction that borrowed nothing from the long proven Inuit sleds, and were so impractical for the difficult terrain. Andrée called it “dreadful terrain”, with channels separating the ice floes, high ridges, and partially iced-over melt ponds.[34] The men’s clothes included no furs but were woolen coats and trousers, plus oilskins. They wore the oilskins but the explorers reported always seeming to be damp or wet from the half-frozen pools of water on the ice and the typically foggy, humid Arctic summer air, and preoccupied with drying their clothes, mainly by wearing them. It would have meant certain death to lose the provisions lashed to one of the inconvenient sleds into one of the many channels that had to be laboriously crossed.

Before starting the march across the “dreadful terrain,” the three men spent a week in a tent at the crash site, packing up and making decisions about what and how much to bring and where to go. The far-off North Pole was not mentioned as an option; the choice lay between two depots of food and ammunition laid down for their safety, one at Cape Flora in Franz Josef Land and one at Sjuøyane (Seven Islands) in Svalbard. Inferring from their faulty maps that the distances to each were about equal, they decided to try for the bigger depot at Cape Flora. Strindberg took more pictures during this week than he would at any later point, including 12 frames that make up a 360-degree panorama of the crash site.

The balloon had carried a lot of food, of a kind adapted more for a balloon voyage than for travels on foot. Andrée had reasoned that they might as well throw excess food overboard as sand if losing weight was necessary; and if it was not, the food would serve if wintering in the Arctic desert did, after all, become necessary. There was, therefore, less ballast and large amounts of heavy-type provisions, 767 kilograms (1,691 lb) altogether, including 200 litres (44 imp gal; 53 US gal) of water and some crates of champagne, port, beer, etc., donated by sponsors and manufacturers. There was also lemon juice, though not as much of this precaution against scurvy as other polar explorers usually thought necessary. Much of the food was in the form of cans of pemmican, meat, sausages, cheese, and condensed milk.

By the time they crashed, they had thrown some of it overboard. The three men took most of the rest with them on leaving the crash site, along with other necessities such as guns, tent, ammunition, and cooking utensils, making a load on each sled of more than 200 kilograms (440 lb). This was not realistic, as it broke the sleds and wore out the men. After one week, they sorted out and left behind a big pile of food and non-essential equipment, bringing the loads down to 130 kilograms (290 lb) per sled. It became more necessary than ever to hunt for food. They shot and ate seals, walruses, and especially polar bears throughout the march.

Starting out for Franz Josef Land to the south-east on 22 July, the three soon found that their struggle across the ice, which had ridges two stories high, was hardly bringing the goal any nearer: the drift of the ice was in the opposite direction, moving them backward. On 4 August they decided, after a long discussion, to aim for Sjuøyane in the southwest instead, hoping to reach the depot there after a six- to seven-week march, with the help of the current. The terrain in that direction was mostly extremely difficult, sometimes necessitating a crawl on all fours, but there was occasional relief in the form of open water—the little boat (not designed by Andrée) was apparently a functional and safe conveyance—and smooth, flat ice floes.

“Paradise!” wrote Andrée. “Large even ice floes with pools of sweet drinking water and here and there a tender-fleshed young polar bear!”] They made fair apparent headway, but the wind turned almost as soon as they did, and they were again being pushed backward, away from Sjuøyane. The wind varied between southwest and northwest over the coming weeks; they tried in vain to overcome this by turning more and more westward, but it was becoming clear that Sjuøyane was out of their reach.

On 12 September, the explorers resigned themselves to wintering on the ice and camped on a large floe, letting the ice take them where it would, “which”, writes Kjellström, “it had really been doing all along”. Drifting rapidly due south towards Kvitøya, they hurriedly built a winter “home” on the floe against the increasing cold, with walls made of water-reinforced snow to Strindberg’s design. Observing the rapidity of their drift, Andrée recorded his hopes that they might get far enough south to feed themselves entirely from the sea.

However, the floe began to break up directly under the hut on 2 October, from the stresses of pressing against Kvitøya, and they were forced to bring their stores on to the island itself, which took a couple of days. “Morale remains good”, reports Andrée at the very end of the coherent part of his diary, which ends: “With such comrades one should be able to manage under, I may say, any circumstances.” It is inferred from the incoherent and badly damaged last pages of Andrée’s diary that the three men were all dead within a few days of moving onto the island.


For the next 33 years, the fate of the expedition was shrouded in mystery and its disappearance became part of the cultural lore in Sweden and to a certain extent elsewhere. It was actively sought for a couple of years and remained the subject of myth and rumor, with frequent international newspaper reports of possible findings. An extensive archive of American newspaper reports from the first few years, 1896–1899, titled “The Mystery of Andree”, shows a much richer media interest in the expedition after it disappeared than before. A great variety of fates are suggested for it, inspired by finds, or reported finds, of remnants of what might be a balloon basket or great amounts of balloon silk, or by stories of men falling from the sky, or visions by psychics, all of which would typically locate the stranded balloon far from Danes Island and Svalbard.

Lundström points out that some of the international and national reports took on the features of urban legends. They reflected a prevailing disrespect for the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, who were portrayed in the newspapers as uncomprehending savages who had killed the three men or showed a deadly indifference to their plight. These speculations were refuted in 1930, upon the discovery of the expedition’s final resting place on Kvitøya by the crews of two ships, the Bratvaag and the Isbjørn.


The Norwegian Bratvaag expedition, studying the glaciers and seas of the Svalbard archipelago from the Norwegian sealing vessel Bratvaag of Ålesund, found the remains of the Andrée expedition on 5 August 1930. Kvitøya was usually inaccessible to the sealing or whaling ships of the time, as it is typically surrounded by a wide belt of thick polar ice and often hidden by thick ice fogs. However, summer in 1930 had been particularly warm, and the surrounding sea was practically free of ice. As Kvitøya was known to be a prime hunting ground for walrus and the fogs over the island on that day were comparatively thin, some of the crew of the Bratvaag took this rare opportunity to land on what they called the “inaccessible island”.

Two of the sealers in search of water, Olav Salen and Karl Tusvick, discovered Andrée’s boat near a small stream, frozen under a mound of snow and full of equipment, including a boathook engraved with the words “Andrée’s Polar Expedition, 1896”. Presented with this hook, the Bratvaag‘s captain, Peder Eliassen, assigned the crew to search the site together with the expedition members. Among other finds, they uncovered a journal and two skeletons, identified as Andrée’s and Strindberg’s remains by monograms found on their clothing.

The Bratvaag left the island to continue its scheduled hunting and observations, with the intent of coming back later to see if the ice had melted further and uncovered more artifacts. Further discoveries were made by the M/K Isbjørn of Tromsø, a sealing sloop chartered by news reporters to waylay the Bratvaag. Unsuccessful in this, the reporters and the Isbjørn crew made instead for Kvitøya, landing on the island on 5 September in fine weather and finding even less ice than the Bratvaag had. After photographing the area, they searched for and found Frænkel’s body, and additional artifacts, including a tin box containing Strindberg’s photographic film, his logbook, and maps. The crews of both ships turned over their finds to a scientific commission of the Swedish and Norwegian governments in Tromsø on 2 and 16 September, respectively. The bodies of the three explorers were transported to Stockholm, arriving on 5 October.

Causes of death

The bodies of the three men were cremated in 1930 without further examination upon being returned to Sweden. The question of what, exactly, caused their deaths has attracted both interest and controversy among scholars. Several medical practitioners and amateur historians have read the extensive diaries with a detective’s eye, looking for clues in the diet, for telltale complaints of symptoms, and for suggestive details at the death site.[47] They agree on many particulars. For instance, the explorers are known to have eaten mainly scanty amounts of canned and dry goods from the balloon stores, plus huge portions of half-cooked meat of polar bears and occasionally seals.

They frequently suffered from foot pains and diarrhea, and were always tired, cold, and wet. When they moved on to Kvitøya from the ice, they left much of their valuable equipment and stores outside the tent, and even down by the water’s edge, as if they were too exhausted, indifferent, or ill to carry it further. Strindberg, the youngest, died first and was “buried” (wedged into a cliff aperture) by the others. However, the interpretation of these observations is contested.

The best-known and most widely credited suggestion is that made by Ernst Tryde, a medical practitioner, in his book De döda på Vitön (The Dead on Kvitøya ) in 1952: that the men succumbed to trichinosis, which they had contracted from eating undercooked polar bear meat. Larvae of Trichinella spiralis were found in parts of a polar bear carcass at the site. Lundström and Sundman both favor this explanation. Critics note that diarrhea, which Tryde cites as the main symptomatic evidence, hardly needs an explanation beyond the general poor diet and physical misery, but some more specific symptoms of trichinosis are missing. Also, Fridtjof Nansen and his companion Hjalmar Johansen had lived largely on polar bear meat in exactly the same area for 15 months without any ill effects.

Other suggestions have included vitamin A poisoning from eating polar bear liver; however, the diary shows Andrée to have been aware of this danger. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a theory that has found a few adherents, such as the explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. The chief objection is that their primus stove had kerosene still in the tank when found. Stefansson argues that they were using a malfunctioning stove, something he has experienced in his own expeditions. Lead poisoning from the cans in which their food was stored is an alternative suggestion, as is scurvy, botulism, suicide (they had plenty of opium), and polar bear attack. A combination favored by Kjellström is that of cold and hypothermia as the Arctic winter closed in, with dehydration and general exhaustion, apathy, and disappointment.

Kjellström argues that Tryde never takes the nature of their daily life into account, and especially the crowning blow of the ice breaking up under their promisingly mobile home, forcing them to move onto a glacier island. “Posterity has expressed surprise that they died on Kvitøya, surrounded by food,” writes Kjellström. “The surprise is rather that they found the strength to live so long.”

In 2010, writer and researcher Bea Uusma at Karolinska institutet, Sweden, rejected the theory that larvae of Trichinella spiralis killed the expedition members. After examining the men’s clothes, she concluded that at least Strindberg was killed by polar bears.


In 1897, Andrée’s daring or foolhardy undertaking nourished Swedish patriotic pride and Swedish dreams of taking the scientific lead in the Arctic. The title of Engineer—Ingenjör Andrée—was generally and reverentially used in speaking of him, and expressed high esteem for the late 19th-century ideal of the engineer as a representative of social improvement through technological progress. The three explorers were fêted when they departed and mourned by the nation when they disappeared.

When they were found, they were celebrated for the heroism of their doomed two-month struggle to reach populated areas and were seen as having selflessly perished for the ideals of science and progress. The procession carrying their mortal remains from the ships into Stockholm on 5 October 1930, writes Swedish historian of ideas Sverker Sörlin, “must be one of the most solemn and grandiose manifestations of national mourning that has ever occurred in Sweden. One of the rare comparable events is the national mourning that followed the Estonia disaster in the Baltic Sea in September 1994.”

More recently, Andrée’s heroic motives have been questioned, beginning with Per Olof Sundman’s bestselling semi-documentary novel of 1967, The Flight of the Eagle. Sundman portrays Andrée as the victim of the demands of the media and the Swedish scientific and political establishment, and as ultimately motivated by fear rather than courage. Sundman’s interpretation of the personalities involved, the blind spots of the Swedish national culture, and the role of the press are reflected in the film adaptation, Flight of the Eagle (1982), based on his novel and directed by Jan Troell. It was nominated for an Academy Award.

Appreciation of Nils Strindberg’s role seems to be growing, both for the fortitude with which the untrained and unprepared student kept photographing, in what must have been a more or less permanent state of near-collapse from exhaustion and exposure, and for the artistic quality of the result.[54] Out of the 240 exposed frames that were found on Kvitøya in waterlogged containers, 93 were saved by John Hertzberg at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Strindberg’s former workplace. In his article, “Recovering the visual history of the Andrée expedition” (2004), Tyrone Martinsson has lamented the traditional focus by previous researchers on the written records—the diaries—as primary sources of information; he renewed his claim for the historical significance of the photographs.

Text from Wikipedia. Stereoviews from the Jeffrey Kraus Collection. The stereoviews illustrated here were taken by Alexis Machuron.

Jerome Park

by Jeffrey Richman

Leonard Jerome (1817-1891), who is interred at Green-Wood, was tremendously wealthy–he spent most of his life speculating in and manipulating stocks on Wall Street, making and losing several huge fortunes. George Templeton Strong, New York City’s great 19th century diarist, described him disparagingly as “Jerome (Not the Saint But the Stockjobber).”  One contemporary described him thusly: “He dazzled New York society with the glitter and novelty of his carriages and the costliness of his blooded horses. He excited its dubious admiration by his extravagance and assurance; his fantastic speculations; his scandalous love affairs; his incredible parties.” His sister described him as having “much sense of honor and hardly any sense of sin.”


Leonard Jerome. stock speculator and sportsman.

Jerome was an avid sportsman. Yachting and four-in-hand coach driving were passions of his. But his real passion was thoroughbred horses.

Jerome’s primary claim to fame today is through his born-in-Brooklyn daughter Jennie: she married Lord Randolph Churchill and gave birth to Winston Churchill, who would lead Great Britain as its prime minister through the darkest days of World War II. Notably, both of Jennie’s sisters also married Englishmen–each of them offered substantial dowries to men with titles who were short on money.

Leonard Jerome was also a builder. He built his spectacular mansion at the corner of 26th Street and Madison Avenue, just across the street from the east side of Madison Square Park.


The Jerome Mansion, landmarked in 1965 and torn down in 1974. Behind it were stables for Leonard Jerome’s beloved thoroughbred horses; their stables had black walnut paneling and wall-to-wall carpeting. He also built a private theatre behind his mansion.

That mansion was designated a New York City landmark in 1965. But the owners of the landmarked mansion were not happy with its designation. They opened up the roof, allowing rain to pour in, then argued that it was no longer viable and got permission to destroy it; one of the great French Second Empire mansions ever built in New York City, designed by Thomas R. Jackson (who is also interred at Green-Wood), it was torn down in 1974.

Jerome, a man of great wealth, power, and ego, also built the not-surprisingly-named Jerome Park Racetrack in what was then Westchester County (it would become a part of the Bronx in 1874). Operated by the American Jockey Club (of which Leonard Jerome was a founder), its primary owners were Leonard Jerome and his good friend August Belmont. Jerome Park opened on September 25,  1866. Here’s how Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace described its opening in “Gotham:”

Everyone was there: old money and new, swells and politicos, Vanderbilt and Fisk, Tweed and Morrissey, sportsmen from around the country, all in white hats and gloves. Grant was guest of honor. Ladies attended too–“ladies of fashion, ladies domestic, ladies professionally literary, ladies of birth and culture” (in the words of a Harper‘s reporter). They felt protected in Jerome’s elegant clubhouse, despite the presence of people who arrived via the Harlem Rail Road, and their participation rendered racing both fashionable and respectable.

In 1867, the second year of Jerome Park’s operations, The New York Times noted the contrast between the crowds at the Fashion Course, where trotters ran, and those at Jerome Park. As the Times reported, “There was almost the same difference visible, as between an average political meeting in the [Central] Park and the performance of an opera at the Academy of Music.” The working class people who went to see the trotters did so because of their interest in the races; those who attended Jerome Park were more interested in the social gathering:

At Jerome Park there were not less than 10,000 people, of whom full one-third were ladies, elegantly dressed, out for a holiday rather than business, and far less intent on the races than on meeting friends and having a free and easy social chat. Not one in ten probably knew or cared a straw about the horses, and their running was merely a pleasant incident in the day’s enjoyment. . . . The racing . . . collected the crowd and served as an excuse for going; but even if it were omitted altogether, few would have felt that the day was lost.

Those two names–August Belmont and Leonard Jerome–are legendary in horse racing: Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, which opened in 1905, is one of the leading thoroughbred race tracks in the world, where the third and final leg of the triple crown, “the test of the champion,” is run every year. That track was named for August Belmont, financier and sportsman. And the Jerome Stakes, named for Leonard Jerome, have been run annually since 1866; it is the second oldest stakes race in America, and has been continuously run, with the exception of a few years, to this day. In fact, the Jerome Stakes were just run a few weeks ago at Aqueduct Racetrack. Today the Jerome Stakes are a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying race.

Jerome Park stretched across 230 acres. Known as the “Daddy of Horse Racing in the United States,” it was the first flat racetrack in America, with a grandstand seating 8000, an elaborate ballroom, and a fancy dining room. Facilities for polo, trapshooting, sleighing, and ice skating were offered. In 1876, Jerome Park was the site of the first polo match ever held in the United States. Jerome Park, soon after its opening, became the fashionable place for New York’s upper crust to frolic and be seen during the spring and fall. It flourished until 1894, when it closed its gates and was torn down; much of its land became  Jerome Park Reservoir, a part of New York City’s water supply.

Scenes at Jerome Park were captured in several 19th century prints. Here it is in 1868:


Jerome Park in 1868, just two years after it opened as a racetrack for thoroughbred horses.

And here it is in 1886:


Jerome Park in 1886, showing the elaborate (and very expensive) coaches that the upper class used for their day trip to enjoy a picnic and the races.

But what of photographs of Jerome Park? They are very rare! I have collected photographs of 19th century New York for decades–and I have only seen photographs of Jerome Park a few times. But–Jeffrey Kraus to the rescue! Jeff is a leading collector of and dealer in 19th century photographs. I have known him for about 35 years now. As far as I know, he has the best collection of stereoscopic views of New York City anywhere–including museums, libraries, and private collections. I have seen hundreds of views in his collection that I have seen no where else. So, thanks to Jeff, here we have an opportunity to share with you photographs of Jerome Park, many of which have not been published since they were issued in the late 1860s.


“Grand Stand, Front View.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. No. 5550. This is a stereoscopic view–side by side photographs, each taken from a slightly different perspective–with camera lenses spaced at the typical distance between human eyes–and, when viewed through a two-lens viewer, tricking the brain into thinking it is seeing a 3D scene. This is a colorized version, water colored by hand; there was no ability to print in color when this was published in the late 1860s.

Here is the same view without the added color. E. & H.T. Anthony No. 5550. Grand Stand, Front View.

This view is looking north up Broadway towards 13th Street, with Union Square in the distance. A banner hangs across Broadway, advertising the American Jockey Club races at Jerome Park. This view is dated 1878 in the handwritten note at bottom. Unknown photographer.


“View of the ‘Course’ from Club Stand, looking Northwest.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony. No. 5546. The men shown here are likely servants, watching these carriages as their employers enjoyed Jerome Park’s entertainments and grounds.


“Grand Stand, Front View.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. The number at bottom right is the Anthony catalogue number–this is Anthony’s image 5549.


“Grand Stand, Front View.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. No. 5551. A nicely composed photograph, with the track rail in the forground framing this image of the grandstand.


“Grand Stand, right hand section.” E&HT Anthony. No. 5552.


“Judges and Pooling Stand, Front View.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. No. 5553. A good view of the crowd. Note all of the coaches parked up on the hillside.


Detail of the above image, showing coaches, horses wearing blankets, and women sitting on the grass, perhaps picnicking.


“L.W. Jerome’s Private Stables, celebrated trotting horse Idlewild kept in this stable.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. No. 5554.


“Private stable, celebrated trotting horse ‘Kentucky’ kept in this stable.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. No. 5555.


“Stables, Distant View.” Published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. No. 5556.


“Private Stand.” No. 9. Publisher unknown.

*          *          *

Leonard Jerome built the boulevard that ran from the Harlem River to Jerome Park. It was named for him and still carries his name: Jerome Avenue. Signs for it are prominently displayed along the Cross Bronx “Expressway.” When his wife, Clara Hall Jerome (1827-1895), got wind of a plan to remove her husband’s name from that street and rename it in honor of some New York City alderman, she immediately sprung into action. First she had bronze “Jerome Avenue” signs cast. Then she hired men to post the signs along the street; that did the trick and it is still named for her husband, more than a century after his death.

The Jerome Mausoleum at Green-Wood, where Leonard and Clara Jerome are interred.

The Jerome Mausoleum at Green-Wood, where Leonard and Clara Jerome are interred, is just east of Sylvan Water. It was built by monument-maker William Pitbladdo.

Yellowstone Kelly

by Jeffrey Kraus

[The text for this post is from Wikipedia.]

Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly (July 27, 1849 – December 17, 1928) was a soldier, hunter, scout, adventurer and administrator. He served briefly in the Civil War and then in an 1898 expedition to Alaska. He commanded a U.S. Army company in the Philippine-American War and later served in the civilian administration of the Philippines.

Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly was born July 27, 1849, in Geneva, New York. His father, also named Luther Kelly, owned a drug and grocery store in Geneva. His mother, Jeanette Eliza Sage, was the daughter of Colonel Hezekiah Sage of nearby Chittenango. Kelly’s father died on February 14, 1857, leaving him the man of the family, but the family had enough money saved to live comfortably. In either late 1864 or early 1865, Kelly entered the Geneva Wesleyan Seminary, but his real interest was in joining the army and fighting in the Civil War; he would later write that he “deplored the fact” that his youth rendered him unfit for military service at that time. In the spring of 1865, with the Civil War winding down, Kelly secured permission from his mother to join the Army. He traveled to Rochester, New York, where he attempted to join the Fourth New York Cavalry but was turned down due his young age (15). Later he joined the 10th Infantry by lying about his age. He was unaware that the 10th Infantry was not a volunteer corps and that he would be obliged to continue serving after the war. Kelly was sent to City Point, Virginia. After Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox his regiment was sent to Richmond and then marched towards Washington, D.C., encamping south of the Potomac River until after the Grand Review of the Armies. Because Kelly’s unit had not participated in the Grand Review, it was selected for a parade through Washington on June 8, during which Kelly served as part of the guard detail for the reviewing officer, “his first official duty of any real consequence”. Kelly’s unit was stationed in Washington over the summer. In November they were moved by train to St. Paul, Minnesota to be stationed at Fort Snelling for the winter. In May, his company moved among Fort Abercrombie, Fort Wadsworth and Fort Ransom, all in the Dakota Territory. During his free time at these forts, Kelly hunted game to provide fresh meat for his fellow soldiers. In April 1868, Kelly’s enlistment in the Army ended, and he was discharged at FortRansom.

After leaving the army, Kelly embarked on what The New York Times later called “the most adventurous period of his life”, establishing himself as “one of the greatest hunters, trappers, and Indian scouts” of the American West. He first traveled to Fort Garry, now Winnipeg in Canada, where he joined a group of miners, traveling with them to the Red River, where he spent the winter. He left the miners to cross the Assiniboine River, falling in with a group headed toward the Mouse River. After meeting Sitting Bull with this group, Kelly and headed alone toward the Missouri River, eventually reaching Fort Buford in the winter.

Not long after his arrival at FortBuford, Kelly volunteered to carry dispatches to Fort Stevenson, approximately fifty miles down the Missouri River. He left the fort on February 5, 1869. The route between the forts was considered so dangerous, due to the presence of Sioux warriors, that mail carriers were generally accompanied by a cavalry escort, but Kelly set out alone. He arrived safely at Fort Stevenson then set out on his return journey, spending the night at the camp of Bloody Knife, an Arickaree chieftain. The next morning, Kelly was ambushed by two Sioux warriors. The first wounded Kelly’s horse with a rifle, while the second shot Kelly in the knee with an arrow. Kelly managed to shoot and kill the first attacker quickly, but the second took cover behind a tree. Kelly eventually shot and killed his second assailant, then returned to Bloody Knife’s camp to tell the story. Kelly spent a few days at Bloody Knife’s camp recovering from his wound, then rode back to Fort Buford, becoming “something of a hero and a local celebrity” for defeating his two assailants.

Yellowstone Kelly

Yellowstone Kelly in hand-to-hand encounter with a Sioux.

Yellowstone Kelly

An Indian discovers Yellowstone Kelly’s Trail

Yellowstone Kelly

Yellowstone Kelly setting traps for beaver.

Although the United States had purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, Americans were not interested in it until gold was discovered there in 1896. In 1898 the U.S. Army deployed three separate units under the commands of Captains Bogardus Eldridge, William R. Abercrombie, and Edwin F. Glenn to map a route from the Yukon, scout the Copper River Valley, and conduct reconnaissance. They would begin near the Prince William Sound and work toward the interior. Kelly was assigned to Glenn’s unit as an interpreter and guide.

Departing Seattle by ship on April 7, 1898, they arrived along the Alaskan coastline approximately five days later. While unloading and preparing for the expedition, they received news of the outbreak of the Spanish-American War on April 23. Eldridge’s unit was ordered to return to its regiment, while Abercrombie and Glenn’s parties were to continue their assigned missions. Although the other soldiers were eager to return to their regiments to join the war, they reasoned that it would be mostly a naval war with little role for the Army. Support for the expedition dwindled in light of the American public’s enthusiasm for the war. In accordance with President William McKinley’s request for additional men for the war, Kelly was offered a commission as a captain in the U.S. Volunteers. Kelly departed Alaska on October 9, and Glenn’s unit continued its mission until November 10. By the time Kelly arrived back in Seattle the war had ended, and with it his captaincy.

The Army’s expedition into Alaska was largely overshadowed by the war in the public eye and in contemporary historians’ accounts. It made possible the completion in 1923 of theAlaska Railroad, which followed the route mapped by the 1898 expedition. A year later came the maritime Harriman Alaska Expedition.

In August 1899 Kelly received another commission as a captain, this time with the Army’s 40th Volunteers, following Congress’s authorization of an increase in the Army by 35,000 men to put down the insurgency in the Philippines. This war, unlike the six-month war with Spain with 500 combat deaths, “would drag on for three long years” and cost the lives of over 4,000 U.S. servicemen.

The 40th Regiment departed from Fort Riley, Kansas, by train in November 1899 for California. After two weeks there, they shipped out from the Presidio, arriving in the Philippinesin late December 1899. Kelly’s company was under the command of Brigadier General James Bell, who had served with Kelly during the Nez Perce campaigns of the Indian Wars. Captain Kelly’s company aboard the vessel Venus departed Manila along with four other transports headed for the shores of San Miguel Bay. From there the companies began their marches inland to clear the areas of insurgents.

Kelly’s company met heavy resistance on the outskirts of the town of LaLud. Insurgents under the command of a Colonel Legaspi opened fire on Kelly’s advancing infantrymen with two field guns, but Kelly’s men managed to kill the enemy artillerymen and silence the guns. With heavy foliage flanking the enemy’s position, Kelly led a frontal assault and routed them. In the process, Kelly captured Legaspi’s ceremonial Spanish sword.

Kelly later served in the administration of the new civilian governor of the Philippines, future President William Howard Taft. By 1903, as Kelly wrote to a friend, “I have been in the Philippines so long now (3 years)… this country is a wearing one… my health is excellent, but three years is the limit.” On November 15, 1903, Kelly was relieved of his duties in the Philippines and ordered to report back to Washington, D.C., for his next assignment, as Indian Agent for the San Carlos Indian Reservation in Arizona.

In 1915, after a few years gold mining in Nevada, Kelly settled permanently in Paradise, California, where, on 17 December 1928, he died. He was buried with the sword he captured from Legaspi at LaLud.


Army Medical Museum, Surgeon General’s Images

by Jeffrey Kraus

I’ve recently acquired an astounding Civil War Medical CDV album. Within the album were 20 CDVs, some of wounded soldiers, some of anatomical specimens. Here are several samples.

Army Medical Museum-Wounded Soldier CDVArmy Medical Museum-Wounded Soldier CDVArmy Medical Museum-Wounded Soldier CDVArmy Medical Museum-Wounded Soldier CDVArmy Medical Museum Photographic Series CDVArmy Medical Museum Photographic Series CDV

To view all of the images along with descriptive text please see the Army Medical Museum page on my website.

National Stereoscopic Association Convention Traverse City, Michigan 2013

by Jeffrey Kraus

Jo Ann and I traveled 900 miles (each way) to the National Stereoscopic Convention held this year in Traverse City, Michigan. A great, long drive and an odd place for a photo show but fun all the same. We got to stop at Len Walle’s house on the way and Len and Jean were kind enough to put us up for the night. They also had visits from Steve Heselton, Pat Kulaga, and Jim Crain.

I’ve recently acquired a Konica Instant Press camera that was available on the market in 1983-1984. They are hard to come by today and are quite collectible. It shoots instant images with its Polaroid back and film is available from Fuji. The convention gave me an opportunity to use the camera in the real world. Here are some images that I took with it:


Brian May and Denis Pellerin.

Brian May Looking Through a stack of Stereoviews at Jeff Kraus’ table.
Paul Rubinstein at left.

Brian May examines a group of stereoviews at the table of Ken Rosen (left). Collector John Weiler, at right, does the same.

Brian May Examining Views at Jeff Kraus’ Table.

Brian May Teaching Jo Ann Kraus how to Free View.

Jo Ann Kraus, Brian May, and Denis Pellerin.

Brian May, Denis Pellerin, and Paula Fleming Signing Book Plates for their Upcoming Diableries book.

Denis Pellerin and Brian May at Lance Speer’s table.

Mary Heller and Brian

Ken Rosen, Brian, John Weiler


Out to dinner: Jim Crain, John Weiler, Phil Nathanson, Ken Rosen, Bill Eloe, Steve Heselton, Jeff Kraus

I’ve always found it enjoyable to attend a photo show. There is simply nothing like spending nearly a week with interesting, unique, and often oddball people who have the same interests as you do. Endless conversations ensue and there is an extensive exchange of knowledge. The fact that this show was in a beautiful location only added to the enjoyment. We were able to visit a lighthouse at the tip of a peninsula and walk out from the shore about a half mile. The brief visit we made to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes was also great fun. We even found Pearl’s Louisiana Kitchen Restaurant in Elk Rapids and 8 of us had an enjoyable dinner there after the show. The trio of authors of the upcoming book, Diableries, Brian May, Denis Pellerin, and Paula Fleming, presented an enjoyable 3-D review of their work. The book is available at the London Stereoscopic Company’s website.

Jo Ann’s pictures of the show can be viewed at:

The General Slocum Disaster, NY Harbor, 1904

by William Kornblum; minor edits by Jeffrey Kraus


With slight modification, the text is excerpted from: AT SEA IN THE CITY: New York from the Water’s Edge by William Kornblum. © 2002 by William Kornblum. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All rights reserved.

Images from the Jeffrey Kraus Collection.

The burning of the General Slocum resulted in banner headlines across the New York Times edition of June 16, 1904:


St. Mark’s Church Excursion Ends in Disaster in East River
Close to Land and Safety.


Flames Following Explosion Drive Scores to Death in the Water.


The Captain, Instead of Making for the Nearest Landing,
Runs the Doomed Vessel Ashore on North Brother Island in
Deep Water — Many Thrilling Rescues — Few Men on Board
to Stem the Panic of Women and Children.General Slocum Disaster

A series of stereoviews was issued by HC White Co. of the aftermath of the disaster. This is 8298. General Slocum the morning after the disaster, bodies on the beach showing in the background.

The General Slocum was an excursion ferry built in 1891 with a rated capacity of three thousand passengers. On June 15, 1904, the ferry was chartered by St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in the East Village. Some 1,358 members of Kleindeutschland (Little Germany), the tightly knit German immigrant community then surrounding Tompkins Square on the Lower East Side, boarded the ferry around nine that morning at a pier on Third Street and the East River. They were bound for an annual picnic at Locust Point in bucolic Huntington on Long Island’s North Shore. Their beloved pastor, Reverend George Haas, and leaders of the church were with them on deck. The Times reported that the General Slocum, which had been recently overhauled, departed with much fanfare that morning. “As she cast off and stood out into the stream her flags were flying, the band was playing a lively air, and her three decks were crowded to their capacity with a happy throng that looked for a pleasant day’s outing at Locust Point, on the Sound.” The majority of passengers were women and children.

General Slocum Disaster
8299. Diver going down for bodies in upper saloon, out of which over 175 were taken.

The captain was William van Schaick, sixty-eight years old and commander of a crew of twenty-three men. He had earlier been cited for having ferried millions of passengers with an unblemished safety record.

General Slocum Disaster

8400. The Mass of Burned Timbers and Ruined Metal, showing broken Paddle Wheel Shaft.

Just as the General Slocum was passing Sunken Meadow, adjacent to Randalls Island in the Hell Gate, almost under where the Triborough Bridge spans the river today, cries of “Fire!” broke out below. “It was only a matter of seconds until the entire forward part of the boat was a mass of flames,” the Times reporters continued, and passengers began rushing madly over the three decks to avoid the flames, “All this time full speed ahead was maintained, and the flames, fanned fiercely by the wind, ate their way swiftly toward the hapless women and babies that were crowded on all the decks astern.” The skipper looked out from his pilothouse and saw “a fierce blaze — the wildest I have ever seen.”

General Slocum Disaster

8401. Among the Oil Barrels where fire started, showing defective Life Preservers and Life Boats.

“I started to head for One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, but was warned off by the captain of a tugboat, who shouted to me that the boat would set fire to the lumber yards and oil tanks there. Besides I knew that the shore was lined with rocks and the boat would founder if I put in there. I then fixed upon NorthBrotherIsland.”

General Slocum Disaster

8402. All that was left of the boat which carried over 1000 souls to destruction.
General view of Slocum after being raised.

With fire raging completely out of control and decks already collapsing on terror-struck women and children, Captain Van Schaick, his own clothes on fire, stayed at the wheel and ran the Slocum up on the shore of the hospital island beyond the Hell Gate, but in a part of the river where the current remained extremely swift. As the captain remembered it, “I stuck to my post in the pilothouse until my cap caught fire. We were then about twenty-five feet off NorthBrotherIsland. She went on the beach, bow on, in about twenty-five feet of water. . . . Most of the people aft, where the fire raged fiercest, jumped in when we were in deep water, and were carried away. We had no chance to lower the lifeboats. They were burned before the crew could get at them.”

General Slocum Disaster

8403. On the deck of the Slocum, showing the effects of the Fire on Metal Work and Steel.

NorthBrotherIsland became a scene of courage and panic. City Health Commissioner Darlington happened to be on the island that day, visiting the hospital. “I will never be able to forget the scene, the utter horror of it,” he said. “The patients in the contagious wards, especially in the scarlet fever ward, went wild at things they saw from their windows and went screaming and beating at the doors until it took fifty nurses and doctors to quiet them. They were all locked up. Along the beach the boats were carrying in the living and dying and towing in the dead.”

General Slocum Disaster

8404. Stern view of the Slocum-What was left of the boat which had on board over 1400 people.

All told, 1,021 perished out of the original 1,358 who boarded the ship that morning. But there were miracles. One little boy was thrown into the river in midstream clutching his stuffed toy dog. He was fished from the river unharmed, still clutching the prized dog. Tales of heroism and cruelty filled the newspaper accounts for days and weeks after the event. A heroic captain ran his tug alongside the General Slocum in full exposure to the fire and saved over a hundred lives. A measles patient from the island hospital ran into the water despite her fever and saved a few children. A nurse who always wished she could swim ran into the river to grab some children, which she did again and again until she was swept into deeper water, where she discovered that she could swim and continued saving lives. Others were antiheros. Crowds of souvenir hunters made collecting bodies difficult in the ensuing days. There were some ghoulish stories of onlookers who stripped bodies of their jewelry. And over and again bystanders described the unconscionable behavior of a private captain who was said to have watched the horror from the safety of a great white motor yacht without ever lifting a finger or launching a boat to assist in the rescues. “Kept His Yacht Back While Scores Perished: White Vessel’s Captain Watched Slocum Horror Through Glasses,” the Times headline stated.

General Slocum Disaster

8405. Port view of the General Slocum-The windward side which was burned least.

Still burning at its waterline, the General Slocum was carried off in the current for another thousand yards or so until it struck land at Hunts Point in the Bronx. It remained there, a burnt and partially sunken hull, for the next few weeks. Divers searched for bodies in its sunken remains. Police and rescue parties combed the riverbanks for miles in search of bodies. The Times reported that on the night of June 14, 1904, “grief-crazed crowds” lined the shore where the bodies were being brought in by the boatload: “Scores were prevented from throwing themselves into the river.” Terrible weeks of recrimination, accusation, investigation, and trials followed the disaster. There were reports of rotten life jackets and fire hoses that burst under pressure. Some jackets were found to have been stuffed with metal to give them the regulation weight. The captain and crew were pilloried in the press, as were the ship’s owners. Captain Van Schaick was sentenced to ten years in prison for his part in the disaster but was pardoned four years later by President Taft. Kleindeutchland never recovered. The German settlement moved uptown to what was known as Yorkville, on the East Side overlooking the site of the disaster, and to Astoria in Queens. The burning of the General Slocum was the worst disaster in New York City history until September 11, 2001.

General Slocum Disaster

General Slocum Disaster
I have two views of the Disaster by “Universe Views: Stereoscopic conceits from the ends of the earth.”  They are both numbered 606 and titled Slocum Disaster. The top one has written in the sky of the image “Bodies washed ashore.”


The Perils of Photography at Point Lookout-R.M. Linn

by Jeffrey Kraus & Bob Zeller

Almost 2,000 feet above the Tennessee River, a distinctive rock promontory juts out of Lookout Mountain known as Point Lookout.

The precipice looks down on the winding river as it passes Chattanooga, providing one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere in the United States. It was here in late 1863 that Robert “Royan” M. Linn established a photo studio and began taking photographs by the hundreds of Union officers and soldiers posing on Point Lookout.

Linn gained access to the site shortly after Union forces took the mountain on November 24, 1863 in what became known as the “Battle Above the Clouds.” Union forces under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker assaulted the mountain and defeated the outnumbered Confederate defenders commanded by Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson.

It was a small engagement, but the Union forces drove the Confederate left flank, allowing Hooker’s men to assist in the famous assault on Missionary Ridge the following day, which routed the Confederate Army of Tennessee commanded by Gen. Braxton Bragg and opened the gateway to the Deep South.

Soon after Union forces captured the famous mountain, Linn, an enterprising Ohio photographer, arrived and found himself with two breathtaking new places to ply his trade – Point Lookout and nearby Umbrella Rock.

Linn nailed together a studio just behind Point Lookout and named it “Gallery Point Lookout.” With his brother, J. Birney Linn, he began taking photographs in December 1863. The Linns almost immediately found themselves the proprietors of a tremendously lucrative business, photographing officers, soldiers and civilians posing at the point.

Photo Studio Point Lookout RM Linn
In the late afternoon, the stereo camera captures a side view of Linn’s Gallery Point Lookout studio on Lookout Mountain.

Today, we have an intimate look at one of the most fascinating photographic operations of the Civil War because of a small group of stereo views that Linn took to document his presence there, and from the diary of Union surgeon James Theodore Reeve, who was stationed near the Point and wrote about the photography in several of his entries.

As Reeve documented, the scenic rock outcropping was a dangerous precipice, and death would pay a visit in 1864, along with an accidental near-poisoning. Reeve’s writings and Linn’s stereo views together provide one of the finest accounts of any Civil War photography studio.

In the early 1990s, Jeffrey Kraus obtained five of the stereo views that illustrate this article when he acquired the photographica collection of renowned stereo collector Gordon Hoffman. Two views show the exterior of the studio; one view shows the interior and the front desk, on which sits a Beckers viewer to the right and a Brewster viewer towards the left; and two views show the staff photographers posing on Point Lookout.

At the time, Jeff decided to keep only one of the views, the interior of the studio, and sell the others, which he did to Tex Treadwell. Tex passed away several years ago and his vast collection of stereo views was consigned to John Saddy’s stereo view auction and has been gradually sold over the years. In late 2011, Jeff noticed a group of Point Lookout views in Saddy’s auction with “notations on verso in an unknown hand.”

As Jeff quickly saw, some of the “notations” from an “unknown hand” were his own from years earlier, and he was excited to have the opportunity to reunite with the five views. As a comment on our economic times, Jeff was able to acquire them for less this second time around, even though some 20 years had passed.

Interior of Linn's Studio
This magnificent stereo view shows the interior of Linn’s Gallery Point Lookout with a clerk behind the counter, which holds both a Beckers-style and a Brewster viewer. Behind the clerk, the wall is filled with images from Lookout Mountain, including shots of Lulu Lake and several photographs of Union officers posing at Point Lookout.

A few months later, Jeff was able to acquire from fellow dealer David Spahr two more Linn stereo views showing Umbrella Rock that were taken at different times, including one showing Royan Linn himself posing next to what appears to be a photography shack he built at that location.

Shack & Photographer's Shadow
In this iconic stereo portrait from Lookout Mountain, the image captures the shadow of the photographer exposing the plate that shows photographer Royan M. Linn posing at Umbrella Rock near his photography shack there.

The Linns took large-format photographs, stereo views, tintypes and cartes de visite. Some of the large-format images are visible on the back wall of the stereo photograph of the studio’s interior. Stereo views were labeled as “Photographic Mementoes of Lookout Mountain.” A wartime Linn label advertised 13 different 3-D scenes, including images of Gen. George Thomas and Gen. Joseph Hooker at Point Lookout.

The Linns, like most Civil War photographers, left little in the way of written information. Their legacy is their images.

But Union surgeon Reeve was stationed on Lookout Mountain for more than two months in early 1864, and the presence of the nearby photography studio made its way into his diary on several occasions.

January 21, 1864 was a “beautifully warm Spring-like day” on Lookout Mountain that was suddenly interrupted by “quite an interesting little incident,” Reeve wrote in this excerpt from James Theodore Reeve: Surgeon. Soldier. Citizen. 1834-1906-A Civil War Commentary, compiled and annotated by Ann Wartinbee Reeve in 1999, and provided courtesy of James H. Ogden III, National Park Service historian at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.

Reeve and another doctor were both reading in their office when “we heard rapid steps on the Piazza, and an excited rapping at the door of the steward’s room, which was immediately opened by someone who was evidently in great haste.”

Reeve went to see what was up and found himself facing a very agitated Capt. C. A. Catlin, an inspector general in the 11th Corps.

“Doctor, give me an emetic, quick!” Catlin said. “I am poisoned by having taking Cyanide of Potassium.”

“Are you certain of that, captain?” Reeve asked.

“Yes,” he said. “By mistake. At the ambrotype saloon.”

Photo Studio Point Lookout RM Linn
A skylight is open at Linn’s Gallery Point Lookout studio, exposing to the sunlight what appear to be plate holders for making prints.

As Reeve quickly prepared the solution, he learned more.

Although fresh water was apparently abundant at Point Lookout, with Royan Linn reporting that he had “free use of a clear, crystal spring that bursts from the brow of ‘Old Lookout,’” the thirsty captain obviously didn’t find that source. Instead, he spotted a pail of water and asked the camera operator if it was drinking water. “Yes,” said the operator.

Next to the pail, the captain saw a small, wide-mouthed bottle. Thinking it was a drinking cup, he dipped it into the pail. He swallowed two or three mouthfuls before a bitter taste filled his mouth. Only then did he learn the bottle contained a solution of Cyanide of Potassium for preparing photographic plates.

Catlin jumped on a horse and hurried to the surgeons’ quarters, trailed by three or four other worried officers.

“Fortunately for him, the solution was evidently too weak to produce serious consequences, and the emetic was probably really unnecessary, though very proper,” Reeve wrote. “After so thoroughly emptying his stomach with our nostrums, we could do nothing else but invite him to fill it again at our table, which he did with a friend of his, a German lieutenant.”

Reeve himself had his photograph taken at the point that very day, as well as two days later, on Jan. 23, and again on Jan. 25, even though he was annoyed by the prices. “Crowds are constantly being ambrotyped at the point, the operator charging the enormous price of $3 per picture, which I regard as an imposition on the soldiers,” he wrote.

It is likely that the “operator” Reeve speaks of is Linn or one of his photographers and that “ambrotype saloon” is Linn’s wooden studio, but that cannot be firmly documented, and there are reports that other photographers worked at Point Lookout, possibly independent of Linn.

By March 18, 1864, Reeve had moved to Tyner’s Station (now a part of the city of Chattanooga). There, he received by mail some shocking news from up on Lookout Mountain.

Photographers at Point Lookout
A group of photographers, possibly including Royan M. Linn at left, pose for Linn’s stereo camera at Point Lookout in this image taken during the war or shortly afterwards.

“Roper, the ambrotype artist on the mountain, fell from the rock yesterday and was instantly killed, the fall breaking his neck,” Reeve wrote.

Again, whether Roper worked for Linn (and possibly appears in the imagery of the photographers) or whether he was an independent operator is unknown. The story becomes even more fascinating in light of the fact that Point Lookout became known as Roper’s Rock, but was said to have been named not after an unfortunate photographer, but a Pennsylvania corporal who fell to his death.

By the 1870s, stereo views issued at Gallery Point Lookout featured the backmark of J.B. Linn and listed 44 different views of Lookout Mountain for sale, including The Great Flood of 1867. After Royan Linn died in 1872, J.B. Linn continued to operate the lucrative business until 1886. These postwar J.B. Linn views were very popular, because examples are common in today’s antique photo market.

Photographers at Point Lookout
 In this stereo view, photographer Royan M. Linn poses behind two of his photographers or assistants at Point Lookout, where he established a lucrative photographic business in December 1863 that flourished for more than 20 years.

When the soldiers went home, they took with them their pictures from Point Lookout, and their stories about the magnificent views. The word spread, and Lookout Mountain became one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country and the world, in part because of its distinction of possibly being perhaps the single most photographed spot in the United States during the Civil War.

Photographer's Shadow Point Lookout
This Linn stereo view of Umbrella Rock was taken at exactly the same spot as an earlier view illustrated above that shows Linn, but at a distinctly different time, mostly likely after the shack was removed. The shadow of the photographer can be seen.

All images from the Jeffrey Kraus Collection.

This article appeared in Stereo World as well as the newsletter of The Center for Civil War Photography.

The Burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum, NYC

by Jeffrey Kraus

There was great bias against immigrants as well as virulent racial hostility in New York City in the 1830’s. Public schools were segregated, blacks were not permitted seats in cabins on Hudson River steamers but had to ride on deck no matter how bad the weather, white churches segregated blacks in separate pews, etc. While there were a number of white supporters, inevitably blacks were subjected to violence.

Beginning on July 7, 1834 in NYC, four nights of anti-abolitionist riots beset the black community and their friends. Black and abolitionist merchants were target for attack and the homes of abolitionist brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan were sacked. Black men married to white women were attacked. Causes of such atrocities on the part of hundreds and thousands of citizens are always multifaceted, this being no exception. The forces of nativism, abolitionism and its opponents, and the fear and resentment towards blacks from the Irish underclass and other immigrants in the highly segregated yet mingled Five Points district all played a role in the violence.

This was the climate in which the Colored Orphan Asylum was established. In line with the white paternalistic standards of the time, it was white women who established the orphanage. The black community at the time had few educated individuals and a lack of individual and collective wealth. The fact that white women ran the institution permitted it to avoid the politically charged issue of social equality.

Boys’ Play-ground, Colored Orphan Asylum

The Colored Orphan Asylum was formed in November of 1836 and they could not find space to rent to care for black orphans. They decided to purchase a building which they did, located on Twelfth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan. By June of 1837, eleven children rescued from almshouses were living there. The early years were difficult both financially and in developing relationships with the black community.

On May 1, 1843, the orphanage moved to their new home on 43rd St. and Fifth Ave. which is where, during the Civil War, it faced its greatest existential crisis as it was totally destroyed by mob violence in July 1863.

Colored Orphan Asylum
Untitled tinted view of playroom with boys and girls, Colored Orphan Asylum.

Approximately 12 children entered the orphanage during the Civil War because their fathers had been killed in battle or because their absence had made it difficult for their mothers to care for them. Some prior residents of the asylum went on to fight for the Union. One, James Henry Gooding was born a slave in 1838 in North Carolina; his freedom was purchased by James Gooding, possibly his father, and he came to NY. He entered the orphanage on Sept. 11, 1846, and remained for 4 years. After several whaling voyages out of New Bedford, Gooding enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company C on February 14, 1863. He wrote 48 letters that were published in the New Bedford Mercury between March 3, 1863 and Feb. 22, 1864. His most famous letter was addressed to Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 28, 1863 advocating for equal pay for black soldiers. He was promoted to corporal in December, 1863. He was wounded in the battle of Olustee, Florida, on February 20, 1864 and captured. He died in captivity in the notorious confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Ga., July 19, 1864.

The NYC draft riots which occurred from July 13 to July 16, 1863 were the largest civil insurrection in American history apart from the Civil War itself. Regiments of militia and volunteer troops had to be sent in by Lincoln to quell the mobs.

Again many causes led to the violence. The new draft laws passed by congress unfairly affected poor, working class men as they could not afford the $300 to hire a substitute. The Irish and the blacks were often competing for the same menial jobs and there was great tension between the groups.

The Colored Orphan Asylum was targeted as it was viewed as an example of how New York’s upper class spent their money favoring blacks over the Irish. The young orphans had plenty to eat, clean beds to sleep on, and were provided an education. On the day the orphanage was burned to the ground, there were 233 children in residence. It is almost certain that some of those children are pictured in the 4 rare stereoviews accompanying this article. We do not know who the photographer was of these images but they are certainly produced prior to the draft riots, probably circa 1860. If anyone has other such images of the Colored Orphan Asylum, either interiors or exteriors, or any information as to the photographer, the author would be most interested in hearing about it.

Colored Orphan Asylum
Infant School, Colored Orphan Asylum

There is much information available on the internet as well as in publications on the details of the events of the day of the burning. In the end the children escaped to a police station on 35th St. where they remained for several days. On July 16th, under guard of Zouaves and police, the children were transported to Blackwell’s Island (today, Roosevelt Island) where they remained into the fall of 1863. A temporary home for the children was established at the former home of Hickson Field in the hamlet of Carmansville on the upper west side of Manhattan at 150th St. and Broadway. While it was ill-suited and in quite a state of decay, it remained the site of the orphanage until May 1868 when they relocated to their new site at 143rd and Amsterdam Avenue in undeveloped Harlem where they remained until 1907. The final move was to 261st and Palisade Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Under various societal and legal pressures far beyond the scope of this article to discuss, the Colored Orphan Asylum changed it name to the Riverdale Children’s Association in Feb. 1944. The admission of white children also began around that time. Of course, in addition, there were enormous changes in the way children in need of social welfare services were cared for. There was growing disapproval of orphanages and the transition had to be made to serving children in foster care. The Riverdale property was sold but the Riverdale Children’s Association, through a series of mergers, is now alive and well and operating as the Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children and Family Services. This organization is still carrying on the vital work begun so long ago by the brave founders of the Colored Orphan Asylum. I encourage you to visit their website and to support them:

Colored Orphan Asylum
Girls’ Play Ground, Colored Orphan Asylum


Seraile, William. Angels of Mercy: White Women and the History of New York’s Colored Orphan Asylum. NY: Fordham University Press, 2011.


All images from the Jeffrey Kraus Collection