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Wiscasset's Arctic Connection

This slideshow contains 18 items
1
Donald B. MacMillan, 1924

Donald B. MacMillan, 1924

Item 25027 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Donald Baxter MacMillan, teacher, author, scientist and explorer, brought the small town of Wiscasset closer to the Arctic when he made it the home base of many of his voyages north.

He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1898 and worked as a teacher for about a decade.

One summer, Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary heard about MacMillan rescuing a number of people in Casco Bay and invited him on his expedition to the North Pole in 1908.

MacMillan accepted, although frozen heels led him to leave the voyage before Peary reached the pole.


2
Capt. MacMillan departure, Wiscasset, 1925

Capt. MacMillan departure, Wiscasset, 1925

Item 12591 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

MacMillan, a geology major at Bowdoin, served as ornithologist on Peary's voyage.

MacMillan then began his own voyages to Labrador and Greenland. He traveled to the Arctic until 1954, when he was 80.


3
Capt. MacMillan, Schooner Bowdoin, 1925

Capt. MacMillan, Schooner Bowdoin, 1925

Item 12592 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Wiscasset was the setting for many farewell ceremonies for MacMillan and the homeport of his personal sailing vessel, the schooner Bowdoin, which he had built in 1921 especially for Arctic waters.


4
Crowd seeing Donald B. MacMillan off, Wiscasset, 1927

Crowd seeing Donald B. MacMillan off, Wiscasset, 1927

Item 19008 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

MacMillan once described Wiscasset as “…the lovely Maine town, rich in historic association; the red-brick building of the custom house and post office; …the beautiful evergreens; the sun-flecked harbor…” and had said that the town would always be the home of his expeditions.

The townspeople were also very supportive of MacMillan and his expeditions, donating a marine clock and sextant and other items for use on the Bowdoin.


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Photographers aboard the Bowdoin, Wiscasset, 1926

Photographers aboard the Bowdoin, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 23754 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Embarkation days were declared business holidays in Wiscasset and the morning of these days "principally taken up by the members of the expedition posing for newspaper and news reel camera men."

A newspaper described the farewell ceremony of 1926 as a “second Flag Day” with people traveling over road and water -- via sailing vessels and houseboats -- to bid farewell and give their blessings to MacMillan and his crew.

State Highway officers arrived at noon to manage the traffic and congestion. Many “No Parking” signs were placed in front of the temporary soft-drink booths.


6
 Capt. MacMillan's departure, Wiscasset, 1925

Capt. MacMillan's departure, Wiscasset, 1925

Item 12593 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

The farewells at Wiscasset were ceremonial, with the real departure taking place days later.

MacMillan wrote, “No ship can be properly groomed and fitted for sea with decks black with sightseers and well-wishers.”

Officials and friends often accompanied expedition members on the initial legs of the trip.

After leaving Wiscasset, the ships went to Christmas Cove where the compasses were adjusted and the boats were outfitted for the journey north.

Subsequent stops included Rockland, Bar Harbor, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.


7
Schooner Bowdoin departing Wiscasset, 1926

Schooner Bowdoin departing Wiscasset, 1926

Item 24971 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

In 1926, MacMillan and his crew attended a banquet at the Wiscasset Inn the night before the departure.

There MacMillan presented some interesting facts about the trip and “on other matters of interest around the northern regions.”

The following day, after a luncheon at the Wiscasset Inn, the formal ceremonies began with the Waldoboro Button Band playing and leading the party of explorers, Maine Governor Owen Brewster and other guest speakers to the green in front of the Congregational Church.


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Governor Brewster, Commander MacMillan, Wiscasset, June 19, 1926

Governor Brewster, Commander MacMillan, Wiscasset, June 19, 1926

Item 23741 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Governor Owen Brewster was the first to speak, commenting that Lieutenant Commander MacMillan’s accomplishments were an example of man’s “winning mastery of the secrets of the world.”

Frederick H. Rawson, a Chicago banker and financial backer of the voyage, noted that MacMillan’s demonstration of true leadership inspired respect and love in the men who had served with him.


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Embarkation of MacMillan Expedition, Wiscasset, 1926

Embarkation of MacMillan Expedition, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 23752 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Stanley Field, nephew of Chicago businessman Marshall Field and head of the Field Museum of Natural History, also spoke.

The Field Museum, a trip sponsor, was to be the beneficiary of many of the specimens the expedition hoped to collect.


10
Schooners Bowdoin and Sachem III leaving Wiscasset, 1926

Schooners Bowdoin and Sachem III leaving Wiscasset, 1926

Item 24969 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Austin H. MacCormick, alumni secretary at Bowdoin College, noted that MacMillan had brought the college fame, from his voyages and by naming his ship the Bowdoin.

Wiscasset’s Reverend Henry W. Webb expressed the well wishes of the townspeople for MacMillan and his expedition members and promised prayers for them.


11
Schooner Bowdoin, backing off the pier, Wiscasset, 1926

Schooner Bowdoin, backing off the pier, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 24972 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

MacMillan's Expedition of 1926 was the fourth of his 26 trips to the Arctic and Subarctic regions with the schooner Bowdoin.

Naval architect William Hand designed the schooner, based upon MacMillan's specifications, and Hodgdon Brothers of East Boothbay built it.

The Grand Banks knockabout schooner was designed to withstand the rigors of Arctic ice and sea. Her spoon-shaped bow allowed her to "ride up on pack ice and crush it with her weight."

Grand Banks schools are designed without bowsprits, to reduce the possibility of taking in water in rough seas.

In 1923, the Bowdoin was outfitted for a short, flat bowsprit to carry a radio antenna.

The bowsprit snapped off in heavy seas and was replaced.


12
Sachem III leaving Wiscasset, June 19, 1926

Sachem III leaving Wiscasset, June 19, 1926

Item 23743 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

For the 1926 trip, the Bowdoin was accompanied by its sister ship, the Sachem III, piloted by 28-year-old Captain John T. "Jack" Crowell.

MacMillan explained to the crowd that day in Wiscasset that “in the old days it was customary for exploring ships to go out in pairs.”

The sister ship was built similarly so that should anything happen to one or the other, parts were interchangeable and crew could be carried on one vessel if need be.


13
Donald B. MacMillan, Wiscasset, 1926

Donald B. MacMillan, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 23744 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

The 1926 trip was one of MacMillan's shorter expeditions, lasting three months.

The purpose was to collect various animal, bird, fish, and geological specimens for scientific study and exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago.

MacMillan noted at the farewell ceremony that the expedition “was favored with brilliant scientific men.”

Scientists on the voyage included Alfred Weed, ichthyologist for the Field Museum; Alfred C.M. Martin, a geologist from Cornell University; Charles S. Sewell, a botanist from Wiscasset; and Novio Bertrand, a taxidermist from Chicago.

One of the specimens collected was a 1,500-pound walrus, shot in Melville Bay. It was to be reconstructed for display in the Field Museum.


14
Mary Metcalf, Maude Fisher, Marion Smith, Wiscasset, 1926

Mary Metcalf, Maude Fisher, Marion Smith, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 23747 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Three women went on the expedition, traveling on the Sachem III.

MacMillan would not allow women on the Bowdoin until 1938 when his wife, Miriam, joined him at the insistence of the crew.

The women were Mary Metcalf, wife of the owner of the Sachem III and daughter of MacMillan’s friend and botanist Charles Sewall; Marion Smith of Wiscasset, the great-granddaughter of the first Governor of Maine, William King; and Maude Fisher, Rowe Metcalf’s cousin.


15
In the dory, Wiscasset, 1926

In the dory, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 23745 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

The women were not part of the scientific investigations.

They spent time fishing, rowing and visiting native populations in their villages.

At one point, two walruses approached the three women, who quickly left the area, avoiding the potentially aggressive walruses.


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Crew in rigging of Bowdoin, Wiscasset, 1926

Crew in rigging of Bowdoin, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 23740 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Two teenagers were onboard as well -- Kennett (Kenneth) Rawson, 15, son of Frederick H. Rawson; and Joseph N. Field, 14, son of Stanley Field.

Rawson had served as a cabin boy on MacMillan’s expedition the year before. For this trip he was promoted to able seaman.


17
MacMillan Expedition ceremony, Wiscasset , 1926

MacMillan Expedition ceremony, Wiscasset , 1926

Item 23742 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

On the trip, MacMillan also wanted to determine the extent of early exploration of the Vikings through the scientific study of Norse ruins in South Greenland and Labrador.

They had found the remnants of human habitation on Scuipin Island, 20 miles off Nain, Labrador. While the shape of the ruins indicated rock foundations of a dozen or so houses, the expedition was unable to prove that Vikings built the structures.

The Inuit story, passed down through generations, was that “stone igloos were built by men who came from the sea in boats. They call the place Tunitvik, which in the Inuit tongue signifies 'the place of the Norsemen.' "


18
Schooner Bowdoin passing the dock, Wiscasset, 1926

Schooner Bowdoin passing the dock, Wiscasset, 1926

Item 24970 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

After the Bowdoin was under way, a fleet of pleasure craft accompanied it down the Sheepscot River.

One of the escorts was the “palatial houseboat” the Gadfly, owned by Frederick Rawson.

Before the Bowdoin left the Wiscasset waterfront, MacMillan reported in his logbook that day, "We circled the harbor and then at full-speed shot past the end of the pier for the benefit of the motion picture operators."

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Allen, E. S. Arctic Odyssey: The Life of Rear Admiral Donald B. MacMillan. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1962.

MacMillan, Donald B. "Logbook, 1926 Expedition."

New York Times, Sept. 5, 1926, "MacMillan Finds Old Norse Ruins."

Portland Evening Express, June 17, 1926, "Plan Fitting Farewell for MacMillan Expedition Which Will Sail Saturday."

Portland Press Herald. June 18, 1926, "MacMillan Sails North Tomorrow for Proof of Viking Exploration."

Portland Sunday Telegram and Sunday Press Herald, June 13, 1926, "Preparing Schooner Sachem for Hazardous Arctic Trip."

Portland Sunday Telegram and Sunday Press Herald, June 20, 1926, "Salutes Boom, Crowd Cheers as MacMillan’s Expedition Sails North."


This slideshow contains 18 items