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  • Writer's pictureSharon Michalove

An Antarctic Detour

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On Thursday night, I made my way to the Ruth Page Theater to see the Porchlight Theater production of Ernest Shackleton Loves Me. It's an inventive time-travel musical that has Shackleton reaching out one hundred years into the future to discover a musician whose music can inspire him, and his men, who are trapped in the Antarctic ice. A "last chance" dating site pairs explorers with single women —in this case, Shackleton, Ponce de Leon, and Jacques Cousteau. Shackleton rises to the challenge, contacting a single mother with a new baby, trapped in a New York apartment with no heat. Bemused but intrigued, she accompanies the explorer the ice floe that the crew has been floating on for thirteen months.

Eventually, they decamp in three small boats, landing on Elephant Island. She is part of the small party that reaches and traverses South Georgia and finally rescues the stranded men, bringing them to safety in Chile.

It's a stirring adventure that allows Katherine to learn that optimism and perseverence can go a long way to help her reach her goal.

While I enjoyed the show, and the performances were excellent, to me the best part was seeing film and stills from Frank Hurley's photographic record of the expedition, which were saved after the Endurance sank. It was a heroic story inside the main narrative of the voyage.

Frank Hurley, Photographer

"Dark room work rendered extremely difficult by the low temperatures, it being -13 (-25 degrees Celsius) outside. Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block." (Frank Hurley diary, 30 August 1915, MLMSS 389/3)

From the State Library of New South Wales

In October 1914, Frank Hurley joined Shackleton's British Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition, 1914-1917, as official photographer and film maker. The aim of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. The expedition party arrived at the remote whaling station of Grytviken, South Georgia, Atlantic Ocean, on board the Endurance on 5 November 1914. Despite warnings of heavy pack ice ahead, they departed one month later for the Weddell Sea, Antarctica.
During January and February of 1915, the Endurance became inexorably trapped in the ice. On 27 October 1915, the ship was crushed. Consequently, the expedition party was forced to camp on the ice floe which drifted towards Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands. In three life boats from the Endurance, the party braved treacherous seas, to reach Elephant Island on 15 April 1916. One of the boats, named the James Caird, was later strengthened, and Shackleton, together with five companions, sailed 800 miles across stormy seas to South Georgia to instigate the rescue of the remaining men stranded on Elephant Island.
The remainder of the party, led Frank Wild who was second in command of the expedition, lived on Elephant Island in a structure of two upturned boats positioned on the rocks and fastened together with canvas. These makeshift quarters, termed 'the snuggery', housed 22 men in cramped and freezing conditions for four months. The men were finally rescued by the Chilean trawler Yelcho on the 30 August 1916, when they were reunited with Shackleton, who had organised their rescue. So ended one of the most dramatic and perilous expeditions in Antarctic history.

For more about the expedition and the intrepid photographer, as well as some of his striking pictures, click here.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Australian Photographer, Frank Hurley

If you want to read earlier posts on Antarctica, try these links:


And Now a Word from Our Sponsor

Second Time's a Charm

Includes my story:

Melting the Iceman

When Chicago Seabirds star center, Merritt “the Iceman” Alexander, is told his concussion history means he has to retire from hockey, he withdraws from everything, including his fiancée, Heather Cantrell. Five years later, he’s found a new life on the ice as part owner of a company that specializes in Antarctic cruises.

Shattered by his disappearance, Hay has thrown all of her energy into taking her photography hobby into the realm of photojournalism. After a year of covering catastrophes all over the world, she is excited by her new assignment. An Antarctic cruise company wants her to document their newest offering to celebrate the discovery of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance.

Like two icebergs, the Iceman and the Photog glide toward each other, but will they crash and splinter forever, or will they melt enough to merge for a happy ending?

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