Thursday, 26 September 2019

"Death in the Ice" - my good-bye to the exhibition


This blog has been lying dormant much too long and for that I apologize. It's not that I lost interest in Francis Crozier (that will most likely never happen) or that I stopped researching him, Franklin or their times. It's only that sometimes life just gets in the way of the fun. I do hope that from now on I will sail in calmer waters and have time and opportunity to post here more often.

The exhibition poster for all four cities
I wrote most of this post while sitting at the airport after attending the "Lost and Found - Uncovering the Mystery of the Franklin Expedition" symposium at the Anchorage Museum. As I waited to fly out of Alaska, I realized that "Death in the Ice" was finally over for me and will cease to exist next week (September 30, 2019). Since it first opened in July 2017 I saw the expedition in all four cities it stopped (sometimes much more than once, especially in London) and each time it left me incredibly thankful for seeing all those artefacts together, meeting and making friends, discuss many aspects of the Franklin Expedition and learning something new with every visit.

The National Maritime Museum is where I started out to research Crozier in 2014 after I had a question nobody could answer me. When a museum guide told me that everybody could just go into the Caird Library (the NMM archive) and see whatever one wanted to see, even without any degree or special purpose, my life changed for ever. A new door opened for me that would lead me to another time, made me listen to people long gone and to laugh and feel sad with them. This was the moment when I changed from being an occasional reader of polar history to becoming a researcher, something I had dreamt of all my life. So when "Death in the Ice" opened in 2017and a friend offered me his ticket to the opening because he couldn't attend himself, I was more than delighted. I met curators Karen Ryan, Claire Warrior and Jeremy Mitchell, descendants of officers and crew, actors from AMC's The Terror and many friends, scholars and fellow Franklinites. 

I think what struck me most about the exhibition in Greenwich was seeing Erebus's bell, dramatically lit and giving me a lump in my throat every time I saw it. Photography was strongly forbidden in the exhibition space at the NMM, but I can still hear the voice of a friend telling me: "Pst, pst, Gina, stand beside the bell, we'll take a photo." I'm not saying that the photo was ever taken but if so, it would be show me with a big grin and be one of my fondest memories. :-D Funnily enough taking photographs was allowed and even encouraged in all other venues which make me wonder why the NMM has such strict rules on photographing in special exhibitions. But as it is my favourite museum in the world I do just accept that. Erm... Almost always...

The other most memorable feature of the Greenwich exhibition was the memorial flags on the front lawn which formed a striking monument for every single one of the 129 men. I saw them being assembled on the morning of the opening and was incredibly touched when I realized what they were going to form. Whoever came up with that idea, it was a brilliant one with a huge impact on everyone who saw it.

the memorial flags on the lawn at the NMM

As the lead curator of the exhibition, Karen Ryan, is based at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa and the Franklin Expedition plays an important part in Canadian identity, it felt as if "Death in the Ice" was coming home at its next stop. The opening ceremony on March 3, 2018, was a beautiful mix of speeches, native performances and blessings, meeting old and new friends and seeing the artefacts in a different setting. In one section the layout was 1:1 following the dimensions of the ship (the space in Ottawa was much better suited for that than the one in Greenwich) with the possibility to walk through the crew and officers' quarters up into the great cabin. We could experience the size of a mess table in the midst of the cabin, a bunkbed and following a day on the life of the table in the great cabin from tea in the morning to chart drawing, specimen handling, playing cards and other activities. And it was finally possible to take a photo with the bell. The highlight of Ottawa was the tour through the exhibition with Karen Ryan herself. Although I was as sick with a cold as Franklin before he sailed, Ottawa has been my favourite location of "Death in the Ice".
Me and Erebus's bell

The captain's bed cabin - Ottawa
The bow - Ottawa
the memorial to the men - Ottawa 

The next station was Mystic Seaport, CN, and this time I could not attend the opening. I did fly over for a special Franklin symposium with first-class scholars like Russell Potter, Dave Woodman, Kenn Harper, John Geiger and Peter Carney to name only a few. The layout was different from Ottawa and a few artefacts had gone back to England, but the symposium and the possibility to see the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Charles Morgan made up for that. My favourite feature was the reproduction of Terror's bow and bowsprit (it's always Terror for me 😁) that towered above us when we entered the exhibition. This time I took a selfie with the bell.
the simulated Bowsprit - Mystic
the bell and I - Mystic

memorial tablet - Mystic

So last weekend I went through the exhibition for the last time in Anchorage. The layout was airy and spacious and although some more artefacts had made it back to their museums, those that remained were staged beautifully. We kept catching ourselves thinking we had seen this or that exhibit for the first time, only to realize that we had overlooked it at the first three stops. We took a group photo with the bell and I mentally hugged it before we left for the symposium, which shone a light at the Franklin Expedition from the Alaska and American point of view and provided a lot food for thought. 
The lift closed - Anchorage

The lift open - Anchorage
 
A Franklin search sled and a barrel from the Resolute - Anchorage


Memorial tablet - Anchorage
The bell in Anchorage

Crozier, Franklin, Fitzjames - Anchorage
a Preston Patent Illuminator, a Blue Willow plate and a Whampoa Pagoda plate, all from Erebus - Anchorage
a contemporary model of Erebus and Matthew Betts' model of Terror - Anchorage

Paul Ongtooguk, Paul Watson, Anne Jensen, Russell Potter and Dave Woodman - Anchorage
"Death in the Ice" has enriched my life for over two years. I lost count of how often I've visited the exhibition - between 10 and 15 times I guess. Sometimes I at least tried to look at every artefact and read all the information, sometimes I hurried through it just to say hello to a special item or to photograph something. Sometimes I walked non-franklinite people through it, giving them a tour, sometimes I didn't even really look at anything when in deep discussion with a friend or fellow researcher. The exhibition has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of all officers and men and their sacrifice. It made me meet many friends and also let me find new ones. It provided me with endless hours of fantastic discussion and a lot of fun. 
With a deep feeling of gratitude I say my final good bye to "Death in the Ice" and everybody who made it possible. Now we have to wait until we can welcome some of the artefacts back or reaching their new home and hope for new ones to be brought up from Erebus and Terror to be displayed in another exhibition, hopefully not too far away from now. 



11 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this marvellous description would so loved to have seen the ones in Mystic and Anchorage..My husband is Mary Willianson's brother..He is Charles Nicholas Franklin Harding...we are so lucky to have his sister as our damily historian and guardian of the flame of Franklin

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    1. Thank you for your words. It was a pleasure to be there with Mary and Steve. They are so knowledgeable and have so many fantastic stories to tell. We had quite some fun looking for the Franklin bust at the library. ��

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  2. Beautiful and touching blog and interesting photos, Gina. Thanks!

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  3. It was so great to meet you. I am just a security guard in Anchorage Museum, but after I got posted in that exhibit I got hook on Franklin and his last voyage. The Symposium was great, too. I was so happy to attend it. Hope to read more of your posts.

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    1. Thank you so much, Marina. I'm glad we met you and that you are now "one of us". :-) I look forward to what you might find out about Lady Franklin in Sitka.

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  4. What a great wrap up of DITI. I almost drove the family to Ottawa from Long Island till I found out it was coming to Mystic. I regret not getting a pic with you and the crew there. It was a great day all around.

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    1. Thanks a lot, Chris. We will take that photo the next time. ;-)

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  5. Ms. KOELLNER, I must thank you so very much for your blog. Tracing my heritage was kindled only last year when I happened upon the title of Michael SMITH's book. I've only come across YOUR blog this very day while looking for some information to send to some friends who are going to be in Ireland in a few months. I was hoping they might be able to visit the Avanmore house should they have time to wend their way through Banbridge. Your dedication to the life of this amazing man is absolutely heart warming. I hope to read more. Thank You again. Sincerely, Michael Robert Joseph CROZIER (MCrozier@PacBell.net)

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  6. Ms. KOELLNER, I must thank you so very much for your blog. Tracing my heritage was kindled only last year when I happened upon the title of Michael SMITH's book. I've only come across YOUR blog this very day while looking for some information to send to some friends who are going to be in Ireland in a few months. I was hoping they might be able to visit the Avanmore house should they have time to wend their way through Banbridge. Your dedication to the life of this amazing man is absolutely heart warming. I hope to read more. Thank You again. Sincerely, Michael R CROZIER (MCrozier@PacBell.net)

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  7. Ms. Koellner: It seems I always am late to the party when it comes to things I am interested in, because I only found your blog yesterday. About three months ago by a series of circumstances I developed an interest in the Franklin Expedition and very soon after had my heart captured by our dear Captain Francis R. M. Crozier. I was disappointed to find a dearth of information on this excellent though much overlooked man. I can only find two books on him, (sadly, both are out of print) and even less on the Internet. Fortunately your blog is one of the few sources I did find. I do hope you continue it someday. If not, then I thank you for what you have already provided,
    Yours in gratitude, Rebekah Marks

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