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Get Ready for Shackleton-Mania
By Stephanie Capparell
When an experimental high school opened in
Boston earlier this year, it took its name
and philosophy from an Antarctic explorer
whose feats went all but unnoticed for most
of this century:
Sir Ernest Shackleton.
It was just one sign of a surging tide of
obsessive interest in the Anglo-Irishman, who
in 1914 headed an ill-fated expedition to
Antarctica. Shackleton led his 27-man crew
through a harrowing two-year trip to safety
after being stranded on ice floes when their
ship, HMS Endurance, sank in the icy Weddell
Sea 1,200 miles from the fringes of
civilization. They lived for months in
temperatures that got so cold they could hear
the water freeze. They were perpetually
soaked and often on the lookout for predatory
sea leopards. When the ice began to break up,
they navigated hundreds of miles over
treacherous seas to inhabited land, relying
ultimately on a single lifeboat, partly
patched with the ship's artist's paints.
Suddenly Shackleton is being honored in
every conceivable venue: children's books,
biographies, an exhibit at New York's
American Museum of Natural History, a new
wing of a Cambridge University library, and
documentaries. The Exploration and Travel
auction at Christie's in London next
Wednesday will feature several Shackleton
items. Next year, Columbia TriStar Motion
Picture Group expects to start shooting a
big-budget feature about the Endurance
journey, directed by Wolfgang Peterson, who
made Das Boot and In the Line of Fire.
Margot Morrell, a financial representative
at Fidelity Investments in New Jersey, is
among the growing number of people who "speak
Shackleton" and who are adopting Shackleton's
story as a model for leadership. Ms. Morrell
has spent years hunting down and transcribing
the diaries of two of the ship's crew. She is
culling these journals for examples of "the
Shackleton way." Why is Shackleton's fame
growing now, more than 80 years after the
Endurance voyage? And why honor as a great
leader a man who failed to reach nearly every
goal he set and whose greatest achievement
was little appreciated in his lifetime?
Certainly, the end of the millennium has
people harking back to a simpler time when
exploration was still earthbound, as in
Stephen E. Ambrose's bestseller, Undaunted
Courage, about the Lewis and Clark
expedition. Readers are fascinated with
survival stories pitting man agianst nature,
such as Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer's account
of a recent disastrous Mount Everest ascent.
Even the movie Titanic has piqued curiosity
about venturing toward the world's icy
Survival stories, however, were of scant
interest to the war-torn world Shackleton and
his men returned to in 1916. They were
scorned for suffering for some foolhardy
venture while millions were dying in battle.
Then, the heroic model was "the Iliadic point
of view: You die for your country," says
Caroline Alexander, an Anglo-American Homeric
scholar and author of Mrs. Chippy's Last
Expedition, a novel published last year about
the Endurance, written in the voice of the
hackleton is more suited to
today's zeitgeist, suggests Edward
Burlingame, the former publisher and editor
in chief of Harper & Row who now publishes
the Adventure Library subscription-book
series. "The public is hungry, not so much
for the political values that separate
people," he says, "but for the core values
that unite people: leadership, perserverance,
moral or physical courage."
In 1994, to launch the Adventure Library,
based in North Salem, NY, Mr. Burlingame
reprinted an elaborate hardcover edtition of Endurance:
Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, a 1959 work
by Alfred Lansing. He later wowed a roomful
of middle managers at a Chicago leadership
conference with a lecture on the story,
selling hundreds of books afterward.
This year, Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc., New
York, expects to sell 50,000 copies of its
own paperback reprint of the Lansing book. Up
to now, it has typically sold about 9,000
copies annually, says Herman Graf, president.
In May, the company is also reprinting the
1985 biography, Shackleton, by Roland
There is also a surge in polar
tourism. When the Soviet Union fell, Russian
polar-research ships, and their well-trained
crews, became available to tour groups, says
Jeff Rubin, author of Lonely Planet
Publications' Antarctica guide book. South
Polar tourism took off in the '90s, and last
season jumped to an estimated 9,400 visitors
to the region, according to the International
Association of Antarctic Tour Operators in
Tourists become fascinated with
the literature and memorabilia of the region
and feed the Shackleton craze. Since its
founding four years ago, about 300 people
worldwide have become paying members of the
James Caird Society, a group in the United
Kingdom named for the expedition's main
lifeboat. The group's founder, 89-year-old
Harding Dunnett, calls members
"Shackletonians." He first became aware of
the explorer at the age of 70.
Shackleton set out at age 40 to make what he considered
the last great exploration left: a 1,500-mile
crssing of Antarctica. The ship set sail from
England in August 1914, and by January got
stuck "like an almond in a piece of toffee,"
according to a crew member, in an ice pack
one day's sail from its destination on the
Antarctic coast. It sank 11 months later.
There was no radio contact, and no one knew
where they were.
"In fact, there was no
way they could survive, except they did,"
says Ms. Alexander, who when interviewed last
year on Boston public radio drew call-ins
from dozen of ardent Shackleton fans.
Shackleton's gift was to rally and
maintain the morale of his crew, to a point
where they even played soccer on the ice
floe. He did it without losing a single man-
to death or to the starvation, scurvy,
madness and mutiny that plagued other
"Not a life lost
and we have been through Hell," Shackleton
later wrote. Above all, Shackleton was an
astute psychologist. The ship's photographer
Frank Hurley was by many accounts a brilliant
prima donna. To placate him and stop any
possible spread of malcontent, Shackleton
consistently asked Mr. Hurley for his advice,
even when he wasn't much interested in the
reply. That kept the photographer in line-
he media-savvy Shackleton
had sold rights to the still photographs and
film footage taken on the expedition. Mr.
Hurley had a darkroom aboard, and when the
ship went down he dove in to save his
glass-plate negatives. Through all the
hardships, he continued shooting with a Kodak
Vest Pocket camera. (One "Hurleyite," Shane
Murphy of Scottsdale, Ariz., is studying the
photographer's work and role in the
expedition for a book- 700 pages so far.)
In November, the American Museum of
Natural History will open a show of Mr.
Hurley's surviving pictures and film footage.
The exhibit's curator, Ms. Alexander, is
writing a lavishly illustrated book on the
Endurance expedition to accompany the show
and working on a documentary.
Also in November, the Scott Polar Research Institute
in Cambridge, England, will open a Shackleton
wing of its library' named for the explorer,
who died in 1922, and his son, Edward, who
had explored the Artic region.
Modern-day Shackletonians admire the explorer's grit in
the face of seemingly insurmountable
adversity. Shackleton "defines what you'd
like people to do in a crisis," says James
MacGregor, managing partner of Abernathy
MacGregor Frank, a New York financial
public-relations concern. Most of his firm's
work is in crisis communications, and he
tells clients that "a lot of handling a
crisis is showing that somebody is in charge
and that person is really confident the
crisis can be resolved."
Mr. MacGregor, who has on the wallof his office a
picture he took of Shackleton's monument on the South
Atlantic island of South Georgia, says the
crew's diaries show they never doubted that
the "Boss" would get them through. He recites
his own three-point distillation of
Shackleton wisdom: "Don't be afraid to change
your plans. Don't be afraid to do nothing
when that's the best thing to do. Prepare,
prepare, prepare; plan, plan, plan."
The benevolence that Shackleton displayed toward
his crew was unusual for leaders of his day,
says author and explorer Alvah Simon of
Camden, Maine. "He was walking a fine line
between being the Old Man and having the
personal touch with each and every member of
his crew," he says.
Mr. Simon, 47, read about Shackleton in the 1980s,
during a 13-year sail circumnavigating the globe. He
was particularly struck by a photograph of
the Endurance crew standing on the ice near
their ship. "They stared the camera, and
death, in the eye," he recalls. "There was
something in that photo that turned my life
around." He took his admiration of
Shackleton to an extreme. Mr. Simon and his
wife sailed their 36-foot cutter into Arctic
waters, where, according to plan, it became
ice-bound in September 1994. Though his wife
had to be helicoptered out the following
month to tend to her dying father, Mr. Simon,
with a pet cat, stayed on for the winter- and
more danger than he had bargained for.
His boat, which is also the couple's home, is
still undergoing repairs. He wrote a book
about the ordeal, North to the Night: A Year
in the Arctic Ice to be published by
International Marine/McGraw-Hill in September
Shackleton also had a roguish side that fans
relish. Sara Wheeler of London, an Antarctic
traveler and author of the just-published
Terre Icognita, says: "He smoked too much, he
drank too much, he slept with other people's
wives. That's why we like: he's like us."
Shackleton was a master of creating his
own myth. He told his men after their rescue
not to change clothes or shave, "so that they
could appear in their wild, romantic state,"
writes Shackleton's biographer, Mr. Huntford.
He then called ahead to Punta Arenas, Chile,
giving their time of arrival so that crowds
might gather. It is the explorer's heroic
side, however, that gave rise to the private
year-round Boston school. Its president is
Luke O'Neill, a 38-year-old Harvard M.B.A.
with a law degree who worked in juvenile and
corporate law before turning to education.
He hopes a mixture of academics and outdoors
exploration- and the Shackleton model- will
inspire his teenage students to learn from
real-life challenges and to test their
capabilities to the fullest. The school,
which opened in January, has 10 students to
date (toward a goal of 100) and a staff of
10. For his part, Mr. O'Neill says he has
learned this from Shackleton: "Never give up,
don't be afraid to lead, follow your gut, and
remember, it's about people."
Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal
The Historic Chilean Navy boat
Left to right; the Captain and Pilot of the YELCHO,
YELCHO in Valparaiso, Chile
Luis Pardo, Shackleton, the crew of the ENDURANCE
This was the boat that finally rescued the crew of the ENDURANCE in
August during the dead of winter after several aborted attempts by other
After 4 days of navigation of the Drake Sea full of icebergs,
the captain immediately entered the bay on Elephant Island
where the crew of the ENDURANCE was marooned.
Pardo rescued them in two voyages with a small boat and after
saving the last man he put the motor of the YELCHO in gear
just as the tide was changing and the glaciers started to close up the bay.
The boat just managed to get out. This would have been a different story
if the captain had waited a few minutes longer.
Pardo later received many honors from the British Government.
The bow of the Shacklton Expedition Chilean Navy rescue boat, YELCHO,
rests in the square in Puerto Williams, Chile, the "Gateway to Antarctica".
Captain and Pilot of the YELCHO, Luis Pardo has a street,
PILOTO PARDO, named after him in Puerto Williams,
the world's most Southern town.
YELCHO finally rescued the crew of the ENDURANCE in August
during the dead of winter after several aborted attempts by other boats.
After 4 days of navigation of the Drake Sea full of icebergs, the
entered immediately in the bay where the crew of the ENDURANCE
was marooned on Elephant Island in Antarctica.
Pardo rescued them in two voyages with a small boat .
Saving the last man he put the motor of the YELCHO in gear just as
tide was changing and the glaciers started to close the exit of the bay!
The boat just managed to get out.
There probably would have been a different story if the captain had
waited a few minutes longer.
Pardo later received many honors from the British Government.
The main street in Puerto Williams, running from East to West in
front of the
bow and town center where the photo is taken is named YELCHO.
Photo taken looking South towards Antarctica which is 700 miles away,
Photo by Grace Garrett
More YELCHO photos
Shackleton memorial Plaque in the Puerto Williams square
BOW OF CHILEAN NAVY TUGBOAT "YELCHO"
THAT COMMANDED BY 2ND PILOT
DON LUIS PARDO VILLALON,
RESCUED THE MEMBERS OF
THE BRITISH EXPEDITION OF
SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON
FROM THE HMS "ENDURANCE"
IN ELEPHANT ISLAND,
THE 30TH OF AUGUST 1916-
DONATED BY THE NAVY TO THE CITY
OF PUNTA ARENAS, 21 MAY 1970.
FILMS LATEST EVENTS IN 'REDISCOVERY' OF SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON
ork underway to produce two further films
about Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914-17
Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (ITAE),
and the proposal to photograph its ship
'Endurance' at the bottom of the Weddell Sea
are the latest in a series of ventures that have
resulted from the 'rediscovery' of Shackleton in the
last few years, particularly in North America.
Director Charles Sturridge is reported to
have signed with Britain's Channel 4 to
produce a range of films, including a four
hour "multimillion dollar" feature on
Shackleton. Media reports last weekend
indicate that Sturridge, who has started to
prepare the film's script, is in talks with
Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh about
playing Sir Ernest. Sturridge's past work
includes Director of the recent telemovie
'Longitude' and the 1997 film 'Fairytale: A
true story', and as co-producer of the
widely-distributed 1982 British television
series 'Brideshead Revisited'. Shooting of
the Shackleton film is scheduled to commence
in 2001. It is to be shown in two, two hour,
episodes, probably late in 2002 or early
U.S. based Columbia TriStar Motion Picture
Group were reported earlier this year to be
working on a "big-budget" feature about the
'Endurance journey' with filming supposedly
starting late this year. The film's Director
was to be Wolfgang Petersen who made the
recently released 'A Perfect Storm', as well
as a string of other movies including 'In the
Line of Fire' in 1993 and 'Das Boot' in 1981.
No further information is currently available
about Columbia's Shackleton plans however.
It is not known if either of the films will
be shot in the Antarctic. In the past a
number of feature films about Antarctic
subjects which were shot in the Arctic have
provided an appropriate Antarctic effect,
although this requires careful site
selection. Logistically the Arctic would be
an easier location in which to conduct
The interest in Shackleton over the last few
years, or 'Shackleton Mania' as some have
called it, began with the publication of
Caroline Alexander's well-received book
'Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic
Expedition" in 1998. The book retold the
exploits of Shackleton and his men during the
1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
The ITAE lost its ship 'Endurance' in
the Weddell Sea during an attempt to
undertake the first crossing of the Antarctic
continent. Despite enormous difficulties all
28 men involved eventually returned safety to
Alexander's book was published in association
with the American Museum of Natural History
(AMNH) in New York and she was guest curator
for the major exhibition the AMNH mounted on
the ITAE in 1999. This featured more than 150
photographs taken during the expedition by
Australian photographer Frank Hurley. It ran
for ten months and received significant
exposure in both the electronic and print
media. Following its run in New York the
exhibition was at the U.S. National
Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. for
three months, and is currently at the Peabody
Essex Museum in Massachusetts until
Coincidently, or more probably as a result of
the general interest generated about
Shackleton in the media, a number of
non-governmental operations have been
conducted in Antarctica in the past year
which centre on Shackleton and his exploits.
His boat journey with Worsley, Crean, McNish,
McCarthy and Vincent from Elephant Island to
South Georgia was reinacted earlier this year
by the 'Shackleton 2000' expedition, while the
crossing of South Georgia was made twice.
Several films about Shackleton and the ITAE
are in production and are due for release via
Television and large screen IMAX® theatres in
2001, some of the filming being conducted
around South Georgia and near the Antarctic
Peninsula last October-November and again in.
Alexander is a writer and co-producer of both of those
A number of Antarctic tour operators have
used the spectre of Shackleton in framing and
marketing some of the voyages they offered
the general public in recent seasons, among
them the U.S. based Zeghram and Eco
Expeditions. Caroline Alexander is scheduled
to take part in one of Zeghram's voyages to
South Georgia as a lecturer later this year
onboard the tour ship 'Explorer'.
The interest in Shackleton comes at the start
of a decade which will see the 100th
anniversary of a number of significant
Antarctic expeditions. These include German
Erich von Drygalski's 1901-03 expedition in
the 'Gauss', Swede Otto Nordenskjold
'Antarctic' and Briton Robert Scott's
'Discovery' expeditions of 1901-04, Briton
William Bruce's 1902-04 'Scotia' venture,
Norwegian Carl Larsen's establishment of the
first whaling station on South Georgia
(1904-05), Shackleton's 1907-09 'Nimrod'
expedition, and Frenchman's Jean-Baptiste
Charcot's 'Pourquoi Pas?' 1908-10 journey.
Four of those activities took place in the
region of the Antarctic Peninsula, two in the
Ross Sea, and one in East Antarctica.
ANTARCTIC NON-GOVERNMENT ACTIVITY NEWS
Early adventures of Shackleton:
hackleton took to the seas while he was
still a teenager, joining the Merchant Navy
for what was a decade-long career. In 1901,
he embarked on his first trip to the
Antarctic as a junior officer with Captain
Robert Falcon Scott. The expedition came
within 400 miles of the South Pole, the
closest anyone had yet gone. Shackleton led
his own expedition in 1908 on the whaling
ship Nimrod, coming within 97 miles of the
For the history books:
One of the most legendary adventures of the
modern era began on August 8, 1914, when Shackleton
and his crew of 27 set sail on the Endurance from
England for Antarctica on what they expected
to be a six-month expedition. The goal: to
become the first men to traverse the frozen
continent via the South Pole, an 1,800-mile
journey. In the end, the Shackleton
expedition would live up to the billing, but
not for the intended reasons. With the frozen
continent in plain site, the Endurance became
snarled in floating pack and eventually was
pounded by ice into splinters. Shackleton and
the crew watched the Endurance sink into the
Dragging three lifeboats behind them, the men
trudged in the direction of open water in
hopes of sailing north to safety. After only
six days, they were forced to abandon the
march, and the team made camp on an ice floe
that began drifting across the Antarctic
Circle. April 7, 1916, brought good news:
Shackleton made out a small spit of land on
the distant horizon. He recognized it as
Elephant Island, a barren, inhospitable chunk
of rock. Inhospitable though it may have
been, it was nevertheless terra firma--much
more desirable than a floating chunk of ice.
After setting up camp on their new home away
from home, Shackleton came up with a bold
idea. He and five men would attempt to sail
one of the life-boats 800 miles to South
Georgia Island, an island that supported a
year-round whaling camp. If they could reach
that camp, they could launch a rescue mission
to save the rest of the crew. Miraculously,
after 17 stormy days at sea, Shackleton and
team reached South Georgia. Unfortunately,
they landed on the wrong coast. With stamina
flagging, they began a 36-hour trek that took
them over the island's glacier-clad mountains
and into safety. Shackleton held true to his
promise, and after two attempts, he rescued
his abandoned crew -- two years after the
Endurance set sail from England.
Words to live by: Shackelton once said,
"Optimism is true moral courage," a credo he
lived by until his death in 1922.
If you would like to get to know Antarctica
We have 2-3 day overnight adventure expeditions available
and don't have time for a boat, go by airplane:
to King George Island, close to Elephant Island
where the crew of Shackleton was rescued.
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