“North stretched the well-known ragged surface of the polar pack, and northwest it was with a thrill that my glasses revealed the faint white summits of a distant land which my Eskimos claimed to have seen as we came along from the last camp.”
“The clear day greatly favoured my work in taking a round of angles, and with the glasses I could make out apparently a little more distinctly, the snow-clad summits of the distant land in the northwest, above the ice horizon.”
R.E. Peary, Nearest the Pole, pp. 202, 207
These two passages come from Robert Peary’s book Nearest the Pole, a 1907 chronicle of an Arctic expedition he conducted the previous two years. On one leg of his journey, Peary says he was traversing the northwestern coasts of Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands on snowshoe and dogsled. This is an area about as far north as Canada reaches. Peary’s first glimpse of the “distant land” was from Cape Colgate, the second from Cape Thomas Hubbard. Though Peary doesn’t name the landmass he spotted in the body of his book, there are maps included at the end. It’s here that we see it designated Crocker Land. It’s the smile-shaped object in the upper left.
But Was Crocker Land Real?
On the heels of the release of Nearest the Pole, doubt was cast on Crocker Land. A reviewer for The Athenæum says: “From the high cliffs of the north-western part of Grant Land [in upper Ellesmere Island, Peary] saw the distant summits of new land, which he has named Crocker Land. As the party had previously seen this land from sea-level, one can hardly believe that it was 120 miles away, as the author has marked it in his map. Subsequent exploration has often proved such guesses to be erroneous….” Subsequent exploration revealed something much more erroneous than Crocker Land’s distance from the coast: Crocker Land was proven to not really be there at all.
The saga of Crocker Land fascinates me, and I plan to devote the coming months to researching and writing about it. These are the pages in progress, which are linked, and those I have in mind, which are not:
- A Timeline of Crocker Land and Other Mapped Mirages of the Arctic
- The Early Response: Crocker Land Defended and Disputed
- Reasons Why Crocker Land Was Plausible
- The expeditions launched to settle whether Crocker Land was real or not
- The debate over whether Peary was intentionally deceiving the public or was himself deceived by a mirage
This project will continue to grow so long as I find more material related to it. If it’s something of interest to you, please drop by now again to check on my progress!