The Life of Richard E. Byrd
Publication Year: 2008
“Danger was all that thrilled him,” Dick Byrd’s mother once remarked, and from his first pioneering aviation adventures in Greenland in 1925, through his daring flights to the top and bottom of the world and across the Atlantic, Richard E. Byrd dominated the American consciousness during the tumultuous decades between the world wars. He was revered more than Charles Lindbergh, deliberately exploiting the public’s hunger for vicarious adventure. Yet some suspected him of being a poseur, and a handful reviled him as a charlatan who claimed great deeds he never really accomplished.
Then he overreached himself, foolishly choosing to endure a blizzard-lashed six-month polar night alone at an advance weather observation post more than one hundred long miles down a massive Antarctic ice shelf. His ordeal proved soul-shattering, his rescue one of the great epics of polar history. As his star began to wane, enemies grew bolder, and he struggled to maintain his popularity and political influence, while polar exploration became progressively bureaucratized and militarized. Yet he chose to return again and again to the beautiful, hateful, haunted secret land at the bottom of the earth, claiming, not without justification, that he was “Mayor of this place.”
Lisle A. Rose has delved into Byrd’s recently available papers together with those of his supporters and detractors to present the first complete, balanced biography of one of recent history’s most dynamic figures. Explorer covers the breadth of Byrd’s astonishing life, from the early days of naval aviation through his years of political activism to his final efforts to dominate Washington’s growing interest in Antarctica. Rose recounts with particular care Byrd’s two privately mounted South Polar expeditions, bringing to bear new research that adds considerable depth to what we already know. He offers views of Byrd’s adventures that challenge earlier criticism of him—including the controversy over his claim to being the first to have flown over the North Pole in 1926—and shows that the critics’ arguments do not always mesh with historical evidence.
Throughout this compelling narrative, Rose offers a balanced view of an ambitious individual who was willing to exaggerate but always adhered to his principles—a man with a vision of himself and the world that inspired others, who cultivated the rich and famous, and who used his notoriety to espouse causes such as world peace. Explorer paints a vivid picture of a brilliant but flawed egoist, offering the definitive biography of the man and armchair adventure of the highest order.
Published by: University of Missouri Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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List of Maps
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Any book is a collaboration among many people, and Explorer is no exception.The manuscript has been read and greatly strengthened by Raimond Goerler, JohnBehrendt, and my wife, Harriet Dashiell Schwar. Professor Behrendt in particularsaved me from a number of embarrassing errors of fact and interpretation regard-ing Antarctic science. Navy navigator John Rose read the chapter on the North...
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There are no heroes now. Our cynical, mistrustful age has no use for them, norfor adventuring, which all too often seems contrived and, in the case of amateurson Everest, foolhardy as well. The world’s last legitimate explorers, NASA’s lunarastronauts, might have been the high priests of the Right Stuff, but they were alsoSpam in a can. As long as they performed for the space agency, their free spirits...
Chapter 1 - “Danger Was All That Thrilled Him”
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...hey left him alone in fifty-degrees-below-zero temperature, 123 miles be-yond the last outpost of civilization. It was March 28, 1934, and all aroundhis solitary little hut dug painstakingly into the South Polar snow, the Ross Ice Bar-rier stretched “flat as the Kansas Plains,” rolling on “forever to meet the sky in around of unbroken horizon.” The collection of tractors, dogs, and men who had...
Chapter 2 - Reaching for the Skies
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...orld War I “did a lot of things for a lot of men,” Richard would laterwrite. “In a sense it saved me.” A “willing cripple suddenly became to amad world as valuable as a whole man who might be unwilling.” Within weeks ofhis retirement, Richard was back in uniform as a reserve officer tasked with whip-ping the rapidly forming Rhode Island Naval Militia into shape for possible de-...
Chapter 3 - Breakthrough
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...ate in 1923, rumors began to circulate in Washington that Billy Mitchelland the Army Air Service were planning a dramatic new initiative for thefollowing year: a round-the-world flight that would consume many weeks and fixthe world’s attention on long-range airpower. The navy needed a counter. Ac-cording to one knowledgeable contemporary, Bob Bartlett, who had played a ma-...
Chapter 4 - Triumph
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...n the last day of January 1926, Richard Byrd announced he was return-ing to the Arctic as soon as spring arrived in an “independent attempt toexplore the North Polar regions from the air.”1 In his statement, Byrd said that hisexperience in the Arctic the previous summer had “convinced me of the entirepracticability of exploration by aircraft in this section of the world which has hith-...
Chapter 5 - Hero
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...he Byrd party entered New York Harbor on the morning of June 22, 1926,to a tumultuous welcome that would become routine for returning heroeswithin the next few years. Yachts, sailboats, and steamers filled the huge anchor-age, proudly bedecked in national bunting, pennants, and signal flags. Chantiersteamed slowly toward the dock next to Battery Park through a din of cheers and...
Chapter 6 - Celebrity
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...he publicity mills began grinding even before Byrd left Europe. “Congrat-ulations to you and your crew on your splendid achievement,” O. K. Bo-vard cabled. “If agreeable please reserve St. Louis newspaper rights to your SouthPole expedition for Post Dispatch.” “Triumph here outshines everything,” one ofWanamaker’s flacks telegraphed to Paris exuberantly. Aboard ship the cable office...
Chapter 7 - The Secret Land
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...ntarctica was a dream long before it became a reality. The coldest, windi-est, and one of the highest places on earth is a dome of ice (from the coastone travels “up” not “down” to the South Pole) millions of square miles in di-mension, pierced by a high mountain range shaped roughly like a question markand cut through with enormous glaciers. This empty theater of fog and storm, of...
Chapter 8 - Southward
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...n December 1927 Richard wrote an article for the journal World’s Work, am-plifying his earlier comments to the New York Times about the South Polar re-gion. “Man cannot claim mastery of the globe until he conquers the Antarctic con-tinent. It is the last great challenge.... [D]own there lies the greatest adventureleft in exploring and aviation.” He cast his eye on the future as well as the present,...
Chapter 9 - Zenith
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...s the 1929 Antarctic winter clamped down on Little America, men triedto keep as busy as possible. The meteorologists slipped briefly out into thedark several times each day to read the instruments measuring temperature, baro-metric pressure, wind direction, and velocity. “We made observations of ice con-ditions and posted a night watchman to record that weird spectacle, the aurora...
Chapter 10 - Politico
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...ord of the expedition’s deliverance from the Antarctic pack ice reachedthe States by radio within hours, and while Byrd stopped briefly in Tahi-ti and then in Panama to write a formal report to the National Geographic Soci-ety, his friends and backers in the States prepared a series of lavish receptions. Therewould be the ticker-tape parade down Broadway, of course. Railey had approached...
Chapter 11 - Jeopardy
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...y the late summer of 1933, as the country strove to grasp the audacious di-mensions of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Second Byrd Antarctic Ex-pedition rapidly took shape. Amid the usual uproar and uncertainty of trying toget another large polar expedition under way with the “shouting confusion of tele-phones and telegrams, hammers banging, hand trucks rumbling, orders and...
Chapter 12 - Breakdown
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...ittle more than an hour after soaring aloft from Little America, the admi-ral landed at Advance Base, bundled warmly in a fur parka. The followingday dog-team drivers Stuart Paine and Finn Ronne joined Richard Black from Lit-tle America in digging supply tunnels for Byrd’s dwelling, and stretching tarpau-lin over the roof. “Black doesn’t seem to be able to take it,” Paine grumped, “[and]...
Chapter 13 - Stumbling
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...e was never the same again, though he stayed firmly fixed in the publicThere were no ticker-tape parades when he returned this time; 1935 Americawas too impoverished for lavish spectacle. Although his old friend the presidentgreeted him personally at dockside, Richard, always slender, now looked danger-ously thin as he tottered down Ruppert’s gangplank at the Washington Navy Yard....
Chapter 14 - Recovery
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...s Byrd’s disillusion with the peace crusade deepened during the latter halfof 1938, his thoughts again turned southward. Replying near the end ofAugust to an offer of dogs for his next adventure, he admitted that “I have plansfor another expedition but they are somewhat immature so that I am not in a po-sition to tell you anything definite.”1 Another season on the ice, however, was be-...
Chapter 15 - “Ever a Fighter So”
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...arry Truman broke his heart. A planned Highjump II never jumped. Be-set by sudden controversy, Dick Byrd, a prematurely aged sixty, foundThe year 1948 was too soon for another massive naval expedition to the South,and by 1949 the Byrd brothers were anathema to the White House. Harry, alongwith Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, had become a leading critic of Fair Deal...
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Page Count: 566
Illustrations: 32, maps
Publication Year: 2008
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth