The Night Thread Regales with an 1897 Balloonist’s Attempt to Conquer the Arctic

…yes, you read that title correctly.

In the summer of 1897, Sweden’s premier balloonist, S. A. Andrée, accompanied by Knut Frænkel, an amateur meteorologist, and Nils Strindberg (first cousin once removed of August Strindberg), a keen photographer, set out on a hydrogen balloon expedition from Svalbard that was meant to pass them over the North Pole, where presumably they could land and claim to be the first to reach it before continuing over to Canada or Russia.

Unfortunately (as you might’ve guessed from not immediately recognizing their names as conquerors of the Pole), the planned voyage went off with a fatal amount of hitches. Andrée was far poorer of a balloonist than he believed himself to be, could not in any way control the balloon’s direction against the wind, and, in any case, the balloon had a couple of (quite literally) eight million holes leaking hydrogen into the air.

They went only two days before crashing. This is a panorama of their crash site, photographed by Strindberg at the time:


If you’re wondering why it looks like it was taken during an Aurora Borealis (at this time of day? In this part of the country? etc.), despite it being Arctic summer and thus the period of the “midnight sun”, that’s because this is comprised of 5 of the 96 film plates recovered in 1930 that had been lying in intemperate conditions for film in the Arctic for 33 years.

So, yes, they all died. Not in the horrifically well-documented sense like that of Robert Falcon Scott two decades later in the Antarctic, but instead abruptly and without properly documenting the horrible deterioration.

…but, hey, at least they shot a polar bear!


And ate it.

…and then they “ate it”. In the colloquial sense of the word, yes.

Sad; I only found out about these fellows last night — literally stumbled over it while traveling down a Wiki Wormhole (and, no, not Cookie‘s sort; I’m sorry, Cookie… 🙁 ), so I’m insisting you read the Wikipedia article on their sad attempt for the full recounting of their story: S. A. Andrée’s Arctic Balloon Expedition of 1897


Finally… to misquote John Gardner:

“…poor Andrée’s had an accident. So may you all.”