Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Meet the Past

Back in 1884, I don't think that my GG Grandfather, Dr. Daniel F. Collins, would have thought for one moment that his future GG granddaughter would be having almost the exact same conversation with the present day Danenhower family that he had with Lt. Danenhower of the Jeannette Expedition. But today I did. And I felt like I was transported back in time.

Along this journey of research I have been on for almost 10 years, I have learned one thing, to expect the unexpected. In the past 3 years I almost defy the unexpected to surprise me with it's best shot. Today was the cream of the crop. I spoke with Geoff Wilson, the Grandson to Lt. John Wilson Danenhower of the Jeannette Expedition of 1879 who served on board with my GG Granduncle Jerome J. Collins.

It was a conversation that happened because I had stumbled across the Vallejo Naval & Historical Museum in California online. I contacted the director a few months ago, Jim Kern, on a whim mind you, to ask if they had any info about the Jeannette Arctic Expedition of 1879 because that is where she departed to the Pole from. I not only hit the motherload of info, but the unexpected happened. I was put in touch with the Grandson of one of the men who served aboard with Uncle Jerome.

Lt. Danenhower was a Navy man. Before he enlisted with the Jeannette Expedition, he had quite the impressive resume' of Naval service. For whatever reason, he signed up to go to the pole with DeLong, and during that time he became a good friend to Jerome J. Collins who was embedded at the NY Herald Correspondent aboard. Collins was also the Meteorologist and Scientific Officer. During that time in the Arctic, Collins was treated brashly, something Danenhower admitted to Collins' brothers Daniel and Bernard upon his return to the US in 1884 from Siberia. Lt. Danenhower basically admitted in a nutshell that if it were any other man who was mistreated as badly as Jerome was, they would have gone over the ship's side. Jerome put up with the mistreatment, but never fought back, nor did he try to save himself by disobeying DeLong's orders to stay with the party while on the Lena Delta and forage ahead. Collins died while under arrest and suspension, and I believe DeLong kept him close so as not to let Collins steal any glory that should rightfully belong to DeLong or the US Navy.

Speaking with Geoff Wilson was enlightening, and I think encouraging for the both of us. He had been working on writing his Grandfather's bio for quite a few years prior to today. Geoff was set back on his research and writing when his wife fell ill over a year ago, however he used the work "remission" today on the phone and I think he is now encouraged by not only his wife's good health, but with the fact I have told him the location of DeLong's Ice Journals so that he may continue on with Lt. Danenhower's bio. I was also intrigued to learn he possibly has a letter of introduction written by Jerome, and after I stated no original documents were handed on down to me or any other family members I know, he said I would be welcome to it should he locate the paper. I told Geoff I would send him copies of what I could, including photos of the Jeannette Expedition and so forth. We spoke for 1 hour exactly, and I could have talked with him for 2 more hours had he let me.

When we hung up, we promised to keep in touch, to check our research, and send on things we thought each other needed. I have been feeling a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that my family and Lt. Danenhower's family is still connected to this day. Actually it's more than that, it's something honorable I think. To know that two families intertwined by an Arctic tragedy over 125 years ago are still in touch today, well, it's that unexpected part of history that defies you and says to you, "checkmate". My move next is to finish writing Jerome's bio. I know Geoff will finish writing his Grandfather Lt. Danenhower's bio. What a tale we will have told, with two different perspectives, but with the same goal in mind, for our ancestors to reach the North Pole.

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