Sunday, November 30, 2014


Arctic explorer and anthropologist,
Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962)

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

My final entry in this series of three people who knew or corresponded with C. H. Thordarson - the Icelandic immigrant, inventor and title holder to many U. S. patents, manufacturer of electrical transmission and lab equipment, and a leading bibliographer of his day - is about Vilhjalmur Stefansson.

Having included the several letters I found between Stefansson and Thordarson in my chapter from Thordarson and Rock Island titled, "A Magnificent Library, a Lifetime of Books," ( beginning on page 265) I at first had no idea who Stefansson was, his background or what his accomplishments were.  The more I read about Stefansson, the more intrigued I became, because his life connected with other notable figures of Arctic exploration, a subject I've always found fascinating.  If Thordarson seemed a fantastic personality and individual of his day, Stefansson was his equal.

Map showing approximate routes of Stefansson over several
Arctic expeditions - nearly all on foot, towing a sledge.

My initial reasons as author/editor for including the letters between Stefansson and Thordarson was simply to demonstrate the range of Thordarson's correspondence regarding personal library acquisitions, and to illustrate the thorough knowledge he had for certain books, titles, editions and quality of copies.  Thordarson could be very discerning in his book selection, and this showed in his exchange with Stefansson.  But, by digging further I learned more about Thordarson and about Arctic exploration efforts that were either just completed or were being planned for the Arctic region.

Stefansson dragging a seal across the ice.

Thordarson's most frequent correspondent, Eugene McDonald of Zenith Corporation, you may recall, was a co-leader of an expedition to northern Greenland and the Arctic with Capt. Donald McMillan and LT Richard Byrd.  Their expedition in 1925 pioneered the use of aircraft for Arctic reconnaissance, and the use of short-wave radio for long distance communications.  Thordarson, an Icelander by birth, and one who seemed interested in all such ventures, must have found his friend McDonald's Arctic reports fascinating, and the use of Zenith Company products aboard his ship, for which Thordarson Electric Manufacturing supplied coils, meant that Thordarson had a personal stake in the success of that mission as well.

Book collecting helps display Thordarson's range of knowledge

Let's review Thordarson's ambitions in collecting rare books by reprinting several of his letters of correspondence with Stefansson, who at first I believed to be simply another ambitious, well-intentioned middleman of used and rare books.  How uninformed I was, and what a pleasant surprise to be introduced in this way to one of the most notable Arctic explorers of the 20th century.

Stefansson, born in Gimli, Manitoba in 1879 to Icelandic immigrant parents, was given an American name, William Stephenson.  He later changed it back to the Icelandic Vilhjalmur Stefansson,  which is probably a clue to his great amount of self esteem and self confidence, characterized throughout his life.  His family moved to North Dakota, to an area where many Icelandic immigrants had settled, and he received higher education in North Dakota and in Iowa.  Later, he was a graduate student at Harvard, first in the School of Divinity, then specializing in anthropology, which became his chosen and lifelong work.

He participated in his first Arctic expedition as a field researcher, but he was dissatisfied and quit and went on his own, later forming several of his own expeditions.  He approached his research and work during these several long expeditions by first learning the Inuit dialect, and he became fluent enough to understand most conversations, enabling him to live with and among the native people and be accepted by them.  His field notes and journals included observations on every phase of their lives from survival techniques to religious beliefs.  Stefansson was quite critical of the way in which Christian missionaries had influenced the Inuit, replacing their native beliefs, sometimes without clear guidance as to how interpretations ought to be made of scripture, and by the encouragement of the use of wood-framed structures instead of traditional skin tents or igloos, which Stefansson believed promoted disease.  He observed how they made their clothing and existed exclusively from fish and game (no fruits or vegetables) and he chose to do the same through hunting, fishing or trading with those he encountered for his survival.

Fannie Pannigabluk and son
Alex Stefansson.

One of his expeditions lasted four years, from 1908-1911, during which time he trekked hundreds of miles on land and over ice, lived 'off the land' (a remarkable feat compared with the many European explorers, some of whom met their demise, who packed in sacks of rice, flour, sugar and other western food items).  As a result of Stefansson's conscious choice to live as the natives did, he was rewarded with a less costly mission, less reliance on being resupplied, being more mobile - all of which made his research efforts highly successful.  (Stefansson later wrote a book extolling the benefits of living very well from a meat-only diet, and he carried out experiments to prove this could be done.  Stefansson himself was never choosy as to his source of food.  He ate whatever was available, including parts from a whale beached several years earlier, wolf (which he rated as tasting excellent), polar bear, seal - and when nothing else was available and starvation was a threat, he boiled the skins of animals that had been saved to be shipped to the Natural History Museum of New York.

From his journal book, My Life With The Eskimo (from his 1908-1911 years), he opens with this entry:

"I lived with the Eskimo at all, to live exactly as one of them, in their houses, dressing like them, and eating only such foods as they did.  I now found myself, in accord with my own plan, set down two hundred miles north of the polar circle, with a summer suit of clothing, a camera, some notebooks, a rifle, and about two hundred rounds of ammunition, facing an Arctic winter, where my only shelter would have to be the roof of some hospitable Eskimo house.  These were ideal conditions for me…This gave me a rare opportunity to know them as they are."

Stefansson is an objective observer who matter-of-factly retells in his journal one tale after another of survival, any one of which could have gone wrong had he not had his wits about him and a bit of fortune on his side.

Stefansson in the Arctic (possibly aboard ship?)

One of his intended goals was to find the "Copper Inuit," natives with blond hair and blue eyes who used copper tools, and who lived in the area of Banks Island, far to the north in the Canadian Arctic.  They were claimed to have been visited by one whaling ship captain a few years before.  Stefansson was successful, trekking every mile on foot, in finding the people who had never before seen a white man, and who exhibited characteristics of (Stefansson surmised) the Greenland Viking settlers who disappeared centuries earlier.  He makes his case that these native people assimilated the roving, or lost, Greenland settlers.  (A theory challenged since his time.)

In a letter to the American Museum, he announced his discovery:

   West of Coppermine we found over 200 people who had never seen a white man, whose ancestors had never seen one, who knew of no past relations with people to the west, and whose territory was supposed by geographers to be definitely known to be uninhabited (so labelled on official charts of the Canadian Government)…
   The general appearance was non-Eskimo - a sort of "portly appearance.
   It is hard to be specific in this matter, but the general impression is definite. My Eskimo companion was impressed no less than I.  He said, "These are not Eskimos, they are just like fo'cas'le men"  -  he has worked many years "before the mast" as a whaler. 

Stefansson returned from his four year excursion - during which time he also fathered a son, named Alex, born to his Inuit friend and one of several journey companions, Fannie Pannigabluk - and immediately mounts another expedition, one even more complicated in scope with a large crew, employing the former whaling ship Karluk.

On this expedition, 1913-1918, one member was photographer George H. Wilkins, a New Zealander with roots back to Britain.  Wilkins' photos, which he managed to salvage during an extended time on the ice, over the ice, and on Wrangel Island, after the Karluk was crushed by ice, help to illustrate the hardships of that journey, along with the excellent book written by Captain Bob Bartlet, "The Last Voyage of the Karluk, Flagship of Vilhjalmar Stefansson's Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1916."  This book is tale of survival that easily rivals that of the more famous Sir Ernst Shackelton with the crew of the Endurance in the Antarctic, which occurred about the same time (1914-15).

Ill-fated KARLUK eventually was crushed in ice north of the Siberian Peninsula.  Stefansson had
left the ship to find provisions ashore, and the ship began drifting in the ice pack, separating him from
the ship and its crew.  Captain Bob Bartlett successfully, epically, made it to shore, and
secured help to rescue the remaining survivors from Wrangel Island.

George Wilkins, he learned, had a relative, Bishop Wilkins, who was prominent in English government in the 1600s, and who wrote about his idea for the submarine in his book, Mathematical Magick, quite possibly the first written account for underwater transport.  George Wilkins then, with his accumulated experience as a participant on several Arctic expeditions, and from his successful, first-ever flight across the Arctic by airplane (April 1928), plans to sail under the Polar ice cap by submarine.  That venture was brought with mechanical problems and went wrong, in part due to his lease of a poor, used U. S. Navy submarine.  But, his exchanges with Stefansson, and with Thordarson through Stefansson, apparently aided Wilkins in forming his plan.

With that background, then, here are several letters or their excerpts.  What had initially caught my attention was that Thordarson expressed no problem in outlining his ideas on how such a submarine expedition of the Arctic should be executed, having little basis other than his well-read opinion.  He also, characteristically, brings up short the well known Arctic explorer, writer, lecturer and academic, Stefansson, on the merits of a particular available copy of Marco Polo.

Stefansson, dressed in Arctic clothing.

In this first letter, Stefansson writes to Wilkins (who was knighted for his efforts in successfully crossing the Arctic ice cap by air):

Dear Wilkins:                                   February 8, 1931

When I came to prepare for the writing of the history of the submarine-polar idea, I could not find my copy of Mathematical Magick nor could I borrow one in New York city except for use in libraries.  My copy had been given me by C. H. Thordarson of Chicago, who has the finest private English language scientific library in America, and I wired him to lend me another.  He replied he would bring it when he came to New York and I received it from him today.

Mr. Thordarson not only has a complete collection of the Bishop's published writings (I believe something like seventeen titles) but also a book that was written at the time attacking him of this advanced heretical views.  This is a polemic against Wilkins' on "THAT 'TIS PROBABLE OUR EARTH IS ONE OF THE PLANETS" and is entitled "THE NEW PLANET NO PLANET, or, The Earth no Wandering Star Except in the Heads of Fallileans, etc." by Alexander Rosse, London 1646.

Here is an obligation on you.  It was Thordarson who first told me about the submarine idea in "MATHEMATICAL MAGICK" and then he gave me the book.   Since you say that you first heard of the Bishop's submarine ideas from me, it is really from Thordarson you got them. He has for years been a great admirer and protagonist of the Bishop and is much annoyed now because Jules Verne is getting the credit for originating an idea which he only copied from the Bishop.  [Presumably for his book, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.]

The way you can discharge the obligation in a manner to please Mr. Thordrson very much is to inscribe to him a copy of your "FLYING THE ARCTIC,"  and say in the inscription something that will tie up him and the Bishop generally with your present submarine plans.  The address is C. H. Thordarson, 500 West Huron Street, Chicago.

A copy of his letter to Wilkins Stefansson then sent to Thordarson, who responded on March 2, 1931:

My dear Mr. Stefanson,

Yesterday, in looking thru the Sunday papers, I found an article on Sir Herbert Wilkins' submarine boat.

It appears to me that it is a very dangerous undertaking and I venture to make one suggestion.  Mainly, I think it would be wiser to plan that trip as a double caravan, one in the submarine under the ice, and the other apart traveling on top of the ice and both moving together as near as possible to that they can be in wirelesss communication every minute of each twenty-four hours.   (Thordarson then continues at some length through several paragraphs to bolster his argument that use of both under and on the ice conveyance would be best and safest.)

Stefansson, who resided in New York at the time, then wrote Thordarson about a book copy he had access to, which might earn him a commission.   I believe Stefansson meant it also as a gesture of friendship to one who might appreciate his tip.  Stefansson alerted Thordarson to an available copy of Marco Polo.

Dear Mr. Thordarson,                           November 28, 1931

I have just received the following letter [from a contact] with regard to the Marco Polo:

    "You very kindly tried to sell my Marco Polo for me, but unfortunately we did not have any luck.  I am just wondering whether amongst your many wealthy friends interested in travel you could find a buyer.   As business is very slow just now I would be willing to take one thousand pounds for it.  It should be worth quite twice this amount in good times.  There are only two other copies recorded, both in London Museums."

You have seen the book.  If this hard times offer interests you, please let me handle it rather than your broker.  In any case, let me know prompt for I have two other collectors in mind.     S.  [Stefansson]

Thordarson responded and didn't hold back on his assessment of the book's condition or price:

My Dear Mr. Stefansson,                                      December 4, 1931

On my return to my office  yesterday from Rock Island, I found a letter from you dated November 28 regarding Marco Polo's book.

Does it not seem strange to you that this book has been going begging now for over two years, in which time, it has been sent two or three times to America?  The reason is obvious.  It was not worth the price the owner asked for it.  [About $3500 was asked.]

In about two months from now there will be a sale of very rare books, one of them is the first edition of Marco Polo.  This book has been described to me as a very splendid tall copy.  There is no question that your book seller is very well familiar with this fact and, naturally, most anxious  to get rid of his copy before the sale.

In view of the present poor business outlook, I would not be justified in bidding at any price at that sale.  It will, undoubtedly, be sold very cheap, probably very much below $3500.

I expect to be in New York City in about ten days and then I would like very much to have the pleasure of meeting you.

We can assume (but don't know) if the two men got together in New York.  There is no evidence that Stefansson ever visited Rock Island, or if he visited Thordarson in Chicago, for that matter.

After receiving a similar, direct reply from Thordarson in 1933 without a hint of 'thanks', Stefansson sent this note to Thordarson:  "I know there must be some misunderstanding and on account of my intermediary relation I hope you will tell me what it is."

Sir George Hubert Wilkins, Arctic explorer,
photographer, first to fly over the Polar ice cap,
leader of first submarine polar expedition.

There are a number of photos, from internet sources, that I've reprinted here, both of Stefansson and of George Wilkins.  (Sorry, but I do not have the photo credits.)  These photos depict a very hardy explorer in Stefansson, and of two men who left a major mark in Arctic exploration.  Both were widely recognized in their day for their achievements.

Stefansson, in excellent company:  Orville Wright, Amelia Earhart
and Henry Sperry, inventor of the gyro compass.
Wilkins renamed his submarine "Nautilus" despite the
controversy over whether his distant forbear Bishop Wilkins
had been the originator of the concept, and not
Jules Verne.

One last item that is related by general topic "Arctic" to Stefansson and to Wilkins:  The Washington Island Literary Festival 2015 will have as its featured guest the author Hampton Sides whose best selling non-fiction history is titled, "A Kingdom of Ice."

This book is about an earlier Arctic expedition, and the struggles of its members to survive.  Sides provides great historical background on why men undertook such risky ventures (we might even say "hair-brained" risks, given the misunderstandings of the times about the Arctic region).   Anyone interested in action, adventure, expeditionary history and tales of polar discovery will enjoy reading Hampton Sides' best seller in preparation for the 2015 Island Lit Fest.

The dates for this year's Island Literary Festival have been moved to:   September 18-19-20.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Among the many men who corresponded with Thordarson over a period of several decades was Hjalmar Rued Holand.

Holand was born in Norway, October 20, 1872.   His last name comes from a farming area known as Holand (with an umlaut over the "o"), in a lower part of a valley slope known as Nedre Rued (Nether Rued).   He emigrated to America in 1884 with a sister, Helen, to Chicago.

He entered University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a BA and an MA (1898 and 1899).  As a young man with a history degree, he bicycled to Door County.  Based on his pleasant experiences there, he soon purchased land, creating a small farm on rocky acreage in what is now Peninsula State Park.  He remained an Ephraim resident the rest of his life.

Holand distinguished himself locally by writing the two-volume History of Door County, published in 1917.  He served as president of the Door County Historical Society and was also active at the state level, too.

The pages of my book, Thordarson and Rock Island, begin with several paragraphs from Holand's paper titled, "A Forgotten Community:  A Record of Rock Island, the Threshold of Wisconsin," published by the Wisconsin State Historical Society in 1916.

Holand was a prolific researcher and writer, with many book titles to his credit:
   History of the Norwegian Immigration, 1908
   History of Door County, Wisconsin, 1917
   Old Peninsula Days, 1925  (many editions)
   Coon Prairie, 1927
   Coon Valley, 1928
   The Last Migration, 1930
   Wisconsin's Belgian Community, 1931
   The Kensington Stone, 1932
   Westward From Vineland, 1940
   America 1355-1364, 1946
   Explorations in America Before Columbus, 1956

It's clear from the above titles alone that Holand's interest ranged wider in scope than Door County.  Much of his life he pursued the question of origin and authenticity of the Kensington Stone and the possibility of Norse presence in pre-European America.  The Kensington Stone was discovered by a Minnesota farmer, Olof Ohman, a Swede, in 1898, and it was touted as one of the most important discoveries of its time.  However, the stone's authenticity was challenged and discredited by certain experts.

In 1908, Holand took up the argument that it was authentic, and the stone came into his possession for a time, during which he went to great lengths to prove its validity.  (Including a trip to Norway to compare it with other stones with runic inscriptions.)  His defense of the stone extended to other artifacts and signs that had been discovered in the same general area of Minnesota, and also archeological discoveries in Vineland.  One side story to the Kensington Stone debate was that Holand "took" the stone from the poor farmer Ohmann, and that grant had been intended only for research, to eventually turn it over to the Minnesota Norwegian Historical Society, rather than to become, or be treated as, Holand's personal property.

His books, and I must say his arguments, are intriguing even if other researchers may not consider them air tight.   Holand brings forth many supporting artifacts and connections.  An interesting 69-minute video on this topic can be viewed online.  Search:   1362 Enigma documentary of the Vikings Arrival in Kensington   

It was Holand's idea to erect a totem pole on the Peninsula State Park property in order to memorialize the woodland Indians for their way of life prior to white settlement.  Pottawatomie Chief Simon Kakquados helped dedicate this totem pole, and he was buried a few years later alongside the pole on the edge of what by then had become a new golf course.  This historical and cultural monument was erected, despite the fact that totem poles were commonplace in the northwest, but not on the Great Lakes area.

Holand, from his book
"My First Eighty Years"

As Holand turned 90 years of age, a piece was written in the Door County Advocate by David Stevens:

"With a friendly aid from Supt. Doolittle, Holand saw a pine that had been lightly blasted by lightning and taken down.  Its 44 feet of timber were then to be carved by C. M. LeSaar on lines of drawings made by Vida Weborg, and then painted with care by use of primitive color mixtures.  The totem pole was dedicated on August 14, 1927.  Later, at its base, was placed the marker of the friendly chief of his tribe who had shared the days of dedication with his own people and the crowd of visitors.

"The total task of creating this memorial to Indian life and the making of Chief Simon Kakquados perpetually a part of local history, by virtue of burial beside the totem pole, constitutes the most signal act for history that Holand performed, almost singlehanded.  The start of the ceremonies was as taxing and important as the creative work itself.  At dusk, on the day before the dedicatory ceremonies, trucks loaded with 53 Indians appeared at the Holand home south of the park.  They had ridden impassively all the way from Forest County and were to be fed and housed.  Pitching a hayrack full of hay from his barn, Holand then led the way down Chrystal Spring Road to a building in the Park that was to be their community shelter for two nights.  He then carried out his agreements with the seven Ephraim hotels that had agreed to furnish in turn the seven meals required, free of charge, as their contribution to the gala day."

Holand died August 8, 1963 of "old age complications," according to his obituary titled, "Runestone Reader Dies."  

 "Curiosity about the discovery of America, and nonconformity in standing his ground, brought Holand this disputed fame.  Chief encyclopedias mention neither his name nor his stone.  Holand said he "spent 50 years and many thousands of dollars in travel, studying and writing to get to the bottom of the mystery."

A chapter from my book titled "Contemporaries in Door County" includes letters between Holand and Thordarson, at times a fairly regular correspondence.  Each man was driven by his curiosity for local history.  Thordarson was more specifically interested in the pre-European history of Rock Island.

In his letter to Holand of April 1, 1920, Thordarson wrote that he had become a lifetime member of the Wisconsin Historical Society, and he noted that "I believe you and I are the only two members of the Wisconsin Historical Society in Door County, which is a small record for Door County...  I have an album, an extra copy, of pictures of Rock Island taken about ten years ago that I wish to give you."

That album, a gift of Rock Island photos taken around 1914 when Thordarson had just begun renovating old pioneer structures, found its way just a few years ago, after passing through several hands, to the Washington Island Archives.  Holand so enjoyed and admired Thordarson's photos, he exclaimed,  "You certainly had a fine camera."

In May of 1920, Thordarson wrote to say he was mailing several Norse-related volumes to Holand.  One was a catalog of Vineland literature:

"My Islandic library is, next to Cornell, the largest Islandic library in this country and for fine bindings it is the finest that can be found anywhere.  As soon as I have a chance, I intend to send those books to Rock Island and erect a library there, as we are here too crowded for space."  Thordarson closed his letter with, "Hoping to have the pleasure of meeting you some time this summer…"

With their interest in local history in common, the years passed and the two continued to correspond, with Holand making arrangements on several occasions to bring Door County Historical Society members to visit Rock Island.

Despite their apparent friendliness and support of one another, on one occasion Thordarson seemed too preoccupied to show Holand the courtesy of simply writing a check, clearing any obligations he had made for the receipt of a box containing Holand's newest book, Old Peninsula Days, published in 1925.

Holand wrote that he was "scratching in every direction trying to raise enough money to pay my printing bill…I am obliged to write you to ask if you will kindly remit the amount of your bill - $130 - without delay."

Thordarson responded, "I am herewith sending you my personal check for one hundred and thirty dollars… I can only use about twenty of these books as presentation copies to my friends.  The rest I will have to dispose of by selling them to someone."

This tone was not uncharacteristic of Thordarson, and it is one of the reasons why I hesitate to use the word "friends" when describing such relationships, a word connoting warmth over "acquaintance."

Access to Thordarson's Norse library would have been helpful to Holand, although we can suppose Holand had his own sources for independent  research.   But about Thordarson's personal opinion regarding the Kensington Stone?   He was asked this by Eugene McDonald, Zenith Company president and one who was also quite interested in history of early North America.

Pages from Holand's "Explorations" book
show sampling of artifacts used to support
his belief in Norse presence in the 1360s
in Minnesota.

On Sept. 30, 1932, McDonald mailed Thordarson a clipping from the Chicago Sunday Times about the Kensington Stone, and he asked Thordarson, "I recall that the last time I talked with you, you still believed the Kensington Stone was not real.   As I recall, one reason you gave for your statement was that  there was a modern runic letter used.  Do you still feel the same way?"

The manner in which each runic character was made, and the phrases that were translated, put off other experts, too, men who were critical in their dismissal of the stone being real and not a fake.   Of course, Holand supplies a considerable defense of his own defending the validity of the stone, including the runic characters used, and several of his books provide platform for his arguments.

Because of his overall credibility established over a very long career, Holand has earned esteem among local and state historians.  He was an individual whose traits and interests were aligned in many ways with Thordarson.  At the very least, Holand's books make for entertaining and informative reading.

The Sons of Norway Lodge of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, is named the H. R. Holand Lodge.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, November 27, 2014


C. H. Thordarson - an early
portrait (perhaps in his thirties).

Washington Island, Wisconsin -


This blog may be the first of three (we'll see how the time goes) regarding acquaintances of C. H. Thordarson.  I've given several presentations in the past year about Thordarson, and a part of my pitch is that despite the men of greater familiarity, and we might even say, notoriety, who associated with Thordarson, there were also many figures of the day who were equally important, and perhaps more significant in their lifetime achievements than, say, Chicago's Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson, or Sport Herrmann who at one period or another were acquaintances of Thordarson.

Of course, life is not a contest to see who is greatest, or who's name carries the most impressive legacy today.  Each man must be judged on his own merits.

But as an example, if the politician and glad-hander Thompson could have even suggested burning library books that were British in origin, as he professed in 1927 - even though it may have been only a statement to obtain publicity - how could such behavior we might consider almost barbaric and boorish have sat with bibliophile Thordarson?  How could Thordarson have been attracted to Thompson in the first place to such a degree that he offered to build a cabin for him on his otherwise very private Rock Island, a promise that came apparently after just one weekend's visit  - at no cost to Thompson, his to use for life, for Big Bill and his friends to enjoy as they wished?   Could that have been the same Thordarson, the private, thoughtful man who guarded his estate carefully from trespassers, and who when in company of others still kept a notebook handy to record his stream of private, creative thoughts?

The basis for Thordarson's friendships seemed to stem from the ideas and information others could supply him.  Social companionship, friends just for fun, didn't seem all that important to a man engaged in too many other activities to divide his time.   For that reason, perhaps, a genuine admiration for Thordarson's accomplishments, including his scientific prowess with electricity and his widely admired collection of books, and appreciation for his unique Rock Island estate, a subtle massaging of his ego,  may have succeeded in such friendships.

Well, there were many other figures besides Thompson, Herrmann and McDonald - that tight group of Chicago friends - who also drew near to Thordarson through socializing or by correspondence.  These men were often people representing academia, professors or experts in their fields who could relate to Thordarson and his natural and earned gifts on several levels.

I'd like to outline three such men.  During the time I researched and wrote about Thordarson, the names of these individuals didn't stand out.  In fact, I was quite unaware of their range of accomplishments until I did a bit more digging.  But I came away thinking that these men would have been a closer fit as friends and acquaintances of Thordarson's.   But that's bias on my part, thinking this is how it should have been, and it is not supported one way or another by the record of Thordarson letters and documents.

*    *   *   *

John Paul Goode

J. Paul Goode was born in Stewartville, Minnesota, in 1862.  (CHT was born in 1867 in Iceland.)  He was well educated, teaching for a time in Minnesota after his initial degree before receiving his doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1903.  He later moved to Chicago where he joined the University of Chicago faculty.  He was a geographer and cartographer, but he combined those interests with his expertise in economics to, among other things, make the pages of an atlas come alive with facts and information.

Many readers may recall using the Goode Atlas in school, first published by Rand McNally in 1923 as Goode's School Atlas, and still published today as Goode's World Atlas, now in its 22nd edition.  Pages and maps are jammed with useful information about demographics: population, production, weather, crops, religion, etc.

Goode disliked the Mercator projection so much that he was encouraged to devise a combination of the holographic and sinusoidal projections, calling it "Homolosine."  (Do you recall using those "orange peel" Mercator maps in grade school, where Greenland was twice as large in scale as North America?)

You will see Goode's Homolosine maps used on many - but not all - pages of the Goode World Atlas.  I learned there are actually several versions of the Goode Atlas now available:  the Goode World Atlas; the Goode Atlas of Physical Geography; and the Goode Atlas of Human Geography.

We find Goode's name on the report to the Chicago Harbor Commission, published in 1909.  A number of noteworthy suggestions were made by this committee that cited, above all, the need for and the elements required for a good harbor.  Chicago's prime location as a commercial, industrial center with both rail and water connections was noted, along with the need for good bridges and piers.  One of the Harbor Commission's recommendations: "The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is intended to form a link in the Lakes-to-Gulf Waterway.  When that waterway is completed the question of a satisfactory outlet to Lake Michigan will become important."

The Commission's report also recommended "securing to the people both a necessity and a wisdom."   Up to this point, the waterfront was controlled and used, primarily, by industry and the railroads.  Perhaps it was this committee suggestion that was responsible for turning around the Chicago lakefront as public space with parks and pavilions.

Goode had a highly esteemed and respected career as teacher, author and lecturer.

During the early 1930's, he was involved in an organization called the Gathmys Research corporation, based in Chicago, of which Thordarson was named a director.  Other directors were Chicago industry giants of the day, or fellow academics of Goode's with special areas of expertise.  According to a paper authored by Samuel L. Madorsky (published in the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry journal, January 1931), it was J. Paul Goode who, while traveling through Norway,  "conceived of the idea of utilizing the water-power resources of Norway to produce electrolytic hydrogen and then to apply this hydrogen in the reduction of Swedish ores which are not far from the water-power sources."  Upon his return to the U. S., Goode then organized the Gathmys Research Corporation, and the author, Madorsky, was employed to research the feasibility of producing " one step a good grade of iron from ordinary iron ore, using hydrogen and other gases as reducing agents."  (Several related exchanges in correspondence originating from the Gathmys Research group were reprinted in Thordarson and Rock Island.)

The sole early example of correspondence between Thordarson and Goode reflected a highly social quality to their relationship, something not often found among Thordarson's other correspondents.   It appears that at least for awhile that both of the Thordarson's, C. H. and his wife, Juliana, were close friends with the Goodes.

The earliest records of guests on Rock Island is the letter written by Goode who effusively thanked his host for a wonderful time.   Though accommodations may have been quite primitive, given the fact Thordarson may have just gotten started with his renovation of early pioneer structures along the east side of the island, Goode was clearly impressed.  He extends an invitation to Thordarson to visit him while his wife is away in Minnesota.

In a box of old Thordarson photos were B & W snapshots of the Goode cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan, large sand dunes surrounding it, and the caption of one identifies Mrs. Goode sitting in what appears to be a screened porch.  We can't know who took the photo, but the photo and caption further indicate friendship between the Goodes and Thordarsons, an apparent familiarity implied with the exchange of cottage photos. We might even surmise the Thordarsons were their cottage guests.

Caption on reverse says:  "Mrs. Goode in the 'Den'
at Crowesnest - 1919"
Caption on reverse says:
"Bungalow of Mr. and Mrs.
J. P. Goode at Little Point Sable,
Mich.  1919

Following is the letter written from Goode to Thordarson (also reprinted in my book, Thordarson and Rock Island, 2013):

The University of Chicago, Dept. of Geography                 August 24, 1914
J. Paul Goode
Economic Geography, Cartography

My dear Mr. Thordarson,

I saw Dr. Caldwell Saturday and he told me you had gone again to the "Enchanted Island".  So I am addressing you there, and giving myself the pleasure of enclosing some of the photos I won in my glorious vacation there.  Some of them are not so good as they should be, and there are not nearly so many of them as I wish there were.  But was ever there a vacation without a flaw?  Hereafter I'll have a vest pocket Kodak so I can take snaps on such a rare ride as we made across the strait that Sunday eve!

I remember with the greatest pleasure every nook and corner of that glorious Island and the generous hospitality of the "Laird of O'Pottowatomie" and his fair Layde.   -  Even the riotous night of storm and stress with the ghost in the haunted house.  When we are all back from vacation I want to have a reunion of the three families.  I recall many pleasures of the Enchanted Isle.

My wife and boy have gone to Crookston, Minn - Mrs. Goode's old home - for their vacation - and I'm all alone in the house.  When you get back you must call me up.

Best regards to you all   J. P. Goode

There are only a very few pieces of correspondence between the two men existing, and so we have no idea of how close they remained through the years.  These two men, apparently well suited to one another, each became extremely busy in their own lives and careers.

Part II will feature noted Door County and nationally known historian, Hjalmar R. Holand.

 - Dick Purinton

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Young riders on their Icelandic mounts at a Field Wood
Farm show.  From L to R:
Erika Johnson, Heather Young, Evy Purinton and
Alex Trueblood.  Year unknown.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Note:   Last week we received in our mail the Winter 2014/2015 issue of Door County Living.  If you live in Door County and read your copy, I hope your reaction was as positive as mine.  (Copies are available - at no charge - at several county travel information outlets.)

Four separate pieces featured Washington Island.  The first three ran back-to-back for impact.  The four stories were:  “The Icelanders – A Settlement of Singular Significance,” by Stephen R. Grutzmacher;  “A Marvelous Legacy to Wisconsin – Thordarson’s Boathouse,” by Patty Williamson, PH. D.;  “Island Icelandics – 50 Years of Icelandic Horses,” by Richard Purinton; and featured separately, “How Washington Island Got Its Name,” by Jim Lundstrom.  

These features effectively connected Washington Island and its Icelandic heritage in a straightforward presentation of local history and cultural ties.  It was a refreshing change from the promotional journalism that most often appears in such magazines.  Graphics were also well done, using the distinctive Icelandic flag design overlaying Rock, Washington and Detroit Islands, the red, white and blue in constrast against the black and white historical photos shown.

Because of magazine space limitations, my story about Icelandic horses used only a portion of the text and photos I assembled.  For that reason, I’m devoting several blogs on this topic. 

Although I worked from a file of clippings, notes and letters gathered by Mary and Arni Richter, I relied heavily on Laurie Veness to help verify fine points and to fill in gaps.  Laurie, in addition to being a devoted lover of Icelandic horses, also keeps files – both written and in memory - of the Icelandic horses introduced here and their offspring.  

Laurie answered my questions, occasionally with long and detailed answers.   I also needed to take photos, and for this activity she directed me so that I stood in an optimum spot to capture her horses, one of them as it bolted across the pasture.

The Icelandic Horse and Washington Island

Icelandic horses are on Washington Island today, in part, due to a winter’s party held nearly 50 years ago at the home of Arni and Mary Richter.   Whether attendees at this party had previously discussed the notion of owning Icelandic horses isn’t known – there was advanced footwork done to determine source and price – but it appears that agreement on that occasion launched the venture in obtaining Icelandic horses.

Earlier, perhaps in the fall as her college courses got underway, Estelle Richter,  one of the Richter twins, discussed Icelandic horses with a girl in her school dorm.  By chance, this young woman’s father owned Icelandic horses in Maryland.   Samuel Ashelman, Jr. of Ashton, Maryland, had imported 13 non-related mares and one stallion from Iceland in 1960, for the purpose of breeding them and for trail rides.

Pedigree paper believed to be for one of the
original Island Icelandic horses.

Ashelman wrote to Richter on January 3, 1965 –
“Dear Mr. Richter:  My daughter Siri tells me that your daughter wrote asking information about our Icelandic ponies, saying you might be interested in 10 or so. 
“We have about 45 in our herd.  In 1960 I brought in twelve mares and a stallion but we lost three mares.  Out of the original group we have a stallion not related to the original stud and are now just expecting our first foals sired by him.  To date, we have, as a policy, not sold any foals (except for two who got hurt and were not as good as the rest) as I have wanted to build up the herd.   Icelandic ponies have gotten some publicity in the Eastern Sunday newspapers, and I felt they would be a drawing attraction at a summer recreation place we are developing in the mountains of W. Va.  This next summer I plan to run pack camping trips and got a very positive response from some of the outdoor writers who have promised to do feature stories in the major newspapers.
 “I think we are in a position that we could sell some of the foals this Spring.  I would prefer to sell some of last Spring’s foals or some from the year before.  As to prices, I have no idea what would be fair and would like to know what you would expect to pay.  To import would cost about $350 plus $100 quarantine etc. charges, and a lot of trouble and some danger of losing some in shipment.
“We found the ponies a lot of fun, very good disposition, excellent for teen agers and strong enough to carry a full grown adult.  Enclosed is a folder about them.  I can send you some pictures, if you like.  They are easy to train.  Most of our older ones have been ridden but the younger ones would need some working.  Let us know what you are planning to do and what your project is.  I hope we can meet.  Looking forward to hearing from you.” – Sam Ashelman

Richter responded Jan. 14, 1965:
“Dear Mr. Ashelman – Received your letter of Jan. 3rd and was happy to learn about your Icelandic ponies.  A small group on the Island became interested in these ponies last year and we have had considerable correspondence with the Icelandic Pony Club and Registry in Greeley, Colo.
“We are thinking seriously of purchasing ten ponies and build a small herd.  Eventually we would have a riding stable. Washington Island is becoming a very popular tourist center and we feel there would be a good demand for this service.  Washington Island had the first Icelandic settlement in the United States.  Therefore we feel it would be most fitting and interesting to have these ponies.  My grandfather was one of the first Icelanders to migrate to Washington Island.  His name was Arni Gudmundsen.
“My daughter Estelle was quite excited when she learned from your daughter that you were raising these ponies. She has always loved horses and is looking forward to the time when we may raise them too.
“Mrs. Richter and I are planning a trip East some time in Feb. and would like very much to stop by and meet your and see your herd.”
The Island group voted to move ahead, and a deal was made with Ashelman.   On June 23, 1965, Richter sent a check for $2560.00 “for the eight mares (all with foal, I hope). I am sure that the truck driver will find the island O.K. if he has a Wisconsin road map.  Tell him to call me from Sturgeon Bay (my phone number is 40-2).  Does he have insurance covering the horses in route?”

Arni Richter feeding horses.
(about 1966)

After their arrival - the trucking bill was $400.00 - The Door County Advocate Island Correspondent, Sarah Magnusson, wrote a story titled, “Hardy Icelandic Ponies are Thriving on Washington Island”:

“On a zero degree moonlight night in January I glanced out my kitchen window to see a dark blot against the white snow.  On closer inspection it proved to be an Icelandic pony.  I switched on the yard light and discovered that it was red with white in its face.  It was pawing down through the deep snow to get the dead grass. Wandering around day or night seems to be a characteristic of the Icelandic ponies.  Also, they are extremely hardy, and will go into a warm barn to eat, then sleep outdoors in the snow.” 
Sarah described the horses: 
“All were pedigreed, and the original pedigrees passed on to each individual buyer. Most of the ponies have Icelandic names, such as:  Elding (which is red and means flame in Icelandic), Hrefna (black), Naela (star in forhead, red with white feet), Thordur (called Sam), Kari, Bjorn, Groa, Loki (one of the Gods), Trygve, LIff and Ula.  The latter two are Arni’s colts.
“There are now 24 ponies on the Island, and there are several new owners.  Out of seven originals, each mare has had three colts, and all are expecting.  Most of the male ponies are geldings, Sam being the only stallion, and he is not related to any of the mares.  He is owned by Kathy Anderson.
“Icelandic ponies are docile, love people and attention, and are easy to train, say their owners.  Some of the children who now own them have taught them tricks like shaking hands, rolling over, and getting down on their knees.  The ponies become so attached to their young owners that they will stand by the beach while the children go swimming, or will stand by a frozen pond while the children go sliding or skating.”

Children’s book:   Bylur

Evy (Purinton) with Bylur, about 1985.

It was just such friendly and docile characteristics exhibited by her Icelandic horse, Bylur, that our daughter, Evy, described in her book, “Bylur, the Icelandic Horse.”  In the years she grew up with her horse, there were few outdoor activities in which her horse was not a part, including ice cream at the Albatross Drive-In.

Now, many years after losing Bylur to old age, Evy is excited to have Blitzen, another Icelandic, also pure white in color.

Recently, Connie Essig passed along to us at the Island Bayou Press unsold copies of Evy’s book, which was published in 1996.   The illustrations by Shea Ryan capture an idyllic island childhood, with horse and owner engaged in a variety of Island activities.  This book is now listed on my website, alongside books I’ve written. ( See ) 

Learning about Icelandic horses

In order to learn more about Icelandic horses I contacted Laurie Veness of Field Wood Farm, near West Harbor.  Laurie is a knowledgeable horsewoman who first came upon Icelandics when visiting Washington Island as a teenager, and she admits she was drawn to them.  An absence from them made her realize how great a ride Icelandics were in contrast to quarter horses and other breeds she’d worked with.  From 1971 to the present, then, Veness has owned, trained and bred Icelandics.   Her command of the various Icelandics’ names, lineages, and traits is impressive.

At one time she had as many as 44 Icelandic horses, offering trail rides and lessons.  Our daughter Evy was one of those young Island girls who became infatuated with horses at Field Wood Farm, learning all facets of care, including feeding and the cleaning of stalls, in exchange for the opportunity to ride.  

Star (Stjarna), a 38 year old mare at Field Wood Farm.

Today, Laurie's farm has 14 horses, and the facilities are rather run down and in need of repair.  

A first time visitor who might bring with them a child for the purpose of taking a trail ride, Laurie’s lane, home and barn emit a Ma-and-Pa-Kettle, helter-skelter ambience.  But I found myself attracted to the disarray, anxious see what lay around the next corner.  

The present state of her farm isn’t a reflection on Laurie’s inattentiveness, but rather her physical inability to do the work necessary following two debilitating auto accidents several years ago.  There are days she finds it difficult just getting from house to stable, much less performing the daunting chores necessary to maintain fences, gates and buildings.  I was pleased for that reason to be invited to spend some time with Laurie learning about her horses and Icelandics in general, to see her horses and photograph them.   

Laurie Veness with her companion.

Laurie is a smart, well educated woman, and she knows her subject matter.   She is also bold to tell anyone – including me – her ideas based on her storehouse of knowledge.  But when it comes to horses, at least her Icelandics and their offspring, her knowledge is considerable and quite complete.  

Her interest goes back to her childhood.

“I can never remember not being interested in horses,” Laurie said. “I rode my first Icelandic, Freya, owned by Cathy Newman, who was Pearl Haglund’s granddaughter.”  

But it was absence from the island and from riding Icelandics - including several years at SUNY, where she earned an associate degree in Animal Science, majoring in Horse Science - that deepened Laurie's respect for this breed.

One of the more interesting features I learned from Laurie about Icelandics - besides the fact they have several gaits unique to the breed that provide a smooth, even ride – has to do with their thick, warm coats.  I remembered how thick Bylur’s coat had been, even in summer, and his distinctive flowing mane and tail. 

Laurie described three different coat hairs that grow in to protect the horse from Icelandic weather that often includes wet, blowing snow.  “They have a 4-6 inch winter coat with down underlying it, which is the last to shed.  And there are guard hairs, up to 12 inches long, stiffer and shinier, that shed water.  If you put one of my guys in the barn right now [this was August], you would overheat them.”  
Snow and ice build up on the longer hairs and provide a protective shell for the horse, preserving body heat.  This can be seen most dramatically in the tail, a growth of longer hairs which Laurie described as a “caudal disk.”  With their backs against the freezing wind, their long tail hairs fan out in the breeze, collecting snow and ice and forming a windbreak of sorts.

Although there wasn't wind or snow on
this day, the caudal, or tail, fans out and
encrusts with ice and snow,
protecting the horse from cold winds.

The Icelandic horse - and not a pony, according to Laurie - is considered a purebred developed over centuries in the fields and mountains of Iceland.  At least in modern times, no other horses are permitted to be imported.  And once an Icelandic horse is exported, it may not reenter the island.  This is to keep the breed pure, but also to protect the native horses from disease.  Even riding boots and gear worn outside of Iceland is prohibited, unless such items are brand new and haven’t been used.

Rose, galloping across the field at Field Wood Farm in August.

These Icelandic horses are exceedingly sure footed, bred for rocky, volcanic ground that is commonplace in Iceland, and they carry more weight than a typical horse of their size.   An Icelandic can carry the weight of a horse half again as large, and they require less in return, living off sparse Icelandic pastureland and preferring the outdoors. 

Other Current Island owners

Besides Field Wood Farm, Jerry and Mary Ann Meiers own several Icelandic horses – one is a gelding and one a mare, half-brother and sister - as well as other horses of related Scandinavian breeds.  

Mary Ann Meiers of Norse Horse Farm with their Icelandic mare.

The Meiers bought their Icelandics from a farm in Iowa (prices start at around $8,000 each, Jerry said).
From his research, Meiers said that centuries ago, perhaps as early as 900, the Icelandics derived from the Dole horse and the Fjord horse (both are light Norwegian draft horses), and also the Russ or Gotland horse (from the Swedish island of Gotland.)
Norwegian horses have the same easy temperament as the Icelandics, Jerry said, although in his stable's pecking order it is the small Icelandic mare that dictates who comes in the barn, and who eats first.

The Meiers keep other animals, too, such as Icelandic sheep, Finnish sheep, and Swedish chickens.  Their intent is to show visitors the variety of Scandinavian livestock available, hence their farm’s name:  Norse Horse Park.   They do not breed their horses, and they do not offer trail rides.  Their farm is meant to be an educational experience.  This year their farm was closed, but they hope to reopen to the public again in 2015. 

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, November 13, 2014


James Gau    (Feb. 5, 1928 - Oct. 28, 2014)

The following story was written in 2013 following an interview with James Gau at his home near the southern shore of Little Lake, where he and his wife, Marilyn, retired after teaching careers.   The impetus behind the story was Jim's participation in an honor flight, but also his known fragile health.   I asked if I could take several photos of Jim, and one then taken outdoors captured Jim smiling -  not that smiling was unusual for Jim.   He often smiled as he exchanged pleasantries at the Island post office, store or Ferry Line package counter.  But mostly, at least as I knew him, Jim's face appeared serious and determined.  

With his illness giving him a defined, short time to live, he moved to his daughter's home in Arkansas where he passed away October 28.  A graveside service will be held on the Island at a later date.  

With the recent Veterans Day in mind, the piece that appeared in a November issue of last year's Island Observer is reprinted below.  

Island Honor Flight Veteran Jim Gau 
By Dick Purinton

Island World War II navy veteran Jim Gau participated this past June in a special Honor Flight out of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Specially chartered flights to our nation’s capitol are arranged for veteran guests at no charge. Their day is filled with planned activities designed both to allow them the opportunity to view national monuments firsthand, and also to honor their military service by a showing of thanks.

Born and raised in DeKalb, Ill., Gau was motivated to join the service when he was still a young student. He recalled attending classes at a nearby teacher’s college while still in high school, believing it would help prepare him for the military. He earned sufficient high school credits for an early graduation and then joined up at age 17 under his father’s signature of permission.  His father, also named James, was an army veteran of WWI who tried to re-up when the United States entered WWII, but he was refused because he was too old.

In 1944 Gau attended boot camp in California, but he returned to the Great Lakes Naval Base near Chicago for basic diesel and advanced diesel classes. The knowledge he gained in his rate was so thorough that for a time that he was held back as an instructor at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, rather than being allowed to transfer into submarines, his desired area of service.

Eventually, Gau served aboard the Pomfert, one of several dozen submarines built by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company for the war effort. When the war ended, and in his last month of active duty, Gau was assigned to help decommission ships in Apra Harbor, Guam, and for a time he guarded Japanese POWs.

Looking over momentos from his
Honor Flight trip.

Upon discharge from active duty he pursued a teaching career, but Gau continued in the naval reserve for approximately ten years. Then in 1980, following a career in teaching and school administration, he and his wife, Marilyn, who also taught, moved into their new Island home near Little Lake. They enjoyed many seasons of retirement together, surrounded by nature, before Marilyn passed away in March 2012.

“I had a call one day in April, from someone I didn’t know, who asked if my military service number was 301831. You never forget your service number, “ Gau said. “She told me they were holding a seat for me on an Honor Flight.”

Although he was unable to accept the first suggested flight date, “she kept me on the list.” Gau was then rescheduled for the June Honor Flight.

Gau recalled that morning, when he and the other WWII veterans gathered at the Appleton airport. He had spent the night in a nearby Appleton hotel where approximately 40 other out-of-town veterans also stayed. It was a short night’s sleep with an “early reveille,” he said, before their bus ride to board the 5:30 a. m. flight. 

The sense of welcome for the WWII veterans was already in the air at that early dawn hour, an atmosphere that followed his group throughout the day. When their bus arrived at the Appleton airport, they were greeted by well-wishers, a crowd of young and old that included uniformed Army personnel. They each received an Honor Flight tee-shirt and met their personal flight guardian. Cathy Konen, an Appleton resident, introduced herself to Gau, and she remained by his side throughout the day until their plane returned that evening. The pilot greeted the veterans, welcoming them aboard before taking off, and once in the air, they were served breakfast, then snacks. In all, his plane carried 98 WWII veterans, three of whom were women veterans who had served as military nurses, plus the guardians.

Their arrival in Washington, D. C. later that morning was once again festive and patriotic. A military band played as they were ushered through airport corridors, and East coast greeters lined up to thank them for their service.

“Each time we got on or off the plane, there were crowds of people we didn’t know,” Gau said. “It was heartwarming.” 
Three large buses fitted with wheelchair lifts transported the veterans through the Capitol, circling slowly several monuments before parking near the World War II Memorial. A U. S. Army Drill Team performed precision maneuvers for their appreciative audience. 

Photos from the day’s activities were later assembled by Gau’s guardian as a momento of the flight. On the closing page of Jim Gau’s album was inscribed the following:

      It was an honor and a privilege to be your Guardian on the Old Glory Honor Flight. We had a wonderful day and I’m so happy I got to share it with you. I think we really had a great time!  God Bless - Cathy Konen, honor flight guardian

Before boarding their flight that morning, Gau had learned that Konen’s husband was a cancer patient. He asked if she didn’t need to stay home to assist her husband, instead. 

“He insists that I go, that I do this,” she replied.   Konen and other guardians have flown many times, whenever an honor flight allows them the opportunity to serve veterans.

   -  end -