Years ago my husband’s cousin, Erika Scott, told me that there is a mountain in Antarctica named after Julius Rosenwald. This was such a random bit of information that, I confess, I forgot about it. That is, until recently.
A visit to Antarctica was something my husband had always wanted to do and I, too, had a reason for being interested. In 1958, when he was first secretary at the U.S. embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, my father had the opportunity to visit Antarctica with a scientific team as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY or, as my friend who works for the Environmental Protection Agency refers to it, “Iggy”). I have vivid memories of the slide show Dad put together of his trip — the photo of the map my mother made showing McMurdo Sound and the Ross Sea Ice Shelf where the American teams were based, the shots of the Beardmore Glacier and Mount Erebus, pictures of Emperor penguins and the story of Amundsen and Scott and their race to see who would reach the South Pole first. I remember hearing with fascination that Admiral Scott did reach the Pole only to find the Norwegian flag flying there. His rival Roald Amundsen had reached the goal just a month earlier. Scott’s return trip was brutally difficult and he and 3 of his colleagues died of starvation and the cold, just short of their home base. Scott’s cabin is still standing and my father saw it. This was quite exciting to the 11 year old I was when I heard about it.
For my rather older self, the great adventure of our National Geographic-Linblad cruise began in Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina where we got on the ship. The Drake Passage that separates the tip of South America from the Antarctic peninsula lived up to its reputation as one of the roughest bodies of water in the world. Huge waves and swells washed across the bow of the ship and ropes appeared for passengers to hang onto as they walked around. Many of our fellow travelers were seasick. I escaped due to some combination of the Scopolamine patch that I wore behind my right ear, the anti-nausea bracelets I had bought in a drug store and the yoga exercises I do daily to improve my balance. I felt great and only missed one meal during the turbulence.
They call Antarctica “the White Continent” and our first sight of it showed us why. The rugged landscape is brilliantly white. There is no dirt there, just black volcanic rock, so the only thing that grows in Antarctica is yellowish lichen. The snow never melts and it never gets dirty. It just goes on and on, century after century, brilliantly white, covering an austere and empty land. There is life in Antarctica, to be sure, most of it close to the shore and involving penguins. We became adept at telling Chinstraps from Gentoos from Adelies. I remembered about the three foot high Emperor penguins but discovered that they only live further south and so, sadly, were not for us to see.
David loved the fact that our ship had an “open bridge” policy meaning that any time we wanted we could go to the bridge and watch the captain and crew at work steering the ship. They had extra sets of good binoculars there so it was also a great vantage point for seeing the icebergs that surrounded us and viewing the whales who occasionally surfaced nearby. They also had maps, charts and lots of books. It was there that I chanced upon one called Geographic Names of the Antarctic. And that’s when I remembered about Mount Rosenwald. Here’s what I found:
Mount Rosenwald, 85 degrees 04′ South, 179 degrees 06′ West
A spectacular mountain 3,450 meters, which forms a distinctive landmark between the heads of the Baldwin and Gallup glaciers in the Queen Maud Mountains. The mountain is entirely snow covered on the SouthWest side but had nearly vertical exposed rock cliffs on the NorthEast side. Discovered and photographed by Rear Admiral Richard Byrd on the South Pole flight of November 1929. Named by Byrd for Julius Rosenwald of Chicago, a contributor to the Byrd Antarctic Expedition of 1929-30 and 1933-35.
My friend, filmmaker Aviva Kempner, whose documentary about JR will debut in late February at the Jewish Film Festival here in Washington, D.C., likes to say that “all roads lead to Rosenwald.” Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropy was imaginative and its impact is still being felt. Many times I have found this to be true as I discovered connections between Rosenwald’s programs — the schools, fellowships and, I now know, scientific work that he funded — and things and people that are important today. It never occurred to me, though, that one of those roads would lead to the Antarctic! I will see what more I can find out about his interest in exploration and his relationship with Richard Byrd.