BY CHARLOTTE BRUCE HARVEY
GARY W. GILBERT
the 11th of July 1954, the MONTE CARLO, a rented scallop
dragger out of Falmouth, Massachusetts, set sail from Portland,
Maine, with a crew of 11. She was headed for the North Magnetic
Pole, somewhere on Prince of Wales Island, a barren 20,000-square-mile
mass deep within Arctic Canada's labyrinth of islands and ice. The
skipper, a New York lawyer named Wilber E. Dow, Jr., had financed
and planned the expedition himself. A veteran sailor--he'd gone
to sea at 15--Dow had a master mariner's license, permitting him
to sail anywhere in the world. He brought along another lawyer as
commanding officer and hired two experienced crew members --a cook
and an engineer--but most of the crew was young. Dow's 18-year-old
son, Bill, was second mate, and he in turn had invited several friends.
The Atomic Energy Commission contributed a "ship's scientist"
named Howard Smith "to keep tabs on us," as Bill Dow,
now in his 60s, recalls. It turned out that Smith had received his
bachelor's degree in geology from New York University just that
At the last minute, on the recommendation of friends in Boston,
the skipper approached a more seasoned geologist, 49-year-old Daniel
Linehan '27, a Boston College Jesuit who'd earned the moniker "earthquake
priest" for his discovery of the "T" phase, one of four types of
earthquake waves. Linehan was pioneering a hot new field called
seismic prospecting, which used the tools of seismology to determine
what lay beneath the earth's surface.
Linehan had a desk job: He'd founded BC's graduate program in geophysics,
and he directed both that and its seismological observatory, in
Weston, Massachusetts. But like Dow, he was an explorer at heart.
By the time of his death, in 1987, he would
have conducted research on all the world's continents and both poles--while
continuing to run the observatory and the geophysics program.
Dow approached Linehan on July 6, just five days before the ship
was to depart. By sailing time Linehan had wrangled permission from
the Jesuits and Boston College, and had rounded up the research
equipment he would need to locate the pole: a portable magnetometer
for measuring the magnetic field, and detonators, geophones, and
recording cameras for taking sound measurements. His cache of dynamite,
recalls Bill Dow, filled an entire hold (150 cases of Rheingold
beer filled another, courtesy of one boy's father, who ran the brewery).
Linehan had also borrowed from the Carnegie Institute a state-of-the-art
piece of equipment called an earth inductor that had cost $500,000
to design and build--this in 1954 dollars. Using the earth inductor,
he hoped to pin down the pole's location with unprecedented precision.
Dan Linehan's log of the Dow expedition now resides in the archives
of the Burns Library. It shares space with his journals from three
subsequent U.S. Navy expeditions to the Antarctic, during which
he measured and mapped the polar ice cap, and documents from UNESCO-sponsored
seismological missions in Africa, Asia, and South America. In folio-sized
scrapbooks he pasted photographs and news clippings describing his
journeys. An amateur photographer, Linehan left behind some 30,000
slides, mostly uncataloged.
Linehan was an aesthetic sort--his logs are filled with rapt descriptions
of light phenomena and musings on the glory of nature. In his Dow-expedition
diary, which he began on July 11, he describes, in a voice that
in retrospect sounds determinedly optimistic, how a rainbow had
crossed the sky as the expedition set sail late in the afternoon.
He was also, however, a realist. "Living conditions are crowded,"
he reported that day. "All of us sleep in the focsle which is also
the kitchen, dining room etc."
At 6 p.m., sitting on deck, he observed that the "cook is a bit
'potted' already." By 7:30, near Portland Lightship, he reported
that the boat was having engine trouble.
"Had supper--steaks burned."
The Monte Carlo was no steel-hulled icebreaker. Just 78 feet
in length and 23 feet across her beam, she was built of wood, with
a V-shaped hull that the skipper hoped would enable her to slide
up and free if squeezed by pack ice. Much later in life Linehan
would admit that his first glimpse of the boat gave him pause; the
history of polar exploration is rife with tales of bigger wooden
boats reduced to splinters in a matter of two or three minutes.
The notion of a North Magnetic Pole goes back at least to the 16th
century, when Europeans envisioned it as a magnetic mountain at
the top of the globe. Sir William Gilbert, physician to Queen Elizabeth
I, corrected that misconception around 1600, arguing that the earth
itself was a giant magnet, and demonstrating with a model of the
earth made of lodestone that a needle would stand on end at each
of the two poles.
In fact, the magnetic poles move constantly with currents in the
molten outer core of the earth, and that movement has pulled explorers
for centuries. The first European to map the North Magnetic Pole
definitively was James Clark Ross, nephew of the Arctic explorer
Sir John Ross, on June 1, 1831, at Cape Adelaide on the west of
Boothia Peninsula. In 1904 the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen
remapped the magnetic pole near the peninsula's northern tip. And
after World War II, Canadian scientists located the pole 155 miles
north and westward, near the northwestern-most coast of Prince of
Wales Island. That was generally agreed to be its location in 1954.
July 21, in the Labrador Sea, infamous for its rough waters, a storm
replaced the dense fog that had enveloped the trip's early days.
Waves crashed over the bow, leaking through the decks and into the
fo'c'sle, soaking the beds. "All of the boys were sick or woozy,"
"Howard Smith stood about an hour of watch, then went in to the
chart room and sat on [the] floor. Suddenly a whole shelf of books
came down and one of them opened a gash in his head. He bled like
fury. Ross [the engineer] took him to his bed, shaved his head,
and pulled the cut together with adhesive tape. Jesse [the cook]
acted as cook and nurse. But he didn't have too many to cook for."
That day, Linehan stood watch for 16 hours: 4 a.m. to 8 p.m., "with
the exception of meals and a 1Ú2 hr. sleep," he wrote. "Ross and
I made every meal, and the Skipper most of them." During the whole
expedition Linehan would report only one missed meal, and that when
the cook decided to fry up a seal's liver for lunch.
Monday, July 26, the Monte Carlo arrived in Disko Bay on
the west coast of Greenland, where more than 5,400 icebergs a year
The Greenlanders repeatedly warned the crew about the dangers of
the pack ice that lay ahead of them. "This has been a year of more
ice than usual," Linehan wrote, "and they doubt whether we shall
make it." But the next day the Monte Carlo headed back to
sea, following the coast north. On the 30th, on watch around 6:30
in the morning, Linehan got his first glimpse of pack ice under
a yellow haze: "The area must have been 2 miles square," he wrote.
After breakfast, Linehan reported, he'd been cutting the skipper's
hair when there was an explosion in the fo'c'sle. The cook had put
a can of fish in the oven and it blew up, tearing apart the bottom
of the oven and scattering soot on every surface of their living,
sleeping, and dining quarters. "No matter what you touched you came
away with black hands," Linehan wrote. "Add to that the odor of
cremated dead fish and you have it." The water pump was acting up,
he noted, so "washing is going to be a problem."
Unfazed, the crew spent the evening in the fo'c'sle, "some playing
cards, cribbage, others trying magic and parlour tricks, and Linehan
& Rowland making music--Rowland on harmonica & Linehan on Ukelele."
July 31, Linehan rose at 3:15 a.m., set up his portable Mass kit
on the rear of a Jeep that was lashed to the deck, and vested. It
was the Feast of St. Ignatius. Eight members of the crew--none of
them Catholic--had asked to joined him; the skipper, an outspoken
nonbeliever, took an extra watch so those on duty could attend.
When Linehan lifted the wind cover protecting the host, the host
blew into the ocean. So he and his congregation moved into the fo'c'sle,
where the rest of the boys were still sleeping. "I gave a short
explanation of the vestments before Mass and a little talk afterwards
on the subject of the Sacrifice, then spent 45 minutes answering
questions on Birth Control, Devotion to Saints, Confession, etc.
. . . "
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said that his "Mass Upon the Altar of
the World" was born of praying on pony-back in 1923 while traversing
the Ordos Desert in China. In the late 1920s the Jesuit paleontologist
was forced by the Church to cease all but scientific publications,
and was exiled from France because of the radicalism of his thought.
He returned to China, where he led the team that discovered Peking
Man. In Teilhard's case, it was his views, merging geology and evolutionary
science with theology, that led to his exile. In Linehan's the call
of science simply put him in situations where practicing his faith
was difficult. Among the Arctic gloves, olive-drab parkas, and pieces
of radio equipment carefully packed in the Burns Library's Linehan
collection is a gold-plated chalice, the bottom of which is inscribed
with key events in Linehan's life. These include "first Mass at
North Magnetic Pole 1954" and "first Mass at South Pole 1958."
At 10:30 at night August 5, the Monte Carlo anchored off
the eastern shore of its destination, Prince of Wales, in a little
harbor. The skipper, alone, took the dory ashore while, on deck,
the crew "blew the boat's whistle, [and] fired guns." "I said a
prayer of Thanksgiving," Linehan reported. It was Dow's birthday,
and the skipper dubbed the harbor Birthday Bay.
Seventy miles to the west, on the opposite coast of the island,
near Dundas Harbour, was the spot where the pole would most likely
be found. It was for this overland portion of the trip that Dow
had brought along the Jeep, and the boys lashed together barrels
to create a raft, with which they ferried the Jeep ashore. But the
wheels sank in the soft silt that riddled the island's soil. So
on August 10, as ice moved in around the boat, young Bill Dow and
his friends set off on foot. The older men stayed behind to take
more readings. The next morning Linehan got word by radio that an
airplane had spotted leads in the ice north of the island. "The
skipper decided to pull up stakes and head for Dundas Harbour, and
either pick up the boys or meet them there," Linehan wrote.
After a long day and a half of wending back and forth through channels
in the ice, the crew sighted the hikers from the crow's nest on
the western shore. Near the coast on August 15, Linehan got his
strongest reading with the inductor: 89 degrees 55 minutes, about
as close to an accurate reading of magnetic north--90 degrees--as
one could get. With data from his other instruments, he mapped a
triangle nine miles to the side on Prince of Wales Island within
which the North Magnetic Pole lay. Five days later, on August 20,
while heading home, the Monte Carlo became stuck in pack
ice. "The ship just rolled up on top of the ice and rolled over
on its side," recalls Bill Dow. A nearby icebreaker, the Labrador,
pushed through and guided the boat to freedom.
Journeying southward, the Monte Carlo headed, unawares, into
a hurricane that had taken 95 lives as it swept up the East Coast.
The ship's radar wasn't working, and Linehan wasn't sure the Fathometer,
which measured the distance to the ocean floor, was either. The
ship had sailed at full speed through thick ice and heavy fog for
days with no disaster, and the crew must have been feeling a bit
cocky. Also they'd acquired a 12th, and very distracting, passenger--a
husky puppy named Kuka, a gift from a native family to whom they'd
given a lift.
The first hint of danger came August 29, a Sunday. Around 4:30 in
the afternoon, a series of swells tipped the boat 45 degrees. The
rear end of the Jeep broke loose and swung up against the bulwarks,
and a five-gallon bucket of orange paint was knocked over, its contents
spilling across the deck. "It was impossible to clean it up," Linehan
wrote, "so they just spread it out & painted the deck & have now
nailed boards along lines of promenade." For the next few days Linehan
spent his free time watching Kuka and preparing reports from the
data he'd collected.
September 1 the storm hit. Linehan reported a sleepless night, wishing
as each watch came that it were his so he'd have something to do:
"The 12-4 watch said that the spray from some of the waves went
right up to the crow's nest. While at the helm some of the rolling
would take the chair, or stool, right from under the helmsman. .
. . Moving pictures," he wrote, "are the only instrument that could
express the antics of this lil ship."
September 2 Linehan reported another sleepless night, "what with
the pitching and rolling of the ship. Once during the night it was
pretty calm for an hour but it turned out the gyro compass had gone
haywire and the boys following it had turned the ship right around
north again and we had been sailing with the storm and that made
for easier going." The ship, he observed, was a mess, with clothes
and books and shoes tossed about in the fo'c'sle by the waves, and
orange paint tracked in on everything.
"In the hold it is a problem for the Board of Health,"
he wrote. The boys had shot and skinned seal and bear, and a bucket
of bear blubber had overturned as well. "Wait till we hit some
warm weather," Linehan wrote.
The photographer Margaret Bourke-White once spent 10 days with Linehan--the
summer before the Dow expedition--shooting for a Life magazine
photo-essay on American Jesuits. Linehan was leading a team investigating
potential dam sites on the Kennebec River in northern Maine. The
resulting photographs show a man's man, wearing a T-shirt and waders,
treading through rapids to position his dynamite charges, observing
the resulting explosions, and measuring the sound waves as they
reached bedrock and bounced back.
In A Report on the American Jesuits, the 1956 book with John
LaFarge that grew out of the Life photo-essay, Bourke-White
described a revealing conversation with Linehan after a day of prospecting
that had started with a simple Mass said in the woods. "Take today,"
he told her. "Today when I read my seismograph there were only two
who knew that rock was down there under sixty feet of water. Only
God and I knew. And to think this is the same God who came down
to our altar this morning, the same God who made that rock, who
made all the rocks in the world.
"I would give up all my seismology," he told her, "to celebrate
one such Mass as you came to this morning. Think of all the energy
stored up in the world--all that power. That is God. And I held Him
in my hand this morning. That's why I'm happy."
By September 8 the hurricane had passed, and Linehan was growing
pensive: "To live the sea in all its moods is the only way to appreciate
it," he wrote. "To be in a little boat 78 ft. long and see wave
after wave coming at you and each one higher than the Pilot House--to
see the wind blow the tops off the waves & then lay in your bunk
below waterline while those waves toss you around like a chip in
the ocean. To realize there are hundreds of fathoms of water below
you and hundreds of miles on either side of you before any kind
of land is reached--then you are frightened and wish you never left
land--but 24 hrs later you are running along in the Gulf of St. Lawrence
with Newfoundland to port, the sun shining with a temp. of 70 degrees
F, everyone feeling fine and the angry old sea metamorphosed into
a delightfully dispositioned host--you forget yesterday and enjoy
only today. . . .
"Beautiful night!" he concluded, "Aurora--stars--smooth sea. Spent
hours on deck till midnight enjoying it."
This article marks Charlotte Bruce Harvey's farewell as BCM's deputy
editor. She departs to write full-time.