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Edgar Christian's Journal

05/31/02 12:00AM By Willem Lange
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(Host) Seventy-five years ago, during the same week that the world went wild over the flight of Charles Lindbergh, a boy was starving to death in the arctic. Commentator Willem Lange has been reading his journal.

(Lange) These past few days I've been reading a boy's journal written exactly 75 years ago. "On 22nd [May] I found lots of meat under snow and four good meaty bones covered in fat and grease. These put me on my legs for three days cutting wood etc.... Alas, got weaker and the weather was blowing in snowstorm for four days, after that not even thawing in daytime."

In May of 1927 two Frenchmen attempted the first nonstop aerial crossing of the Atlantic. They have not been heard from since. Two weeks later, Charles Lindbergh made it across and landed in Paris. Then, 65 years ago in May, Amelia Earhart, disappeared somewhere in the South Pacific. That same month the Hindenburg exploded in New Jersey. All of them dramatic stories. But they pale beside the drama of that starving journalist who wrote as long as he could before pulling his blanket up over his face around the first of June, 1927.

Edgar Christian was only 18. The son of a British Army officer, he was a distant cousin of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny against Captain Bligh of HMS Bounty. It was another cousin who led to Edgar's great adventure and his death.

John Hornby was an Englishman about 30 years older than Edgar. Disappointed in his career, he visited Canada in 1904. It was love at first sight. He worked as a laborer, packer, surveyor - anything to take him farther north. Only 5'4" and weighing 110 pounds, he became known for feats of strength and endurance and spent several winters north of the Arctic Circle in conditions of unbelievable misery. He was fascinated by the Barren Lands.

One of his trips took him back to England, where young Christian was dazzled by Hornby's descriptions of life in the Arctic. So, when Hornby left England, Edgar Christian accompanied him. This is where his journal begins.

In your atlas trace a path north from Edmonton to Fort Smith and Great Slave Lake. A third man joined them there. Thence eastward to the end of the lake, over several portages into the headwaters of the Hanbury River. Eastward still, down the Hanbury to the Thelon, where they built a cabin and settled in for the winter.

They had planned to intercept the caribou migration for winter food. But they were late in arriving and the migration had already passed. Hornby knew then that they were doomed.

Edgar's stiff upper lip never trembles all through that nine-month winter, as he writes of digging for scraps discarded months before. Their efforts at survival slowly became more feeble.

On April 17 Hornby dies, the third man on May 4. About June 1, while the world went agog over Charles Lindbergh, a lonely, dying boy in a remote corner of the Canadian Arctic wrote, "...weak and all in now. Left things late." Then he buried his beloved journal in the ashes of the cookstove and finished his great adventure.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.
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