Holding History - Ernest Shackleton and the Special Edition Heart of the Antarctic

Men go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by the love of adventure, some have a keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the “lure of little voices,” the mysterious fascination of the unknown.
— Sir Ernest Shackleton

So begins Ernest Shackleton’s Heart of the Antarctic, which documents his 1907-1909 journey aboard The Nimrod. I have the pleasure of reading a white, leather bound, limited edition 1909 William Heinemann printing at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, an independent, member-supported library and museum. 

Reading this book brings me out of body. It is one of only 300 copies printed in London one hundred and nine years ago. The paper edges are rough as tree bark. It smells old. The photos and drawing inserts are hand glued in place. But what makes this copy particularly rare is that it's signed by Sir Ernest Shackleton with an inscription to his friend in Philadelphia, whom he thanks for his hospitality and shares "good wishes on the coming Christmas." 


Page after worn page, I'm well aware that I am touching something that The Boss (not Springsteen) held a year before leaving for his famed Endurance expedition. 

I marvel at descriptions of what the men endured, the list of supplies, the cost of the expedition--£44,380 (or £5,059,320.00/ $6,554,667.80 USD today).

When I look at the map I note how close the shore party was to the pole when Shackleton called it quits. Two degrees latitude. Two measly degrees. That’s New York to DC, Chicago to Indianapolis, Orlando to West Palm. It's also the difference between life and death. 

The Athenaeum has both volumes of Heart of the Antarctic here, plus "The Antarctic Book," which contains poems (Erbus from Shackleton) and other interesting bits from the voyage. This version happens to be signed by the entire shore party, which included Frank Wild, who also joined Shackleton on the famed Endurance voyage.

After sitting with the books for hours, I leave them and step out into the muggy Philadelphia summer. I'm feeling adventurous. By Queen Village, I start hearing the lure of little voices. They tell me to go somewhere cool. Somewhere icy. Maybe Antarctica. Maybe the Arctic. 

I end up at John's Water Ice on 7th Street. A medium cherry/lemon hits the spot. 

Photos hand-glued in place.

Photos hand-glued in place.

They couldn't do better than Lipton's Tea???

They couldn't do better than Lipton's Tea???