We’re about to head into October, which is a time of monsters and scares as Halloween dominates advertising. This is not a time to focus on fruitcake; fruitcake is a Christmas tradition.
Unless, of course, the fruitcake is truly disturbing. Now, let’s forget I even brought it up for a moment….
Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink sailed from London to Australia in early 1898. That was not his final destination. After landing and gearing up in Tasmania, with a crew of nine other intrepid men he sailed from Australia to Antarctica in late December.
Many people had visited the continent before them (although it wasn’t determined to be a continent until after the discovery of the South Pole in 1911). These ten men would enter the history books in another way. They were the first people to spend Easter at the pole. And their birthdays. And Christmas. This is because they were dropped off in early 1899… with an arrangement that the ship would be back at the same time next year.
There, his group set up camp, erecting buildings to protect them from the worst of the weather as they took their bearings. Equipment, coal and provisions were offloaded, allowing for the newly christened Camp Ridley (Carsten’s mother’s maiden name) to have a photographic lab and a taxidermy room as they attempted to further scientific discovery.
The group fared well at first, with fish plentiful and many penguins (a supply of both meat and eggs). Their good fortune didn’t last. As the weeks dragged on, the sled dogs began to fight with each other, resulting in many deaths of the needed animals. The sunlight, plentiful at first, waned into near-constant darkness, and the penguins migrated north. An untended candle started a fire which threatened to destroy the entire camp. Tobacco ran out (which heightened tensions among the many pipe smokers of the group.) Gaps in the walls let in frigid winds… but the first time they properly sealed all of the gaps in one building, the person inside suffered a near-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning from the burning coal.
Eventually, their concerns started to turn the corner. Sixteen new pups were born, filling out the ranks of the sled dogs. The light slowly returned, and with it the penguins.
Everything wasn’t suddenly ideal; on the 14th of October the team’s zoologist and taxidermist, Nikolai Hanson, died of what was to believed an intestinal disorder. But by the time the ship returned, nine of the ten men had survived a year in Antarctica… and in the process of so doing, they had erected the first man-made buildings on the continent.
Antarctica is the only continent where the first constructed buildings remain. Mindful of the toll of time, the Antarctic Heritage Trust began in 2017 the task of preserving and restoring the buildings, attempting to clear the rust and degradation while maintaining the integrity of the original structures. Prior to this effort, all of the relics of the early expeditions (because the same base was used in some later explorations of the Antarctic, including Robert Falcon Scott’s fatal drive to the South Pole) needed to be organized and cataloged. Every antique scientific instrument, every cot, every anchoring pole, every… fruitcake.
While all of the provisions for the original expedition were consumed, in 2016 researchers found a remnant from the ill-fated 1910 – 1913 Terra Nova expedition of Scott. It was a single paper-wrapped fruitcake with its metal container heavily corroded. Identified as manufactured by Huntley & Palmers from the wrapping paper, it matched with one of Scott’s preferred desserts and was the only surviving piece of food in the camp.
Archaeology magazine, the publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, quoted Lizzie Meek, the Trust’s program manager on the topic. “It felt and looked like a new fruitcake. It was only if you got quite close to it that you could smell that slightly off smell of butter that’s gone wrong.”
The “Super Fruitcake”, as it was nicknamed by Archaeology, is impressive, but unfortunately no longer edible… which is probably a good thing, as a hundred year old baked good is certainly disturbing enough for an October scare. Also, possibly, for a visit to the fruitcake toss discussed at this time last month.
Question of the night: If you had to spend a year away from your home town or city, where would you most like it to be?