The Rip Van Winkle of the Civil War

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I often dig down rabbit holes chasing stories getting myself lost in tales of history and current events. I found out today at the NY Times website about a man who was known as the Rip Van Winkle of the Civil War. The piece was written by Albin Kowalewski.

Isaac Israel Hayes was an explorer who set off to explore Greenland and find the north pole in the arctic just before the US began fighting the Civil War. The expedition left Boston in July 1860, and returned in October 1861, as everyone in the US was following the terrible events that tore the US apart.

There were no telegraph lines, nor radios to inform Hayes and his men about what was happening in the US.

“Quoting the Book of Exodus but also presaging the title of Robert A. Heinlein’s sci-fi classic, he wrote, “I felt like a stranger in a strange land, and yet every object which I passed was familiar.”

Hayes thought that atop the pole would be a great big open sea, but as they drudged through Greenland they had to use sled dogs. They weren’t able to make it all the way.

Hayes felt depressed at what he saw with the country split in two by the war. He accepted a commission to become a Union army surgeon ran a hospital in Philadelphia. Despite the fact that no open sea existed, later explorers who did make it to the North Pole followed the route that Hayes had first discovered.