Sunday, April 7, 2019

Franklin Lost and Found

At the grave of Hannah ("Tookoolito")
It was truly a memorable gathering; for a day, the geographical center of gravity of the Franklin expedition and everyone whose work has contributed to our understanding of it, was fixed at 41.36° N, 71.96° W -- at the Mystic Seaport Museum. The next day, many of us went to visit the grave of Hannah, where two of her children are also buried; from left to right: Frank Michael Schuster, Russell Potter, Kenn Harper, Peter Carney, Regina Koellner, Steve and Mary Williamson, and Dave Woodman. We all felt especially honored to have Mary with as, as she's Sir John Franklin's great-great grand niece; her uncle, Roderic Owen, was the author of 1978's The Fate of Franklin. Also at the daylong event were Jonathan Moore, John Geiger, Keith Millar, Lawrence Millman, Leanne Shapton, Fred Calabretta, and -- by way of Skype -- Doug Stenton.

The event was videotaped, and in the near future the Museum plans to make video available -- when it does, I'll add a link here on this blog. But in the meantime, some highlights of the day:

• Dave Woodman, in his keynote address, gave the history of his work, both in the archives and in the field.

• Kenn Harper gave an excellent analysis of the history and merits of the many translators of Inuktitut who played a role in recording early testimony about Franklin.

• Fred Calabretta noted the key role that New London whalers played in early interactions with Inuit, and advising Charles Francis Hall before his first trip north.

• Lawrence Millman shared some of his experiences in collecting Inuit oral traditions from elders.

• John Geiger reflected on the impact of the forensic work at Beechey Island as detailed in his and Owen Beattie's Frozen in Time.

• Peter Carney and Keith Millar discussed their research on the question of lead poisoning and other health issues affecting Franklin's crews.

• We had a full and robust report on ground archaeology, directly from Doug Stenton, followed by a detailed account of the current underwater work from Parks Canada's Jonathan Moore.

• Leanne Shapton and I reflected on the place of Franklin in pop culture, from Staffordshire china figures and illustrated newspapers to graphic novels and AMC's series The Terror -- we were especially fortunate that several fans of that series, who've brought its characters to life via cosplay, were in the audience and at the Q&A.

The questions asked at the general session were fantastic, and showed that the audience was as keen on the story as any of us on the panels, and very much steeped in Franklin lore. We concluded with some sea-chanteys and a rousing sing-along of Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage," and then a big collective book-signing in the foyer of the main exhibition building. All of us felt very grateful to the Museum for bringing us together; in all my time working on these histories, this was surely the largest and most complete assembly of "Franklinites" that I have known.

So watch this space for further stories that have sprung out of this gathering -- and see your host try a healthy bite of tripe de roche (it's not bad, actually!).

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