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We’ve been neglecting this blog for a long time, but we have not forgotten you! Our Crocker Land research and exhibit development is going into high gear now, with only 8 months to go until it opens. We have already begun in a sense, with a series of photograph exhibits in our foyer. The first of these: Off to a Rocky Start: The Crocker Land Expedition, 1913 has just come down, but will reappear in full on our web page soon. It looks at the trials and tribulations of the team from the time they left New York until they were settled in Borup Lodge in the fall of 1913. In its place is Northwest of the Known Arctic Lands: MacMillan’s Search for Crocker Land, 1914. If you are near Brunswick, come check it out to learn what transpired on the actual sledge trip 100 years ago this spring.

In early March, Anne Witty and I expanded our field of research with a very productive visit to the Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. The University of Illinois was Elmer Ekblaw’s beloved alma mater and employer. When he signed on as a scientist with the expedition the University became a co-sponsor and co-funder. One of the key outcomes, for them, was the acquisition of important collections. The Spurlock now holds ethnographic materials and photographs, while the natural history collections (bones, skins, and eggs mostly) were transferred to the Natural History museum around 2000 when UI closed its own Natural History Museum. Other collections, such as insects, are held by the Illinois Natural History Survey.

We started our visit at the Spurlock, where the staff was very welcoming! Amy Heggemeyer and Beth Watkins were our key contacts and after months of emailing, it was great to finally meet them. Most of the items in the collection have been off display and in storage for many years, so everyone was excited to see the clothing, tools, models, and carvings, which had been carefully laid out to make them easy to study.

Spurlock Museum model sledge

A beautiful model of a loaded Inughuit sledge

We took lots of photographs of course, too many to show here, but one highlight is too good not to share. One of the items in the collection is this delightful model sled, complete with a bag between the upstanders for a lamp or gear, and a full load, with fur laid on top and then lashed down. We were intrigued by the load (a similar model in our collection has none). It appeared to be made of cloth sacks, filled with grass, to give them some bulk with out weight perhaps.

As we inspected it closely and talked about it we wondered, where did those bags come from? Some seemed to have paper labels attached, but because of the fur, we couldn’t see much. Some one, Anne I think, had the brilliant idea of looking at the bottom. Assistant collections manager John Holton obligingly held it up so we could see what was below. To our surprise and delight we saw not a paper label, but a printed label on one of the bags: Crocker Land Expedition.


Looking at the bottom of the sledge, with the Crocker  Land sample bag visible on the right.

Looking at the bottom of the sledge, with the Crocker Land sample bag visible on the right.

The bags are sample bags, produced in various sizes and printed with the expedition name by the Riegal Sack Company (they also included some hats – useful promotional tools). We have some of the bags (used and unused) here at the Arctic Museum, so even though we could not see the entire label, we are confident that we have identified them correctly.


One of the sample bags in our collection, donated by the Ekblaw family

One of the sample bags in our collection, donated by the Ekblaw family

This is a great example of the value of seeing collections first hand, and working together so that each museum can learn more about its own and other’s collections. In fact, this and the many other conversations we had during our visit have led us to expand this blog, by adding the staff of the Spurlock Museum to our contributors. Look for some interesting posts from them soon!