Olaf Jansen's Story

My name is Olaf Jansen. I am a Norwegian, although I was born in the little seafaring Russian town of Uleaborg, on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, the northern arm of the Baltic Sea.

My parents were on a fishing cruise in the Gulf of Bothnia, and put into this Russian town of Uleaborg at the time of my birth, being the twenty-seventh day of October, 1811.

My father, Jens Jansen, was born at Rodwig on the Scandinavian coast, near the Lofoden Islands, but after marrying made his home at Stockholm, because my mother's people resided in that city. When seven years old, I began going with my father on his fishing trips along the Scandinavian coast.

Early in life I displayed an aptitude for books, and at the age of nine years was placed in a private school in Stockholm, remaining there until I was fourteen. After this I made regular trips with my father on all his fishing voyages.

My father was a man fully six feet three in height, and weighed over fifteen stone, a typical Norseman of the most rugged sort, and capable of more endurance than any other man I have ever known. He possessed the gentleness of a woman in tender little ways, yet his determination and will-power were beyond description. His will admitted of no defeat.

I was in my nineteenth year when we started on what proved to be our last trip as fishermen, and which resulted in the strange story that shall be given to the world, -- but not until I have finished my earthly pilgrimage.

I dare not allow the facts as I know them to be published while I am living, for fear of further humiliation, confinement and suffering. First of all, I was put in irons by the captain of the whaling vessel that rescued me, for no other reason than that I told the truth about the marvelous discoveries made by my father and myself. But this was far from being the end of my tortures.

After four years and eight months' absence I reached Stockholm, only to find my mother had died the previous year, and the property left by my parents in the possession of my mother's people, but it was at once made over to me.

All might have been well, had I erased from my memory the story of our adventure and of my father's terrible death.

Finally, one day I told the story in detail to my uncle, Gustaf Osterlind, a man of considerable property, and urged him to fit out an expedition for me to make another voyage to the strange land.

At first I thought he favored my project. He seemed interested, and invited me to go before certain officials and explain to them, as I had to him, the story of our travels and discoveries. Imagine my disappointment and horror when, upon the conclusion of my narrative, certain papers were signed by my uncle, and, without warning, I found myself arrested and hurried away to dismal and fearful confinement in a madhouse, where I remained for twenty-eight years - long, tedious, frightful years of suffering!

I never ceased to assert my sanity, and to protest against the injustice of my confinement. Finally, on the seventeenth of October, 1862, I was released. My uncle was dead, and the friends of my youth were now strangers. Indeed, a man over fifty years old, whose only known record is that of a madman, has no friends.

I was at a loss to know what to do for a living, but instinctively turned toward the harbor where fishing boats in great numbers were anchored, and within a week I had shipped with a fisherman by the name of Yan Hansen, who was starting on a long fishing cruise to the Lofoden Islands.

Here my earlier years of training proved of the very greatest advantage, especially in enabling me to make myself useful. This was but the beginning of other trips, and by frugal economy I was, in a few years, able to own a fishing-brig of my own.

For twenty-seven years thereafter I followed the sea as a fisherman, five years working for others, and the last twenty-two for myself.

During all these years I was a most diligent student of books, as well as a hard worker at my business, but I took great care not to mention to anyone the story concerning the discoveries made by my father and myself. Even at this late day I would be fearful of having any one see or know the things I am writing, and the records and maps I have in my keeping. When my days on earth are finished, I shall leave maps and records that will enlighten and, I hope, benefit mankind.

The memory of my long confinement with maniacs, and all the horrible anguish and sufferings are too vivid to warrant my taking further chances.

In 1889 I sold out my fishing boats, and found I had accumulated a fortune quite sufficient to keep me the remainder of my life. I then came to America.

For a dozen years my home was in Illinois, near Batavia, where I gathered most of the books in my present library, though I brought many choice volumes from Stockholm. Later, I came to Los Angeles, arriving here March 4, 1901. The date I well remember, as it was President McKinley's second inauguration day. I bought this humble home and determined, here in the privacy of my own abode, sheltered by my own vine and fig-tree, and with my books about me, to make maps and drawings of the new lands we had discovered, and also to write the story in detail from the time my father and I left Stockholm until the tragic event that parted us in the Antarctic Ocean.

I well remember that we left Stockholm in our fishing-sloop on the third day of April, 1829, and sailed to the southward, leaving Gothland Island to the left and Oeland Island to the right. A few days later we succeeded in doubling Sandhommar Point, and made our way through the sound which separates Denmark from the Scandinavian coast. In due time we put in at the town of Christiansand, where we rested two days, and then started around the Scandinavian coast to the westward, bound for the Lofoden Islands.

My father was in high spirit, because of the excellent and gratifying returns he had received from our last catch by marketing at Stockholm, instead of selling at one of the seafaring towns along the Scandinavian coast. He was especially pleased with the sale of some ivory tusks that he had found on the west coast of Franz Joseph Land during one of his northern cruises the previous year, and he expressed the hope that this time we might again be fortunate enough to load our little fishing-sloop with ivory, instead of cod, herring, mackerel and salmon.

We put in at Hammerfest, latitude seventy-one degrees and forty minutes, for a few days' rest. Here we remained one week, laying in an extra supply of provisions and several casks of drinking-water, and then sailed toward Spitzbergen.

For the first few days we had an open sea and favoring wind, and then we encountered much ice and many icebergs. A vessel larger than our little fishing-sloop could not possibly have threaded its way among the labyrinth of icebergs or squeezed through the barely open channels. These monster bergs presented an endless succession of crystal palaces, of massive cathedrals and fantastic mountain ranges, grim and sentinel-like, immovable as some towering cliff of solid rock, standing silent as sphinx, resisting the restless waves of a fretful sea.

After many narrow escapes, we arrived at Spitsbergen on the 23d of June, and anchored at Wijade Bay for a short time, where we were quite successful in our catches. We then lifted anchor and sailed through the Hinlopen Strait, and coasted along the North-East-Land.2

2It will be remembered that Andree started on his fatal balloon voyage from the northwest coast of Spitzbergen.

A strong wind came up from the southwest, and my father said that we had better take advantage of it and try to reach Franz Josef Land, where, the year before he had, by accident, found the ivory tusks that had brought him such a good price at Stockholm.

Never, before or since, have I seen so many sea-fowl; they were so numerous that they hid the rocks on the coast line and darkened the sky.

For several days we sailed along the rocky coast of Franz Josef Land. Finally, a favoring wind came up that enabled us to make the West Coast, and, after sailing twenty-four hours, we came to a beautiful inlet.

One could hardly believe it was the Northland. The place was green with growing vegetation, and while the area did not comprise more than one or two acres, yet the air was warm and tranquil. It seemed to be at that point where the Gulf Stream's influence is most keenly felt.3

3Sir John Barrow, Bart., F.R.S., in his work entitled "Voyages of Discovery and Research Within the Arctic Regions," says on page 57: "Mr. Beechey refers to what has frequently been found and noticed -- the mildness of the temperature on the western coast of Spitsbergen, there being little or no sensation of cold, though the thermometer might be only a few degrees above the freezing-point. The brilliant and lively effect of a clear day, when the sun shines forth with a pure sky, whose azure hue is so intense as to find no parallel even in the boasted Italian sky."

On the east coast there were numerous icebergs, yet here we were in open water. Far to the west of us, however, were icepacks, and still farther to the westward the ice appeared like ranges of low hills. In front of us, and directly to the north, lay an open sea .4

4Captain Kane, on page 299, quoting from Morton's Journal, the 26th of December, says: "As far as I could see, the open passages were fifteen miles or more wide, with sometimes mashed ice separating them. But it is all small ice, and I think it either drives out to the open space to the north or rots and sinks, as I could see none ahead to the north."

My father was an ardent believer in Odin and Thor, and had frequently told me they were gods who came from far beyond the "North Wind."

There was a tradition, my father explained, that still farther northward was a land more beautiful than any that mortal man had ever known, and that it was inhabited by the "Chosen."5

5We find the following in "Deutsche Mythologie," page 778, from the pen of Jakob Grimm;"Then the sons of Bor built in the middle of the universe the city called Asgard, where dwell the gods and their kindred, and from that abode work out so many wondrous things both on the earth and in the heavens above it. There is in that city a place called Hlidskjalf, and when Odin is seated there upon his lofty throne he sees over the whole world and discerns all the actions of men."

My youthful imagination was fired by the ardor, zeal and religious fervor of my good father, and I exclaimed: "Why not sail to this goodly land? The sky is fair, the wind favorable and the sea open."

Even now I can see the expression of pleasurable surprise on his countenance as he turned toward me and asked: "My son, are you willing to go with me and explore -- to go far beyond where man has ever ventured?" I answered affirmatively. "Very well," he replied. "May the god Odin protect us!" and, quickly adjusting the sails, he glanced at our compass, turned the prow in due northerly direction through an open channel, and our voyage had begun .6

6Hall writes, on page 288: "On 23rd of January the two Esquimaux, accompanied by two of the seamen, went to Cape Lupton. They reported a sea of open water extending as far as the eye could reach."

The sun was low in the horizon, as it was still the early summer. Indeed, we had almost four months of day ahead of us before the frozen night could come on again.

Our little fishing-sloop sprang forward as if eager as ourselves for adventure. Within thirty-six hours we were out of sight of the highest point on the coast line of Franz Josef Land. We seemed to be in a strong current running north by northeast. Far to the right and to the left of us were icebergs, but our little sloop bore down on the narrows and passed through channels and out into open seas - channels so narrow in places that, had our craft been other than small, we never could have gotten through.

On the third day we came to an island. Its shores were washed by an open sea. My father determined to land and explore for a day. This new land was destitute of timber, but we found a large accumulation of drift-wood on the northern shore. Some of the trunks of the trees were forty feet long and two feet in diameter.7

7Greely tells us in vol. 1, page 100, that: "Privates Connell and Frederick found a large coniferous tree on the beach, just above the extreme high-water mark. It was nearly thirty inches in circumference, some thirty feet long, and had apparently been carried to that point by a current within a couple of years. A portion of it was cut up for fire-wood, and for the first time in that valley, a bright, cheery camp-fire gave comfort to man."

After one day's exploration of the coast line of this island, we lifted anchor and turned our prow to the north in an open sea.8

8Dr. Kane says, on page 379 of his works: "I cannot imagine what becomes of the ice. A strong current sets in constantly to the north; but, from altitudes of more than five hundred feet, I saw only narrow strips of ice, with great spaces of open water, from ten to fifteen miles in breadth, between them. It must, therefore, either go to an open space in the north, or dissolve."

I remember that neither my father nor myself had tasted food for almost thirty hours. Perhaps this was because of the tension of excitement about our strange voyage in waters farther north, my father said, than anyone had ever before been. Active mentality had dulled the demands of the physical needs.

Instead of the cold being intense as we had anticipated, it was really warmer and more pleasant than it had been while in Hammerfest on the north coast of Norway, some six weeks before.9

9Captain Peary's second voyage relates another circumstance which may serve to confirm a conjecture which has long been maintained by some, that an open sea, free of ice, exists at or near the Pole. "On the second of November," says Peary, "the wind freshened up to a gale from north by west, lowered the thermometer before midnight to 5 degrees, whereas, a rise of wind at Melville Island was generally accompanied by a simultaneous rise in the thermometer at low temperatures. May not this," he asks, "be occasioned by the wind blowing over an open sea in the quarter from which the wind blows? And tend to confirm the opinion that at or near the Pole an open sea exists?"

We both frankly admitted that we were very hungry, and forthwith I prepared a substantial meal from our well-stored larder. When we had partaken heartily of the repast, I told my father I believed I would sleep, as I was beginning to feel quite drowsy. "Very well," he replied, "I will keep the watch."

I have no way to determine how long I slept; I only know that I was rudely awakened by a terrible commotion of the sloop. To my surprise, I found my father sleeping soundly. I cried out lustily to him, and starting up, he sprang quickly to his feet. Indeed, had he not instantly clutched the rail, he would certainly have been thrown into the seething waves.

A fierce snow-storm was raging. The wind was directly astern, driving our sloop at a terrific speed, and was threatening every moment to capsize us. There was no time to lose, the sails had to be lowered immediately. Our boat was writhing in convulsions. A few icebergs we knew were on either side of us, but fortunately the channel was open directly to the north. But would it remain so? In front of us, girding the horizon from left to right, was a vaporish fog or mist, black as Egyptian night at the water's edge, and white like a steam-cloud toward the top, which was finally lost to view as it blended with the great white flakes of falling snow. Whether it covered a treacherous iceberg, or some other hidden obstacle against which our little sloop would dash and send us to a watery grave, or was merely the phenomenon of an Arctic fog, there was no way to determine.10

10On the page 284 of his works, Hall writes: "From the top of Providence Berg, a dark fog was seen to the north, indicating water. At 10 a.m. three of the men (Kruger, Nindemann and Hobby) went to Cape Lupton to ascertain if possible the extent of the open water. On their return they reported several open spaces and much young ice -- not more than a day old, so thin that it was easily broken by throwing pieces of ice upon it."

By what miracle we escaped being dashed to utter destruction, I do not know. I remember our little craft creaked and groaned, as if its joints were breaking. It rocked and staggered to and fro as if clutched by some fierce undertow of whirlpool or maelstrom.

Fortunately our compass had been fastened with long screws to a cross-beam. Most of our provisions, however, were tumbled out and swept away from the deck of the cuddy, and had we not taken the precaution at the very beginning to tie ourselves firmly to the masts of the sloop, we should have been swept into the lashing sea.

Above the deafening tumult of the raging waves, I heard my father's voice. "Be courageous, my son," he shouted, "Odin is the god of the waters, the companion of the brave, and he is with us. Fear not."

To me it seemed there was no possibility of our escaping a horrible death. The little sloop was shipping water, the snow was falling so fast as to be blinding, and the waves were tumbling over our counters in reckless white-sprayed fury. There was no telling what instant we should be dashed against some drifting icepack. The tremendous swells would heave us up to the very peaks of mountainous waves, then plunge us down into the depths of the sea's trough as if our fishing-sloop were a fragile shell. Gigantic white-capped waves, like veritable walls, fenced us in, fore and aft.

This terrible nerve-racking ordeal, with its nameless horrors of suspense and agony of fear indescribable, continued for more than three hours, and all the time we were being driven forward at fierce speed. Then suddenly, as if growing weary of its frantic exertions, the wind began to lessen its fury and by degrees to die down.

At last we were in prefect calm. The fog mist had also disappeared, and before us lay an iceless channel perhaps ten or fifteen miles wide with a few icebergs far away to our right, and an intermittent archipelago of smaller ones to the left.

I watched my father closely, determined to remain silent until he spoke. Presently he untied the rope from his waist and, without saying a word, began working the pumps, which fortunately were not damaged, relieving the sloop of the water it had shipped in the madness of the storm.

He put up the sloop's sails as calmly as if casting a fishing-net, and then remarked that we were ready for a favoring wind when it came. His courage and persistence were truly remarkable.

On investigation we found less than one-third of our provisions remaining, while to our utter dismay, we discovered that our water-casks had been swept overboard during the violent plungings of our boat.

Two of our water-casks were in the main hold, both were empty. We had a fair supply of food, but no fresh water. I realized at once the awfulness of our position. Presently I was seized with a consuming thirst. "It is indeed bad," remarked my father. "However, let us dry our bedraggled clothing, for we are soaked to the skin. Trust to the god Odin, my son. Do not give up hope."

The sun was beating down slantingly, as if we were in a southern latitude, instead of in the far Northland. It was swinging around, its orbit ever visible and rising higher and higher each day, frequently mist-covered, yet always peering through the lacework of clouds like some fretful eye of fate, guarding the mysterious Northland and jealously watching the pranks of man. Far to our right the rays decking the prisms of icebergs were gorgeous. Their reflections emitted flashes of garnet, of diamond, of sapphire. A pyrotechnic panorama of countless colors and shapes, while below could be seen the green-tinted sea, and above, the purple sky.

Continue to Part Three
[Return to Smoky God Contents]