David Innes’ Discovery: ‘The Eagle has Landed’
David Innes and four companions travel to the end of one world and the beginning of another in Chapter 14 of "Tanar of Pellucidar."
But after a brief glimpse of the gray, Arctic sea and the blazing red sun of the outer world, David and company turn from the globe’s Polar opening back to Pellucidar and it is then, in Chapter 15, that they make a soul-stirring discovery.
There, a few miles inside the entrance to the inner world, lies the wicker basket of a balloon, some pieces of rotted cordage and the well-preserved remnants of oiled silk which once formed a huge gas bag.
To Ja, Tanar, Stellara and Gura, the find is only a curiosity. But to David, who spent the first 20 years of his life upon the outer surface, it is more than that, perhaps even the solution to a great mystery.
"The poor devils," said David, as he looked at the remains of the balloon. "They made a greater discovery than they could have hoped for in their wildest dreams. I wonder if they lived to realize it."
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs gives few other details, and we are left to wonder what it was that David Innes knew that caused him to make an educated guess about the origin of that balloon.
Man has always been tantalized by real-life mysteries. We’d like to know, for instance, if the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance really has been solved by some of the discoveries made in the Pacific, such as a plane fragment and a piece of shoe from the central Pacific’s Nikumaroro Island.
What mysteries were in the headlines of David Innes’ day?
ERB began writing "At the Earth’s Core," the first book of the inner world saga, in January 1913, but we don’t know how long he had waited after hearing the story before putting it on paper. Assuming he didn’t waste time, and that he got the story in 1912, we can state that David Innes probably originally went to the Earth’s core no later than 1902, since he spent 10 years there before returning to tell his story.
Modern man reads news of moon landings and probes to Mars and beyond; but the news in the years before David Innes went to Pellucidar was of another frontier, the North Pole.
Men like Dr. Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, though not staking their claims to North Pole discovery until the last part of the Twentieth Century’s first decade, were nonetheless in the news as David grew to manhood.
Peary began full-time study of the Arctic regions in 1891. He studied the Eskimos’ methods of travel and explored the Arctic. In 1892, he crossed Greenland and proved for the first time that it was an island.
Cook spent some time with Peary in Greenland, then explored it on his own in 1893 and 1894.
Cook would eventually claim to have discovered the North Pole in 1908, and Peary claimed to have done it a year later.
David Innes was in Pellucidar by then, but he would have remembered another Arctic explorer, less remembered today, perhaps, but well known at the time.
The man’s name was Salomon A. Andree. He was born in Sweden in 1854 and had a somewhat normal childhood, studying classics and sports, much like David Innes had done.
While crossing the Atlantic on a ship bound for America in 1876, Andree found and was fascinated by a balloon aeronautics book in the ship’s library.
At the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the "bold, proud and just a little cocky" 22-year-old took up with John E. Wise, an experienced aeronaut with 400 balloon ascents to his credit.
Andree had an insatiable curiosity and the guts to test his theories without regard to his own comfort or even his life. He considered the possibility of his early demise of relatively little importance if sacrificing it would advance the cause of science.
Arctic exploration began to intrigue him in 1882, when he went with a meteorological expedition to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen.
It was inevitable that Andree, eventually chief engineer with the Swedish Patent Office and a science professor at the University of Stockholm, would combine his two major interests – ballooning and the Arctic – with a proposal to fly in a balloon to the as yet undiscovered North Pole.
Such was his announcement when he stood in the Great Hall of the Royal Colonial Institute in London to propose to the sixth International Geographical Congress his plan to reach the Pole by air.
There was some skepticism, but a lot of enthusiasm, something Andree exuded to the point that it was contagious. Asked what he would do if his balloon collapsed in the water, Andree had a simple but characteristic response: "Drown."
His first balloon flight was in 1892. After that, he bought his own balloon and flew across the sea from Sweden to Finland. He developed a steering system of ropes and sails which he believed could propel his craft to the pole.
There were obstacles to overcome, and false starts, but at 1:45 a.m. on July 11, 1897, about five years before David Innes took a prospector ride to the Earth’s core, Andree’s balloon, 97 feet high and 67 feet in diameter, filled with 160,000 cubic feet of hydrogen, took off from Danes Island in the Greenland Sea.
Aboard, in addition to Andree, were Knut Fraenkel, a youthful lieutenant in the Swedish Corps of Engineers, and Dr. Nils Strindberg, a physicist. The spectators on Danes Island cheered as the balloon, named the Eagle, disappeared over the horizon. They were the last people to see Andree alive.
Months, then many years passed, and nothing was heard of Andree. David Innes was always interested in explorers* and surely would have known of the mystery of the disappearance of the Andree party, which remained unsolved at the time he entered the interior of the Earth.
"Tanar of Pellucidar" first saw print in March 1929 when serialization of the story began in The Blue Book Magazine. The first edition of the book came out May 29 of 1930, and at that time the fate of Andree was still as much a mystery to the outer world as it was to David Innes.
But in the summer of 1930, the trio’s fate was finally learned, and in a way which, while not confirming Innes’ find as Andree’s balloon, certainly left the door open to that interpretation.
On White Island, east of Spitsbergen Island, a Norwegian sealing vessel discovered Andree’s last camp and the skeletons of the three balloonists, along with Andree’s journal, which told the story of the doomed expedition.
One thing Andree had not fully calculated was the reaction of a balloon to changes in temperature and to the moisture content of the surrounding air. In sunlight, inflating gas heated and expanded, and the balloon rose. But when it entered clouds, and mist gathered on the canopy, the weight of the water and the change in temperature caused it to drop dangerously close to the sea.
These circumstances would doom the air voyage within three days.
Andree and crew had to jettison precious supplies, on occasion, just to keep the balloon aloft. By the afternoon of July 12, the gondola was being dragged along the ice. Andree was recording eight touches in 30 minutes. At ten that evening, the ice-encrusted Eagle came to a dead stop, with everything dripping wet.
Andree wrote in his diary: "Is it not a little strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea. To be the first that have floated here in a balloon. How soon, I wonder, shall we have successors? Shall we be thought mad or will our example be followed? I cannot deny that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can well face death, having done what we have done. Isn’t it all, perhaps, the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man in the ranks, forgotten by coming generations? Is this ambition?"
The balloon stayed motionless for 13 hours. At 10:55 the morning of July 13, the wind picked up and moved the balloon north. The latitude was 82 degrees N.
Once again, though, the balloon dropped and began bumping along the ice cap. Andree realized they could not continue. After 7 a.m. the morning of July 14, they landed and climbed from the balloon at 82 degrees 56’ N, and camped on a floe of ice in a sea of drifting ice.
They unloaded and abandoned the balloon and began trying to make headway with three sledges, 400 pounds of provisions, and a collapsible boat. The going was highly dangerous; many more supplies were discarded along the way; they occasionally found some Arctic animals to shoot to extend their food supply. The ice drift on which they traveled floated west faster than they could march toward the east. They eventually stayed put until they came within rowing distance of an island. On Oct. 4, they landed on that island. Death came shortly thereafter; Andree’s last diary entry was Oct. 17, the day before his 43rd birthday.
For years, it was assumed they had died from exposure to the cold. But in 1949 a Danish doctor, Adam Tryde, read Andree’s description of the illness they suffered and guessed the cause of death. He scraped meat from a bearskin which had been found in Andree’s camp and had it analyzed. The meat was infected with trichinae. They had died by eating improperly cooked polar bear meat.
What of the balloon? Relieved of the weight of supplies and, with varying Arctic weather conditions, it is not unreasonable to imagine that the wind may have lifted it again and wafted it to its final resting place, a few miles inside the inner world where another explorer, David Innes, would find it some day.
Innes guessed incorrectly that the trio had actually ridden the balloon to its final landing point. But the details of his find actually jive accurately with what we would expect: He found no human remains, no supplies – just an empty balloon, which is exactly what Andree left behind.
*I could become a Columbus, a Magellan, a Captain Cook, and a Balboa, all rolled into one. – David Innes, Chapter 19, "Land of Terror."
"The Arctic Grail," Pierre Berton, Viking Penguin Inc., NY, 1988
"The People’s Almanac #2," David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, Bantam, NY, 1978
"Ballooning," Dick Wirth & Jerry Young, Random House, NY, 1991
"Tanar of Pellucidar," E.R. Burroughs, Metropolitan, NY, 1929