Edward Israel died of hunger on a frozen spit of land nearly a thousand miles north of the Arctic Circle. He was only 24 years old.
How the young astronomer ended up there is an epic tale of tragedy and tenacity.
Israel had joined a scientific expedition to Ellesmere Island three years earlier. At 81 degrees north latitude, it’s one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. Here, Canada merges with Greenland under ice sheets and the glow of the aurora borealis.
The expedition, led by Lieutenant Adolphus Greely, set sail aboard the ship Proteus in July 1881. Arriving at their destination a month later, the 25-man team quickly built a rugged camp they named Fort Conger. It was world’s northernmost outpost.
Greely’s crew would spend the next two years enduring hurricane-force winds, frigid temperatures, and months of continuous darkness to collect data. To avoid becoming trapped in winter ice that chokes the sea, Proteus headed back to civilization soon after depositing its cargo of men and supplies on the barren shore. A relief ship was scheduled to replenish the camp’s food and fuel a year later, and Proteus would return in ...