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Byrd's Eye View

May 24, 2012 10:00 AM | 0 comments

Admiral Richard E. Byrd, October 17, 1932

Much has been written about Richard Evelyn Byrd, the scientist and explorer who led courageous voyages to Antarctica and daring flights over the Poles.  Although he was not a Brooklynite, he was no stranger to the borough and his travels were well documented in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle over the course of two decades.

Floyd Bennett, 1928

Prior to his noteworthy southbound trips, Byrd was a Naval Aviator.  In 1926, he went on leave from the Navy, and with Brooklyn resident and aviator Floyd Bennett at his side, took off to attempt the first flight over the North Pole.  The men left from the Brooklyn Navy Yard on April 5, 1926, on an expedition funded by a slew of investors including, Edsel Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Vincent Astor.  Although many were suspicious of his claim, he was celebrated upon his return as the first pilot to fly over the pole.  In spite of skeptics, both men were awarded the Medal of Honor and Byrd was declared an American Hero. 

Medal for distinguished public service, 1930

Through the course of his career, Byrd received several awards including medals from the Civic Forum (above), American Industry, Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America and the Public School Athletic League.

A lesser-known explorer, Frederick Cook, resident of Bushwick, was involved with a similar North Pole scandal, claiming it was he who first set foot on the pole--although the laurels for that accomplishment went to Naval Rear Admiral Robert Peary.   

With the feat of flying over the North Pole behind him, Byrd prepared for his first voyage to Antarctica in the fall of 1928. He amassed 4 ships, 3 planes, 95 dogs, 650 tons of supplies, and 42 men.  The main purpose of this expedition was to map a large part of the continent.  While in Antarctica, he made the first flight over the South Pole and established a research base called "Little America," nine miles off the coast.

Byrd's vessel U.S.S Bear in "Little America," 1940

In 1930, while in Brooklyn, Byrd was honored by Brooklyn Borough President Hesterberg at the dedication of the municipal airport, Floyd Bennett Field.  The Field, named for Byrd's comrade, Floyd Bennett, was New York City's first municipal airport,  and was used by many notable aviators such as Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.

Howard Huges stepping out of his plane at Floyd Bennett Field, 1938

Following the dedication, Byrd was the guest of honor at the Brooklyn Bond Club's luncheon and was honored at a dinner hosted by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Brooklyn's Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce at the St. George Hotel. 

Byrd shaking hands with Brooklyn Borough President Hesterberg, 1930

The following year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute for his explorations in the Antarctic and advancements in science. 

Polytechnic Institute Graduation, June 18, 1931

In 1933, Byrd returned to Antarctica. He spent five months alone in a hut 120 miles south of "Little America" to study inland temperatures.  After two months of isolation and as the temperature reached 72 degrees below zero, he began to feel ill.  Although his messages back to base camp indicated his health was good, he was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, presumably from his stove and lamps. 

When he returned from this trip, President Roosevelt commended him for his contributions to twenty-two separate sciences. 

Byrd riding in a car with President Roosevelt, 1939

November 1939, with the North Star sailing from Boston, the greatest Antarctic expedition of its time was underway.  This was the third voyage to the continent for Byrd to observe the weather, make seismographic recordings, map out the coastline, and claim territory for the United States.  The crew of 63 brought a 55 foot, 12 ton snow cruiser designed by Dr. Thomas Poulter, which would carry eight men, an airplane, and could withstand temperatures up to 80 degrees below zero. 

Dr. Thomas Poulter shows the model of the snow cruiser he designed, 1939

Byrd's snow cruiser, 1939

Byrd's routes to Antarctica, New York Times, December 30, 1946

 Upon returning from his 1947 adventure, one member of Byrd's team brought home a souvenir for the Central Park Zoo, a penguin named Seejee.

Not the penguin brought to the zoo, but an Emperor Penguin in the Antarctic, 1940