Review of ‘Shipwreck at Cape Flora’ in the journal Polar Geography

“…with Capelotti’s smooth writing style and extensive research, many people will be able to enjoy these exciting tales of grand adventure.  For historians looking for a different perspective on a tired subject, to students looking for an exciting, in-depth review of Arctic exploration in its larger context, Capelotti’s book presents the narrative in a way that both informs and compels the reader to learn more about Arctic exploration.  Though there are other books within the [University of Calgary Press’s] Northern Lights series that highlight Arctic exploration, Shipwreck at Cape Flora is an exceptional addition to the series. Capelotti’s book offers both an exciting tale of adventure, while providing the series with a historical background of Arctic exploration.

Chris McEvoy, writing in Polar Geography 38 (2): 2015.  

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Review of “Shipwreck at Cape Flora”

From Canada’s History:

The voyages of Benjamin Leigh Smith in the late 1800s were anything but halcyon. In Shipwreck at Cape Flora, American archaeologist P.J. Capelotti delivers a comprehensive biography of Leigh Smith, one of the most significant but unsung Arctic explorers.

This is an incredible feat, since Leigh Smith never published his research and, unlike other explorers, shied away from any opportunity for fame and glory from his five Arctic expeditions. Drawing from unpublished diaries and journals and his own explorations of the places Leigh Smith visited, Capelotti describes Leigh Smith’s life as very unusual and awkward right from childhood. This perhaps provides a plausible motive for the explorer’s passion to find a part of the world with which he could better connect.

The entire book is a well-written adventure, but the best story is Capelotti’s tale of the events leading up to Leigh Smith’s fifth and final expedition, when his beloved ship Eira foundered off Cape Flora, Franz Josef Land, north of Russia. Remarkably, it is a story of survival, as not one member of the crew was lost during nearly a year trapped on the ice. The account of how they survived is also fascinating.

–Deborah Morrison


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Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space

Archaeology and Heritage of the Human Movement into Space

Coming in August:

“This volume addresses the creation, documentation, preservation, and study of the
archaeology of lunar, planetary, and interstellar exploration. It defines the attributes
of common human technological expressions within national and, increasingly, private
exploration efforts, and explore the archaeology of both fixed and mobile artifacts in the
solar system and the wider galaxy.

“This book presents the research of the foremost scholars in the field of space archaeology
and heritage, a recent discipline of the field of Space Archaeology and Heritage.
It provides the emerging archaeological perspective on the history of the human
exploration of space. Since humans have been creating a vast archaeological preserve in
space and on other celestial bodies. This assemblage of heritage objects and sites attest
to the human presence off the Earth and the study of these material remains are best
investigated by archaeologists and historic preservationists. As space exploration has
reached the half century mark, it is the appropriate time to reflect on the major events and
technological development of this particular unique 20th century arena of human history.”

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Benjamin Leigh Smith: The forgotten explorer of the frozen north

Somewhere in the Arctic Ocean, about halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, there’s an archipelago where Benjamin Leigh Smith’s name marks its easternmost point.

Article from the BBC Newsmagazine, 29 September 2013.

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The place names of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa: Leigh Smith’s Eira expeditions, 1880 and 1881–1882, by Capelotti and Forsberg, now online

The place names of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa: Leigh Smith’s Eira expeditions, 1880 and 1881–1882
P.J. Capelotti and Magnus Forsberg
Polar Record
In the summer of 1880, the British explorer Benjamin Leigh Smith made the first reconnaissance of the western reaches of Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa [Franz Josef Land] in the specially built polar research vessel Eira. This was the first expedition to go ashore in the archipelago after its acknowledged discovery by Weyprecht and Payer in 1873. Combined with his brief reconnaissance in 1881 before Eira sank near Cape Flora, Leigh Smith added a total of 41 place names, 37 of which are still in use, to its geographic nomenclature during his two expeditions, 1880 (39 place names) and 1881–1882 (2). The 1880 names were a post-expedition collaboration, between Leigh Smith and Clements Markham, Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society (RGS). Leigh Smith provided the names of colleagues and scientists who had either been with him in 1880 or on one of his earlier expeditions to Svalbard, or those of favoured relatives, while Markham, along with Sir George Nares as an RGS peer reviewer, added the names of particularly influential individuals in geographical circles as well as a variety of museum curators who identified natural history collections returned by the expedition. Additionally, two place names are connected to the Dutch Willem Barents expedition of 1879.

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Location of the resting place of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D.

Since 2006, three different seminar courses in American studies and Anthropology at Penn State University Abington College have sought to locate the birth and burial spots of four Arctic explorers all born in Pennsylvania.  Some of these, such as the birthplace of Robert E. Peary outside Altoona, PA, are relatively well-known, as of course is his burial place at Arlington National Cemetery.

The gravestone of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in West Goshen, PA.

The gravestone of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in West Goshen, PA.

The other three Arctic explorers, Edwin de Haven, Elisha Kent Kane, and Isaac Israel Hayes, proved more difficult to trace.  Kane’s crypt was located in 2006 at the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and in the summer of 2012, the grave of de Haven was located at Christ Church, Philadelphia, little more than 50 feet from the grave of Benjamin Franklin.

The final resting place of Arctic explorer Isaac Israel Hayes, however, proved a much more difficult task. Penn State Abington student Kevin Drew in 2006 uncovered a lead to a Friends cemetery in West Chester, PA. Abington students Steven Mangier and Janet Stock followed up on this in the spring semester, 2013, but made little headway until a field trip to the Friends cemetery in West Chester on 3 April 2013 failed to locate Hayes. However, on this same trip, Stock alertly took down the phone number of a locale Friends school and that led to a lead that Hayes was in fact buried in another Friends cemetery, one located in the nearby village of West Goshen, PA.  A second field trip, this to West Goshen, finally discovered the grave of Isaac Israel Hayes, M.D., in the Oakland Friends Burial Ground.

Penn State Abington students Janet Stock and Steven Mangier examine Hayes' grave marker, 17 April 2013.

Penn State Abington students Janet Stock and Steven Mangier examine Hayes’ grave marker, 17 April 2013.

The modest white marker over Dr. Hayes is difficult to read. It has a patina of lichen growth over much of it. Hayes is surrounded by other Hayeses from his immediate family, including his father Benjamin, who outlived his famous son. Isaac Israel Hayes was born on 5 March 1832 and died in New York on 17 December 1881. After his internment, the only mention of him in the New York Times is a brief note from May of 1882 that described a delegation from New York coming to place flowers on his grave on Decoration Day (now Memorial Day).  The students of Penn State Abington who found Hayes on 17 April 2013 were likely some of the first visitors to the Arctic explorer’s grave site in a century or more.

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Coming in 2013 from University of Calgary Press

The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith

Shipwreck at Cape Flora: The Expeditions of Benjamin Leigh Smith, England’s Forgotten Arctic Explorer, coming next fall from University of Calgary Press

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