Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why the fascination?

So how did 129 men disappear from the what was supposedly the most well equipped naval expedition born of Victorian England? It obviously took a combination of factors: Lead poisoning (proven by Beattie), Scurvy (bone samples and fact of lemon juice's deterioration), Ice conditions (as seen by early searchers and witnessed by local natives), misplaced faith in their primitive steam engines, food supply, refitted and overloaded ships, and just plain and simple (or complicated?) bad luck.

What makes this mystery so fascinating, in a sense, is the utter totality of the disaster. All the men- gone. The ships- gone. The records- almost non-existant. The tantalizing tales of the locals are right out of a gothic novel- groups of starving men, their appearances grotesque, wind-battered tents full of frozen corpses, cannibalism, etc. We don't know what happened, but we know it was terrible. To sound cliche... it's like a train wreck, you're horrified, but you can't look away.

Another reason for continuing fascination with the Franklin Expedition is good, old-fashioned hubris. Just like the Titanic- the "unsinkable" ship, many of those taking part in this particular search for the Northwest Passage believed that their mission could not fail. Some would call it flying in the face of God. The less religious or more cynical may simply call it irony. When people ask, (espcially with arrogance) what could possibly go wrong, they are usually answered, and answered quite firmly at that.

So there it is, my attempt at an explanation for why I'm so fascinated with Franklin's lost men. Yet I've barely scratched the surface of why I'm so interested in this particular historical mystery. I'm not really a researcher, just an avid follower of other people's research. From Cyriax to Beattie to Woodman to Potter and Battersby and countless others, I am grateful for those who do their own original research.