Fiftieth Anniversary--Olav Bjaaland Photo

The Olsv Bjaaland photo at Pole
The Olav Bjaaland photo, as displayed in the dome pool room in January 2004

On 30 October 1961, the governments of Norway and the United Kingdom held an official ceremony at Pole, presenting a plaque commemorating the Amundsen and Scott Expeditions of fifty years ago (more information about that ceremony). On 7 December 1961, a second informal presentation occurred at Pole with high personal overtones.

After RADM Dufek visited Pole on the historic US flight in October 1956, he sent a gift to Olav Bjaaland, who at the time was the last survivor of Amundsen's trail party. While accepting the gift, Olav expressed the desire to send a message and commemorative token to the residents of the station on the 50th anniversary of Amundsen's arrival. And a bit later, in June 1957, Paul Siple sent Olav a telegram from Pole commemorating Midwinter's Day.

The gift turned out to be the above photograph taken in December 1911, which Olav took from his belongings. It shows the Norwegian flag flying in the vicinity of the Pole. In the foreground are Bjaaland himself using a sextant and Oscar Wisting, another member of the party, checking a chronometer to determine the exact location. Across the photograph, Bjaaland, in a trembling hand, inscribed the message "Helsing til Sydpolen 1961" (Greetings to the South Pole 1961). These were the last words Bjaaland ever wrote before he died at the age of 88.

closer view of the photoBefore his death, Olav entrusted delivery of the photo to Fredrik Th. Bolin, a Norwegian newspaperman who had previously visited Antarctica. The 7 December 1961 presentation was also witnessed by CAPT Finn Ronne (whose father Martin was sailmaker on Amundsen's ship Fram); Baron Gaston de Gerlache (whose father led the Belgica expedition of 1897-99 on which Amundsen served as second mate); and Mr. Erik J. Friis, representing the American-Scandanavian Foundation of New York.

the version of the photo in Roald Amundsen's bookOlav was a world champion skier, who was driving one of four dog sledges upon arrival at Pole. Once when he met Vivian Fuchs, who was the first person to cross the continent during IGY, Olav's remark when Fuchs was describing the Pole was "sounds like it hasn't changed much."


The above information was adapted from the Bulletin of the US Antarctic Projects Officer, Vol. 3 No. 5, January 1962, p. 4. The photo above left was scanned from the original at Pole, September 2005 (larger file size, 443k) (larger formats available). Note: I removed the photo from the frame for scanning and there is NOTHING on the back (something that I had wondered about since 1977). The framed photo is courtesy of Seth White. At right is another version of the photo as it appears in Amundsen's book The South Pole, in which the photograph is described somewhat differently. More information, the map, the discussion, and additional references are on this page.