Roald Amundsen was the first explorer to verifiably reach the North Pole (in 1926, with the help of a dirigible). But he wasn’t the first explorer to claim to have reached the North Pole.
One of those early claimants was Robert Peary, who said he reached the Pole in 1909. While no one knows for sure if this is true, other facts about Peary’s travels are not in question.
For instance, there’s the fact that he brought his pregnant wife Josephine to northern Greenland in 1893 so that she could give birth to their first child in the Arctic. The baby girl, who arrived in September, was the first Caucasian child to be born at that altitude.
The baby’s name? Marie Ahnighito. She was often called the “snow baby” by the media.
In her 1901 book “The Snow Baby: A True Story with True Pictures,” Josephine described an outfit one of the Inuit women had constructed for Marie, and that led to the story of the name:
This costume was made by a woman named AH-NI-GHI-TO; so, when the baby was christened, she too was called AH-NI-GHI-TO. She was also named Marie for her only aunt, who was waiting in the far-off home land to greet her little niece.
(I wish she’d included a translation/interpretation of Ahnighito, but alas she did not.)
Marie Ahnighito was probably the first non-Inuit baby to get that particular Inuit name, but she wasn’t the last. So far I’ve found four U.S. babies (two male, two female) named Ahnighito. Two were born in the late 1930s, not long after Marie’s book “The Snowbaby’s Own Story” (1934) was published, and the other two were born in the late 1950s. (One was Ahnighito Eugene Riddick.)
…Oh, and I know of one more thing named after Marie Ahnighito: A meteorite. Or at least a big chunk of one.
About 10,000 years ago, a meteorite entered the atmosphere, broke up, and landed in pieces close to Cape York, Greenland. For centuries the Inuit of the region used iron from the fragments to make tools and harpoons.
Peary discovered these meteorite fragments around 1894. A few years later, he sold the three largest pieces — called “Tent,” “Woman” and “Dog” by the Inuit — to the American Museum of Natural History for $40,000. (Essentially, he profited from stealing/selling the Inuit’s only source of metal.) At some point Peary renamed the largest fragment “Ahnighito” in honor of his daughter, and today all three pieces — Ahnighito, Woman and Dog — remain on display in New York City.
- “Admiral R. E. Peary, Pole Discoverer, Dies at Capital.” New York Times 21 Feb. 1920.
- Fleming, Fergus. Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole. New York: Grove Press, 2001.
- Robert Peary – Wikipedia
Image: Marie Peary (LOC)