Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Antarctica in My Mind

Photo of Ike Taylor
Ike Taylor
In 1955, Dr. Isaac “Ike” Taylor, a then professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, husband and father of five, left his civilian life behind and volunteered for “Operation Deep Freeze” a mission dedicated to exploration and scientific research in Antarctica

Taylor assumed active duty as lieutenant commander in the U.S Naval Reserve Medical Corps and served as Chief Medical Officer at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica from 1955-1957. The airbase established at McMurdo Sound was constructed as part of the International Geophysical Year.

The Durham Morning Herald reported in 1957, “The year has been set up in order that simultaneous observations may be made over the entire world in such sciences as astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, geology, glaciology and others. Scientists from 55 nations are taking part in the program.”
Image of one of the first planes to be flown in 1955
"One of the first planes to be flown in ('55) with Erubus in background steaming 12/55"

Taylor’s previous research on the physiological effects of low temperature on tissue and his interest in Antarctic explorations led him to volunteer for the mission. For close to two years he studied hypothermia, the effects of cold weather on personnel, performed research and tended to the medical needs of the 60 men stationed at McMurdo Sound.

Almost half of his papers (Isaac Taylor papers Mss-219) are comprised of family correspondence. Throughout the entirety of his service in Antarctica Taylor exchanged hundreds of letters with his wife Trudy and their five children: Alec, James, Kate, Livingston, and Hugh. Taylor’s letters home include descriptions of his work, the landscape, newly constructed buildings and Naval equipment and vessels. From a letter dated January 10, 1956 Taylor writes to his two eldest sons:

Letter from Ike Talyor to his children
Dear Alec and James: Can you imagine what I am doing now? You would love it if you were here…We are camped on a small beach of black gravel and sand formed from the lava of the volcano, Mt. Erebus, which lies 14 miles away. No lava has come from the volcano in many years though we can see smoke and steam coming from the top.

It is evident that Taylor’s descriptions of his adventures in Antarctica and the general mystery surrounding such a far off place sparked the artistic minds of his children. You can see the product of their young imaginations and artistry in the drawings and paintings of Antarctica that accompany their letters back to Taylor.

Painting by James Taylor

This painting by his son James, shares a close resemblance to the volcano that Taylor described in his letter from January.

Painting by Alex Taylor
The painting by his son, Alec seems to depict “Operation Deep Freeze” and the men at McMurdo Sound, including Admiral Richard Byrd.

Letter from Kate Taylor
Despite being thousands of miles away or as Taylor wrote: “The Antarctic is about as far away from Chapel Hill as it is possible to go.” The family maintained a connection through words and images.  As Taylor would describe his life and work in Antarctica, his wife and children would share descriptions of their everyday lives in North Carolina including: travel, weather, illnesses, holidays, homework assignments, and Christmas lists.

Personally, the letters and artwork so obviously represent the unwavering love between father and his children and the influence of his narrative and on their imaginations.

Photo of the Eastwind, 1956
“East Wind USCGC at ice ridge, McMurdo Sound, Summer 1956”
Initially my interest in Taylor’s papers was piqued due to the extensive amount of family correspondence, especially the paintings by his children. In digging a little deeper into the collection, an exciting discovery was unearthed. James, Taylor’s second eldest son is in fact famed singer-songwriter James Taylor. Up until a few weeks ago the familial connection between Isaac and James Taylor was unbeknownst to Rauner Library staff members. It goes to show that the opportunity for discovery is ever present here at Rauner Library and continuously adds to the excitement of our day!

The Isaac Taylor papers (Mss- 219) are a part of Rauner Library’s Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration, which features the papers of many polar explorers in addition to published materials, photographs, and vertical files. If you would like to learn more about “Operation Deep Freeze” and the Taylor family you can request Mss-219 at the reference desk.

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