Monday, August 8, 2016

Chautauqua: Matthew Henson

Adventure abounds in the heart and soul to explore his surroundings and go into the unknown.  Although, many are born more adventurous than others.  Matthew Henson happens to be a name that most of us are unfamiliar.  I never learned about him in school.  In fact, until I was reading about the upcoming Chautauqua festival, I didn't know who he was.  Now, I know I will not forget.

Music presentation before the lecture series. 

Our education system I have found out does not tell the whole history of our nation or world.  Of course, history is a massive study and somethings are cut out.  However, this man's amazing life does deserve mention.  I am pleased that my children will know about him.

We traveled back in time to 1913, to hear Matthew Henson recount his adventurous life.

He was the son of a freeborn sharecropper.  He was orphaned as a child and ran away at age 11, to Washington D.C.  A sailor, Baltimore Jack, filled his head with sea stories and he soon dreamed about a life of exploration.  He took off to Baltimore to fulfill his dream.  He was an eager lad and was certain he would be able to follow his dreams.

He became a cabin boy for Captain Childs on board the Katie Hines.  He had such found memories of Captain Childs.  Childs taught him the skills needed to be a mariner.  He learned math, geography, cartography, and the Bible.  He learned medic skills and carpentry.  Childs was like a father to him and taught him how to read people and understand that the fist should not come first.  Unfortunately, Childs died when Matt was twenty and he had to return to Washington D.C.

Matt Henson told us about how he had to work in a hat shop after he returned.  He still wanted to seek more adventures.  He was twenty one and was hoping for an opportunity. Then one day, Robert Peary stopped in the store and chatted with the owner about needing a cabin boy.  This was Matt's chance!  Peary didn't want to give Matt the chance because he was too old to be a cabin boy.  Matt told us that somehow he convinced Peary to take the chance.  He told him of all his skills and Peary agreed to let him be a valet.

Henson told us that he was Peary's right hand man.  Peary called upon him every time there was an expedition.  He told us that Peary was the first person to give him a birthday celebration.  They were very close.  The pair tried five times to reach the north pole and finally had success on the sixth attempt.  Henson told us that the sixth attempt was going to be their last whether they made it or not.  They had been trying for eighteen years and both men were getting older.

At last, Henson and Peary made it to the North Pole on their sixth and final attempt.   Peary had Henson go first in the last leg of the trip.  Peary followed with his sled team.  Henson stopped his team when he thought he may have overshot the pole to wait on Peary.  Peary's team carried all the equipment to determine their coordinates.  About thirty minutes expired and Peary caught up to Henson.  Peary checked the coordinates and they were spot on at the North Pole!

Peary and Henson took pictures with the Inuits to record the historic moment.  However, it was after the trip back to the ship that Peary changed towards Henson.  Henson recalled how Peary did not speak to him or recognize him.  It left Henson dumbfounded.  How was it that a man he had spent all this time with, could suddenly not acknowledge him? It was implied that Peary was upset that Henson had been the actual first man to reach the North Pole and not himself.  Neither man ever commented on this.  Peary and Henson never resolved the why.

Matthew Henson tried going on tour and giving lectures about his adventures.  Many dismissed him because Peary never publicly acknowledged Henson on their return from the North Pole.  The black community in New York, however, never let Matthew Henson's achievement be buried in history.  It was due to the black communities that Henson's story has been told and recognized.  What a story it truly happened to be!

Keith Henley did an outstanding performance of Matthew Henson.  He provided a level of excitement and engagement to the audience in his characterization of Henson.  Henley in his own right has an amazing background.  I am looking forward to seeing him portray other characters in the Chautauqua series.