Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Exhibits in Preble Hall

"Doctor Kane, I presume?"

In 1977, the Museum was gifted a number of Magic Lantern glass slides and a first print copy of Dr. Elisha Kent Kane's two volume work, Arctic Explorations in the Years 1853, '54, '55. Both parts of this gift chronicle Kane's second trip to the Arctic to find John Franklin, the Second Grinnell Expedition, and Kane's futile attempts to find passage through the North Pole using an Open Polar Sea.

Doctor Elisha Kent Kane
Lantern Slides: A Brief History

The Magic Lantern slide is a small pane of glass with an either hand-painted or a photographic image on it. The slide is placed into a Magic Lantern projector, in which, light is projected through the slide and out the front of the projector. This produces a large image of the slide on a nearby wall or backdrop, making it feasible for people to view the images in groups instead of individually. Images of Kane’s exploits were very popular and widely shown.

The Magic Lantern slides depicting Kane's Arctic voyage were hand drawn and colored. The images on them came from steel plate etchings that were based on sketches by Kane himself. To create slides like those showing Kane's expedition, an artist would first outline the scene onto a pane of glass. Then the artist would color the slide using watercolor paints, which allow for transparency. Once the paint dried, the artist finished the slide with either a coat of varnish or by covering the paint with a second pane of glass to protect the image.

Ice Bergs Near Kosoak, Life Boat Cov
Blue and white paint were popular because of their translucent qualities

Magic Lantern slides were most frequently used for entertainment and education; teachers used the slides as visual aids. Magic Lantern slides were used until the 1950s when 2x2 inch 35mm slides became widely and cheaply available. However, some Magic Lantern slides are still in use today because their images are often irreplaceable scenes of places or events that do not exist elsewhere.

Arctic Explorer John Franklin, background information

John Franklin, one of the best known Arctic explorers, set off on his third Arctic mission in 1845, at age 59. Commanding the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, he was determined to find the Northwest Passage. Just over one year later, everyone on the voyage was missing; the last communication from Franklin was in July of 1846. As 1847 drew to a close, the British Admiralty sent rescue parties to find Franklin. Though they traveled more than 155 miles of coastline, the rescuers found no traces of the ships or crew.

In 1850 and 1851 six new expeditions were sent to look for Franklin and his crew. This time, the United States sent two ships which were privately funded by New York shipping magnate Henry Grinnell. Commanded by Lieutenant Edwin J. De Haven, USS Advance and USS Rescue set out on May 21, 1850. Unfortunately, De Haven’s ships became mired in ice and the crew suffered from scurvy, forcing them to abandon their search and turn back.

Graves marking those lost on De Haven's rescue mission

A British ship from one of the second rescue expeditions did find evidence of Franklin’s winter camp at Beechey Island. It cannot be said for sure what happened to Franklin's crew, but it is believed the men died of scurvy, lead poisoning, starvation, and that some engaged in cannibalism.

Dr. Elisha Kent Kane

One of the crew members on De Haven’s ships was Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, another of the most famous Arctic explorers. Kane was born in Philadelphia in 1820, graduated from medical school in 1842, and became Assistant Surgeon in the Navy in 1843. He served in the Navy for seven years before becoming the Senior Medical Officer under De Haven for the Grinnell Arctic Expedition. After the return of the Grinnell Expedition, Kane wrote and lectured extensively about his account of the voyage. Kane’s two-volume Arctic Explorations sold more than 150,000 copies in several editions after its publication in 1853.

Also in 1853, Kane commanded his second trip to the Arctic, which was again funded by Grinnell. It was on this journey that he would sketch the scenes which eventually became the Magic Lantern slides. Kane was convinced he would find Franklin, and his crew, as well as an Open Polar Sea and the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, Kane was an unqualified and unprepared leader. His ship, Advance, became stuck in the ice. He had, dangerously, wintered the ship too far north for the summer ice melt.

Stuck in Ice
Kane's ship stuck in an ice pack

Kane was also a sickly man, he was bed-ridden for months before the journey and he became seriously ill again while in the Arctic. While icebound and ill in 1854, Kane painstakingly planned the return trip to prevent his team from experiencing the same problems they had before.

In the Brig
Kane, in the center next to the fire, and his unhappy crew, inside the ship

In May 1855 his crew abandoned ship and marched for 83 days, pulling ill crew members, boats, and sledges with them. A passing ship picked up Kane and his crew in August; they returned to New York in October that same year.

The Broken Floes Near PikantlikSled over Crevasse
Kane's crew working together on their long march

The survival of Kane and his crew was only made possible by the help of local Inuits who helped them through the long winter.

Kane meeting local Inuits for the first time

Immediately upon his return to the States, Kane started writing an account of his second expedition. Kane's books chronicling the difficulties and problems he experienced in the Arctic became great successes, contributing to a cultural fad of all things Arctic.

After he returned to the States, Kane sailed to England to meet with Lady Franklin and deliver his report on his failed mission to find her husband. From England, he sailed to Cuba in an attempt to recover his health in the warm weather. Unfortunately, he would die there, in 1857 at 37 years old. Kane’s body was shipped from Cuba to New Orleans. The train that took his body from New Orleans to Philadelphia is rumored to be the second longest funeral train of the century, second only to President Lincoln’s.

Our Kane Slides

In the summer of 2013, the USNA Museum was fortunate enough to have a volunteer, Mr. George Sherry, who was skilled in Graphic Design and Visual Arts. Mr. Sherry provided his skill and expertise to aid in the curation and preservation of our glass slide collection. The digital images he has created enable us to share the collection and use the images without damaging the artifacts. Below is an example of Mr. Sherry's work.

Catching Auks Original  Catching Auks Clean
The first image is an example of how the slides came to us, and on the following image shows the results of the efforts Mr. Sherry put into creating a usable digital copy of the images.
go to Top