The newspapers had been full of stories of the top-of-the-world voyage of the dirigible NORGE from King's Bay, Spitzbergen, to Teller, AK, carrying Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and their daring crew of North Pole explorers. I was intensely interested in the passage of the ship-of-the-air over the top-of-the-world, but had no idea I would have a part in the stories of the flight told in pictures.
Schooner C. S. HOLMES
Framed print donated by Miles McCoy.
Saltwater People Historical Society©
One summer afternoon in 1926 as I wended my way up the Seattle waterfront to meet the romantic old sailing schooner C. S. HOLMES, I anticipated a pleasant chat with her master, Capt. John Backland, Sr., and the story of a trading cruise to the Arctic Coast of AK. As I climbed aboard the HOLMES, I was given a warm greeting by the bearded skipper of the trim four-master. He introduced me to a stocky young Norwegian who spoke very little English.
Capt. Backland, to my astonishment, explained that the young fellow, who joined the C. S. HOLMES at Teller, AK, had been the photographer of the NORGE during the ship-of-the-air's voyage over the North Pole and had the film of numerous shots taken during the flight. He wished to buy some cigarettes and use a telephone. Would I help him?
I realized that the young Norwegian had in an important-looking black case, a part of his luggage, a great world-wide news picture scoop and I was not long in warming up to him. I would be very glad to assist the visitor to our shores, the first to use the top-of-the-world route, I told Capt. Backland.
When we reached the shoreside end of the dock house at Pier 5, where the HOLMES was moored, I saw a newshawk of the rival sheet heading for the vessel.
Determined not to allow my guest with the first pictures of the NORGE flight to fall into his hands, I quickly explained as best I could that I was sorry, but there were no phones nor cigarettes on the central waterfront and to comply with his wishes, I must take him to a dock quite a distance north.
We had some heavy luggage to carry but succeeded in reaching Pier 14, where we found a phone and I called a taxicab. I told my friend that the cigarettes and the telephone service were better uptown.
It was late afternoon when we reached the news room of my paper and I explained that my guest had the first pictures of the Amundsen flight over the North Pole. We were not long making a deal with the young Norwegian. He accepted our offer of a guarantee of one hundred dollars if the films developed satisfactorily. We took the films to our staff photographers who accomplished wonders in producing a score of sensational pictures in the Saturday editions and had another spread Sunday morning. During the final conferences, the young Norwegian kept watching me with a puzzled expression on his face. Then he said, "'did you forget about the cigarettes and where can I use a telephone?'
A gift from W. E. Evans.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Of the Arctic traders that threaded their way through ice floes to little settlements near the top of the world, the HOLMES was one of the most widely known. For more than 30 years, she operated from Seattle to Point Barrow and native villages in the Far North.
Each spring the HOLMES would tow to Cape Flattery and spread her sails to the winds of the North Pacific, laden with cargo that was traded for furs obtained by Alaskan natives in the North land's wilderness.
Built in 1893 in Port Blakely, the vessel was named for the late C. S. HOLMES, one of the original owners of the Port Blakely Mill Co. Mr. Holmes later lived in San Francisco where he was a partner in the firm of Renton & Holmes.
The trim four-master was constructed in the Hall Brothers' Shipyards, predecessor of the Winslow Marine Railway & Shipbuilding Co. That was when Benjamin Harrison was president, and four years before the gold ship PORTLAND arrived from AK with her Klondyke treasure cargo.
The HOLMES was operated by the late Capt. John Backland, Sr., and until WWII forced her into retirement, by his son, Capt. John Backland, Jr.
The Arctic trade of the Backland's was one of the oldest shipping enterprises in Seattle. It was established in 1906, when the late Capt. Backland, Sr., purchased a half interest in the sailing schooner VOLANTE, and then acquired the sailing schooner TRANSIT in 1908.
Captain Backland took the TRANSIT into the Arctic every season from that time until she was lost in the ice off Point Barrow in 1913. Then he purchased the C. S. HOLMES.
Capt. John Backland, Sr., as I remember him, was a tall, dignified, mustached master mariner, who was very religious. Born in Sweden, he became a naturalized British subject and sailed as master of English ships between London, Australia, and New Zealand.
Capt. Backland was married in London and came to Seattle from the British port in 1906. Three years later, he became an American citizen. He was succeeded as head of the C . S. Holmes Shipping Co by his son, who made many voyages with his father and had a remarkable linguistic ability to trade with the Eskimos.
Capt. John Backland, Jr., with his intimate knowledge of the ice-choked Arctic seas, became a Navy pilot, and served in that capacity with Barex, the Navy's annual supply expedition from Seattle to Point Barrow, farthest north settlement under the American flag.
The elder Backland died in 1928, after being in the Arctic trade 21 years.
The HOLMES was requisitioned by the Army and converted into a barge in the plant of the Winslow Marine Railway & Shipbuilding Co. She was shorn of her towering masts, and new deck houses for officers and crew. The vessel was used by the Army in transporting cargo on Puget Sound during the war, and then sold to a ship broker. Many on the waterfront thought the HOLMES should have been spared, that other vessels were more suitable for conversion into a barge because of the the old windjammer's age, but war means waste and destruction and the HOLMES became a casualty of the struggle.
Calkins, R. H. "Skipper". High Tide; Seattle, Marine Digest Publishing, 1952.
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