Celebrating a Buried Treasure

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Buried Treasures / An Arctic adventurer worth remembering
Elisha Kent Kane was a superstar adventurer and writer in the 19th century but is remembered today only by specialists and aficionados

Globe and Mail
February 28, 2009

Back in New York City after spending two years in the High Arctic, explorer Elisha Kent Kane went with friends to dine at the legendary Century Club. After dinner, while the men sat drinking sherry and smoking cigars, someone introduced Dr. Kane to British author William Makepeace Thackeray, already famous for Vanity Fair.

Prompted by others, Kane – who had published one book about northern exploration – began recounting the story of his latest expedition. According to Harper’s Monthly Magazine, Thackeray and the other men “listened like schoolboys might listen to Sinbad the sailor.” When Kane was done, the hefty Thackeray rose from his chair, approached the table and asked a mutual acquaintance, “Do you think the Doctor will permit me to stoop down and kiss his boots?”

The 35-year-old Kane, born a storyteller in 1820, had divided his life between adventuring and writing. Before undertaking this latest expedition, he had descended into a volcano in the Philippines, fought pirates on the River Nile, infiltrated slave traders in West Africa and narrowly survived a stab wound in the Sierra Madre while fighting in the Mexican-American war. . . .

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