Open house set at Eielson museumEighty years ago, a 100-day, international search was under way for famed Alaskan pilot Carl Ben Eielson, whose airplane was lost during a rescue mission of a trading ship, the Nanuk, icebound in frozen Arctic waters 90 miles north of North Cape, Siberia.
By: By Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
HATTON, N.D. — Eighty years ago, a 100-day, international search was under way for famed Alaskan pilot Carl Ben Eielson, whose airplane was lost during a rescue mission of a trading ship, the Nanuk, icebound in frozen Arctic waters 90 miles north of North Cape, Siberia.
This weekend, residents of Hatton — Eielson’s hometown — will observe that anniversary with a Christmas Open House at his boyhood home, the Hatton Eielson Museum. The event will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The grand, three-story, six-bedroom home is a treasure trove of Hatton and Eielson family history.
Eielson, a UND graduate, is considered the father of Alaskan aviation. He started the first airmail service in the state.
In 1927, he flew Australian explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitzbergen, Norway, the first flight ever over the top of the world. Later, they accomplished a similar feat in Antarctica.
Eielson was just 32 when he and his mechanic/co-pilot Earl Borland left Nov. 9, 1929, from Alaska to deliver food, mail and other supplies to the stranded Nanuk. He had made a similar trip the winter before, coming to the aid of the Nanuk’s sister ship, the Elisif, delivering a valuable load of furs and other supplies.
For the next three months, pilots from the United States, Canada and Russia searched the Arctic region between Alaska and Siberia, before the wreckage finally was discovered Jan. 25, 1930, in the frozen Chukchi Sea north of Siberia.
When news of his death reached home, his father, Ole Eielson told a reporter in Grand Forks, “It is sad to think of Ben being taken in the prime of his career like this. But I think if a man has been able to pack as much into a brief career as Ben did, that is compensation for not having lived longer.”
In the 80 years since his death, Eielson has been memorialized in Alaska and North Dakota.
Eielson’s airplane, the Hamilton NC10002, was recovered in 1991 and returned to Fairbanks, where it now is on display at the Alaskaland Pioneer Air Museum.
The Eielson Air Force Base is located 25 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska.
Mount Eielson is a 5,715-foot peak near Denali, Alaska, in the shadow of North America’s largest mountain, Mount McKinley, which rises to 20,320 feet.
The Carl Ben Eielson Middle School is located in Fargo.
And the Carl Ben Eielson Elementary School is located at Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Volunteers at the Eielson Museum have been opening the doors for a Christmas event most of the last decade, combining a holiday touch with the historic displays.
“It just looks so grand,” said Gary Lillemoen, Hatton, one of the volunteers and decorators.
Visitors also will be able to tour the Eielson Hangar, another local museum that feature’s Eielson’s aviation history, along with the fuselage of one of the airplanes he flew in Alaska.
The hangar is located in the old Dakota Kist Bottling Co. building a block-and-a-half from the museum.
The displays include preserved newspaper clippings from The New York Times, New York World, and others that documented the famous aviator’s aerial accomplishments. It also features a Russian-language blueprint of the search.
Eilson’s niece, Eileen Mork, was a young girl when Eielson died. She is pictured in a large family photo in front of the grand old house.
“One of my memories of him as a little kid was that he didn’t have a little finger,” she said. “He froze his hand and lost the little finger.”
Mork later lived in the Eielson house for several years.
“I didn’t understand what a great man he was at the time,” she said, “but I never forgot that.”
Kevin Bonham is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.