“The pole at last!”

Marie Peary Stafford poses with the plaque at the base of the monument.
Marie Peary Stafford poses with the plaque at the base of the monument. (Peary Family Collection, 401.001.02, Donated Materials in the National Archives)

When Robert Peary wrote “The pole at last!!!” into his diary on April 6, 1909, he had no idea that his claim would be disputed for the next several decades by experts who doubted that he and Matthew A. Henson were the first men to reach the North Pole.

Marie Peary Stafford had no such doubts, but her mission was equally difficult to complete. In 1932 she headed to a remote part of Greenland to erect a monument to her father’s accomplishments.

Marie had been born in Greenland while her father was on an expedition there, and she was now returning to the remote country with her two sons. She had raised the money and had the plans for the monument—56 feet high with decorative marble Ps at the top—created by a Boston firm. They charted the schooner Morrissey, and when they sailed away from the dock, Matthew Henson was on the shore to wave them off.

The expedition was recorded by a cameramen hired to film the events, but Marie’s diary revealed that she struggle to maintain control over mounting problems.

In a her Prologue article detailing Marie’s journey, National Archives preservation specialist Audrey Amidon notes that the five master stonemasons turned out to be “a bricklayer, two stonecutters, a painter, and a carpenter.” When the cement froze and the workers attempted to cut corners, Marie had to step in to ensure the height and decoration remained the same.

By the end, Marie was irritated by the camera’s intrusions and frustrated with the filming. But the monument was completed and remains there today—you can see it in the original films from the the expedition.

Peary’s family donated his field notebooks, diaries, photographs, and maps relating to his Arctic explorations to the National Archives, and you can see them in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

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