It’s an article of faith among many devotees of Seattle history that what really first put the city on the map was Alaska after massive gold discoveries thereabouts in the 1890s. Long before the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair–or Starbucks–the city became the staging point and gateway for thousands of would-be prospectors who arrived from the east and south by train and headed north by boat. Even though most returned empty-handed, Seattle businessmen made fortunes feeding, outfitting and housing them coming and going. The aftermath included creation of local enterprises now nationally known as UPS and Nordstrom. Alaska’s importance locally is why there’s a statue in Seattle’s Volunteer Park of William H. Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State who negotiated Alaska’s 1867 purchase from Russia for 2 cents an acre.
Which is why I, New To Seattle, find it so surprising to see a significant Seattle imprint at the southern end of the earth, in Antarctica. More than a dozen geographic features on that frigid, desolate continent are named for people or institutions in Seattle. Indeed, one 50-mile-long cliff, the Washington Escarpment, is actually named for the entire University of Washington, some of whose alumni explored it in the mid-1960s.
The Seattle individuals so honored were UW science professors or federal government employees who spent a lot of time stomping around Antarctica. A U.S. government agency, the Board on Geographic Names, keeps track of this stuff.
Since it’s a big place–40% larger than the United States–with no native peoples and thus no oral traditions or human history, Antarctica had a lot of mountains, glaciers, bays, capes, islands, ridges, valleys, tables, ponds and other features to be named. In earlier years, the first person to document the feature got what we today would call naming rights.
And for a while that was Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who in 1929 became the first man to fly over the South Pole. Despite his U.S. Navy position, the first two of his five expeditions were privately funded. A master promoter, Byrd hit upon the idea of naming stuff for financial backers, often media publishers whose outlets gave him lots of coverage. That’s why the map of Antarctica contains such features as Mount Pulitzer (for St. Louis Post-Dispatch publisher Joseph L. Pulitzer), Howard Heights (for Roy W. Howard, a co-founder of United Press International who headed the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain), Sulzberger Bay (for then-New York Times publisher Arthur H. Sulzberger), Mount Iphigene (for his wife, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger), Block Bay (for Paul Block, who owned a chain of newspapers), and Block Peak (for his son, William Block, later publisher of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Two on the media list have Seattle connections, of sorts: Hearst Island, named for William Randolph Hearst, whose holdings included the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Mount Hamilton, named for G.C. Hamilton, an executive of McClatchy Co., which now has a minority stake in The Seattle Times.
But Byrd, who died in 1957, couldn’t name everything. In later years, discovered features were more named on relevant merit, honoring explorers and scientists.
Anyway, here is the rest of the Seattle list, fished up by me from the Board on Geographic Names database. It’s possible I missed some names.
—CONWAY ICE RIDGE, named for Howard B. Conway, UW Department of Geophysics
—HALLET VALLEY, named for Bernard Hallet, UW Quaternary Research Center.
—HERNANDEZ VALLEY, named for Gonzalo J. Hernandez, UW Department of Earth and Space Sciences.
—MACKIN TABLE, named for J. Hoover Mackin, UW professor of geology.
—RAYMOND ICE RIDGE, named for Charles F. Raymond, UW Geophysics Program.
—REDMAN POND, named for Regina Redman, U.S. Geological Survey, Seattle.
—RODRIQUEZ POND, named for Russell Rodriquez, U.S. Geologcial Survey, Seattle.
—WARREN RIDGE, named for Stephen G. Warren, UW Department of Atmospheric Sciences
—GROOTES PEAK, named for Pieter Meiert Grootes, UW Quaternary Isotope Laboratory.
—MISCH CRAG, named for Peter Misch, UW professor emeritus of geology.
—NERESON GLACIER, named for Nadine A. Nereson, UW glaciologist.
—STUIVER VALLEY, named for UW geochemist Minze Stuiver.
—WADDINGTON GLACIER, named for UW geophysicist Edwin D. Waddington.
Unlike Alaska, Antarctica had nothing to do with putting Seattle on the map. But these folks had a lot to do with putting Antarctica on the map.