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traits of an old portrait

"A famous Arctic explorer Rual Amundsen arrives to Vladivostok tomorrow morning. His long life has been full of magnificent voyages and scientific research of polar countries". That is a paragraph from a local newspaper Krasnoye Znamya (red banner) of July 17, 1927.

That time Amundsen was a very popular person. He was the first individual to reach the South Pole; he made a trans-Antarctic flight Spitsbergen - the North Pole - Alaska. The nickname was "20 century Viking". A small discovery was awaiting for him in Vladivostok, too. He was arriving from Japan, where they assured him that Vladivostok was a little town of 12 thousand people. Indeed, that turned to be a "town" with a population of 110 thousand.

Sunday, July 18, 8 p. m.: a motor boat of Russian Geographic society picked him up from a Japanese passenger vessel. He was given an enthusiastic reception and a car that took him to "Versailles" hotel. In spite of changeable weather, he wore a white hat and black butterfly-tie every day of his visit. All local newspapers publicized salutatory addresses. For example, "Welcome! Rual Amundsen is a desired guest in the USSR. He has accomplished an exploit. He has uncovered a great mystery of the centuries. He has satisfied the thirst of thought, a strive for apprehending new, making proposals facts ... (and bla-bla-bla in old Soviet pompous style - Max) ... The "Norway" balloon has not flown above Vladivostok yet, but a German company is going to set up a balloon line Leningrad(St. Petersburg - Vladivostok) in a year. The way to North Pole is a long and difficult one. The humanity is braking ancient chains little by little. Reorganization of human society is not going to be over for a long while in the darkness of polar night and eternal ice. However, such reorganization has been going on, and someday it will be over. That day the scientific thought be on its way to subdue the unknown forces of nature to humans."

After 70-hour flight the "Norway" balloon landed at Alaska. On his way back to Europe, that is why Mr. Amundsen visited our city. Though, the Japanese gave him the wrong train schedule, and he got stuck in Vladivostok for six days. The Great traveler approved the plan of spending his spare time. I wonder what sightseeing could a foreigner find in our city 67 years ago.

The first thing he wanted to see was the Pacific research station at Basargin peninsula. He surveyed crab production and stuffed shark and scat, that had been caught at the station. A guest recommended to set up an American stove and make suitable ventilation to dry off the building. Then Mr. Amundsen saw the suburbs of Vladivostok and the remains of old fortifications. Our guest spent more that an hour in a museum of Vladivostok branch of Russian Geographic society. He told about a rare kind of walrus with spots like circles on his sides. Alaskan aborigines refused to sell him such animal no matter how much money he offered. They had a superstition that if they gave away such animal with a head they would get into lots of trouble. In turn, Amundsen did not need it with a head chopped off.

Next day our guest left for Bezverkhovo village to see the deer farm. The movie camera imprinted him stretching his arm to feed a little deer that ran away. By the way, his visit to Geographic society was also taped. I wonder if they still keep those tapes in our archives.

The great explorer left his signature in a "Book of Honor Guests" of the University. He also received a ceremonial reception in a main hall. Walking down the hall way he suddenly opened the door of a lecture-room. The students were taken aback: they kept silence for a moment, than given him a standing ovation. Then it was his turn to be confused. He quickly closed the door.

In the afternoon Amundsen visited "Dalzavod" (the largest plant in the Russian Far East - Max). There was a radio station over there, so he was offered to talk to Khabarovsk.

Local newspapers advertised his free lecture "First Flight on Other Side of the North Pole", that would take place on Tuesday, July 21, at Vorovsky club.

Mr. Amundsen informed that his last expedition cost him 100 thousand dollars. He had defray expenses with reading lectures. He bought his balloon "Norway" in Italy for $ 74,000 and sold it back for only $ 25,000.

On July 22, he went to see the botanical gardens at Okeanskaya, a pioneer camp, and one of the sanatoriums.

July 23 was the day of his departure to Moscow. A man out of breath ran up to him right before the departure. Mr. Amundsen recognized him - that was some Russian sailor who spent a winter with Amundsen in polar ice. "They shared their memories in a brief conversation in English, and shook each other's hands". That handshake concluded the stay of a famous explorer in our city.

A year later Rual Amundsen's balloon "Italy" disappeared during search for expedition of Umberto Nobile. He has remained an honorary member of Vladivostok branch of Russian Geographic society chosen long long time ago - on July 21, 1927.

A portrait of Amundsen in Krasnoye Znamya of July 23, 1927.

Yuri Ufimtsev