“Strange Dream” of Isaac I. Hayes, Part 1 of 2

Isaac I. Hayes, MD
Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1832, Hayes completed medical training at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1860, Hayes led his Arctic expedition on the schooner United States, and on return to Boston wrote his second book, The Open Polar Sea, a narrative in search for an open-water sea-route near the Arctic Ocean.

Hayes’ “Strange Dream”
While off the coast of Greenland preparing for a push north to search for the “Open Polar Sea,” Hayes entered his December 23rd journal entry about his “strange dream” regarding August Sonntag:

I had a strange dream last night, which I cannot help mentioning; and, were I disposed to superstition, it might incline me to read in it an omen of evil. I stood with Sonntag far out on the frozen sea, when suddenly a crash was heard through the darkness, and in an instant a crack opened in the ice between us. It came so suddenly and widened so rapidly that he could not spring over it to where I stood, and he sailed away upon the dark waters of a troubled sea. I last saw his erect form cutting sharply against a streak of light which lay upon the distant horizon.

The literary-like symbolism of the rapidly wide-cracking ice, the dark waters of a troubled sea, and the streak of light are self-explanatory as images of mortal danger, permanent separation, and the hereafter.

Anxious Concerns
Because of his mounting concerns, Hayes records his entry for New Years’ Day, 1861:

This is the tenth day of their [Sonntag and Hans] absence, and they have had more than ample time to come back again. I am the more anxious that the moon has set, and the difficulties of traveling are so greatly multiplied.

Aside from the bitter cold, by now both men had to face surmounting mid-winter logistical issues: food rationing, worn dogs, a potentially damaged sledge, and having to maneuver over ice hummocks, some immense in size, in the absence of illuminating moonlight.

Part 2 of this blog will discuss the fate of August Sonntag and will present concerns that may have haunted Hayes for the duration of his Arctic expedition.

~Fran Hennessey

This blog was initially posted on the New Bedford Whaling Museum “Arctic Visions” exhibit blog http://whalingmuseum-arcticvisions.org/blog/


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