Amid the glitter of “The Powerhouse” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on March 31st and the Atlanta History Center on May 25th, seven signatures were added to AGS’ Fliers’ & Explorers’ Globe at dinners honoring the signers, past and present.
The events were hosted by Marsh Inc., with assistance from Delta Air Lines, and were attended by members of the business communities of New York and Atlanta at the invitation of both companies. AGS Councilors were also invited, to represent the Society and talk with the other guests about AGS.
In celebrating the evening’s honorees, speakers from Marsh and Delta emphasized the extraordinary accomplishments that are possible when risk is well managed, ventures are carefully planned, and partners are carefully chosen–something the business executives present could well appreciate.
Each program began with a brief video presentation about exploration, geography, and the American Geographical Society. That was followed by words from AGS President Jerome E. Dobson about the history-shaping impact of geographers and their work, yesterday and today. He emphasized the role of AGS in alerting others to the opportunities and the threats produced by advances and discoveries in the geographical community. He spoke in particular about the power of Geographic Information Science and its significance for economics, social relations, politics, and warfare.
Then the globe-signings began.
Signing the globe at the New York event were Junko Tabei, who in 1975 was the first woman to successfully climb Mt. Everest; Ann Bancroft and LivArnesen, who in 2001 were the first women to ski across Antarctica; and William Anderson, commander of the Nautilus submarine in 1958 when it was the first vessel to cross the North Pole by water.
Each signer, both the new and the old, described the accomplishment that had led to the invitation to place his or her name on this artifact, which carries more than 70 signatures such as those of Charles Lindbergh, Sir Edmund Hillary, Richard Byrd, Amelia Earhart, and John Glenn. All the signers seemed to find it easier to speak with awe about each other’s accomplishments than about their own. As a result, a spellbound audience heard understated and humorous first-hand accounts of what it was like to carry out feats few would imagine much less attempt. Then they heard from others just how difficult those records were to achieve. Apparently the impact on the listeners was so stunning that they were reluctant to let the evening end. When the program was concluded, guests lingered for more than an hour to meet and talk with the globe signers and the AGS Councilors present. This occurred in Atlanta as well.
At the dinner in Atlanta those signing the globe were Edith (Jackie) Ronne, one of the two first women to winter over in Antarctica (1947-48); Sylvia Earle, who in 1979 set the record for walking untethered on the ocean floor at a depth of 1,250 and who holds records as the world’s deepest woman diver; and Bryan Allen, who in 1977 was the first person to fly a human-powered aircraft, the Gossamer Condor. That craft was designed by Dr. Paul MacCready with Dr. Peter Lissaman, both of whom were present to witness Allen sign the globe. Another special witness present was Harry (Skip) Darlington, son of Jenny Darlington, the other woman in the 1947-48 Antarctican expedition. He was there to represent his mother whose health prevented her from attending to sign the globe.
Ronne was introduced by Keith Greenaway, who signed the globe in 1947 to mark his navigation in 1946 of the first American military flight over the North Pole. Earle was introduced by George Lowe, a member of the British Everest team of 1953, who signed the globe in 1954. Allen was introduced by Neil Armstrong, who signed the globe in 2000 to mark the 1969 Apollo 11 mission on which he became the first human being to set foot on the moon.
In addition to describing Allen’s record-making flight on the Gossamer Condor, Armstrong spoke at length about other inventions and technical achievements that MacCready, with assistance from Lissaman, has continued to produce. Earlier in the day several of the globe signers met with representatives of Delta Air Lines for a tour of its facilities, including the company’s operational control center, and a flight aboard one of Delta’s multi-million dollar flight simulators. Later, in an open employee meeting, Delta employees took full advantage of the opportunity to ask about future challenges as well as past achievements by some of these intrepid explorers and inventors.
At the New York event, Don Walsh made a perceptive comment about all the signers of the globe. An achievement that captures the attention of the world and earns someone the privilege of placing his or her signature on the globe is not a one-time thing in the life of the signer. For each one, it is usually the outcome of long effort, much trial and error, and frequently of many attempts. And, from what the signers on these two occasions told about their subsequent activities, it is clear that those who finally set such records seldom stop at that. They are life-long adventurers who continue seeking other challenges to tackle. Their lives—not just the celebrated deed–are heroic.
Don Walsh described the globe and its signers this way. “This is really something special. It’s almost mystical in the history of exploration. It’s an artifact you will find in no archive in the world—no museum in the word….All the greatest explorers of the 20th Century have put their hands on this globe and have signed it. There is no place where there has been a convergence of the idea—the notion—of exploration, learning more about our planet, than this device, this artifact you see right here. This is very special. To be asked to sign it is a very high honor indeed….It’s a great thing.”
Time had taken its toll on the globe itself. It was in need of repair. Therefore, in 2003, with financial help from the U.S. Aviation Insurance Group and Marsh, the globe was carefully restored by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, and a secure display case was built for it for these and future Globe events. For that help and for supporting these extraordinary events, Marsh Inc., Delta Air Lines, and the U.S. Aviation Insurance Group deserve the thanks of all who understand the power of a tangible symbol of achievement such as the Fliers’ & Explorers’ Globe.