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Peter Freuchen - Danish explorer, author, journalist and anthropologist
Peter Freuchen was born in Denmark on February 2nd 1886. He was a tall man standing at six feet seven inches. As a child he was unhappy with living an ordinary life, he desired adventure in the wide open spaces of the north. Freuchen went on to live an interesting life. He was an artic explorer, cartographer, anthropologist, zoologist, author, gameshow winner and even tried his hand at acting.
Freuchen participated in several artic explorations. His first was the 1906 Denmark Expedition to Northeast Greenland. Using dog sleds, they travelled a total of more than 4000 miles. This was a record distance for an Artic expedition at the time. In 1912, he was part of the First Thule Expedition. This expedition proved that Robert Peary’s claim that a channel divided Peary Land from Greenland not to be true. It was a 1000 km journey that almost killed them.
Freuchen wrote over 30 books. In his autobiography ‘Vagrant Viking’ he talks about how he escaped a snowbank using his own excrement. As a result of the conditions, his excrement froze solid and was able to be used as a chisel. After spending thirty hours confined in the snowbank, he was able to chisel his was out.
He crawled his way back to camp because his feet were frostbitten. To treat the gangrene that set in on one of his feet, the Eskimos peel all the flesh and muscle off his toes. After seeing the skeleton that remained, Freuchen decided to amputate his own toes using a pair of pincers, a hammer and no anaesthetic.
In 1933, Freuchen appeared in the movie ‘Eskimo’. The movie was based on a book he wrote. The movie won an Oscar, although it failed to find an audience.
Freuchen was anti-Nazi. During the 30s he joined the Danish resistance against Germany. He was imprisoned by the Nazis and sentenced to death. With an amputated leg he escaped to Sweden.
In 1956, Freuchen won $64,000 on the American TV-show ‘The $64,000 Question’. The next year he was awarded the Gold Medal of the International Benjamin Franklin Society for his “service to mankind in opening new frontiers.”
Freuchen was married 3 times. His first wife was an Inuit. She followed him on several expeditions. She bore him 2 children but sadly died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1921. Unfortunately she was not allowed to be buried in the old church graveyard because she was unbaptised. Freuchen was left with no other option but to bury her himself. He strongly criticized the church for their understanding of the Inuit culture. His third wife was Dagmar Cohn. She was a teacher, artist, editor and a top fashion illustrator. She illustrated the cover for Vogue in 1947. During their marriage she became an expert on food from around the world. He remained married to her until he died of a heath attack on September 2nd 1957, at the age of 71.