Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1707- Christian Klengenberg: Klengenberg of the Arctic

I first heard of Christian Klengenberg through a student of mine. He was a descendant of Christian Klengenberg and told me some of the most fascinating stories. I've since met a lot more of his descendants and have been very curious to read Klengenberg's autobiography, Klengenberg of the Arctic. Written in the early 30s and published shortly after his death in 1931, the book has been long out print and very hard to come by. Finally, I've been able to track the text down online (and hopefully someone will republish it as a book).

Originally from Denmark, Klengenberg was a world-traveled adventurer and jack of all trades by the time he ventured north to Alaska and northern Canada. It was here that he seemed to be most at home and where he married an Inuk woman named Gemina and began a family. His was not a life without controversy, however. He once went to trial for murdering a man. While he was acquitted for that, some still had their doubts and indeed, he was also under suspicion for a few other criminal acts including the theft of a ship and the disappearance of another man.

Of course, one shouldn't expect to find any evidence against him in his autobiography, but it was at least interesting to get his side of these stories, as well as many other tales. His personality runs large in these pages and at times he can come across as a bit arrogant (about himself and his family). This is especially problematic when he suggests in one paragraph that he is easy-going and can get along with anyone, but later describes a near mutiny against him. Some of his arrogance, I suppose, was warranted as there is no doubt he had superb survival skills and was more adaptable than a good many visitors to the north before and since. Nor, it should be noted, does being arrogant prove he was guilty of any of the crimes accused of him.

Klengenberg of the Arctic is a wildly entertaining and insightful collection of memories by an eccentric personality, one that has left an immeasurable impact on the north.

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