Arctowski, Henryk
(July 15, 1871 - Feb. 21, 1958)

Arctowski is the only name of its kind on the face of the earth and belonged to only one man. After graduating from college in Liege, Belgium, the son of Charles Artzt, whose German ancestors settled in Poland in the 17th century, changed his last name to Arctowski, and he owns all the historical records of Henryk Arctowski. The Artzt name is extinct. Believe it or not, the middle of Antarctica, which he advocated to name the southern polar region of the globe, is the same as the first four letters of his new name.

Although born in Warsaw, where the Russian language was thrust into classrooms after Poles lost their battle for independence in 1863, his father sent him to a gymnasium at Inowroclaw, where nobody dared to change his style, and then to universities in Belgium, Switzerland and France to study geology and chemistry. In 1895, when Adrian de Gerlache, an officer in the Belgium Royal Navy, planned to conduct the first scientific expedition to the southern polar region, Arctowski joined the team and left Antwerp, Belgium, on August 16, 1897, in an old, 336-ton, refitted whaling ship. Without the end in view, the ship, renamed Belgica, and her crew became the first in history to spend a winter in the southern polar region.

It began on February 28, 1898, when the Belgica became stuck in the ice. It was icebound for thirteen months. From May 17 to July 23, 1898, the wooden hull sat in total darkness in the ice of Billinghausen Sea. The expedition ran out of food. It had no radio to call for help. It was ill-equipped to handle the ordeal. Several men went crazy. Scurvy was rampant. Many in Belgium feared that everybody on board the Belgica lost their lives. Somehow, however, de Gerlache managed to free the ship from the clutches of the sea and brought her safely back to Antwerp on November 5, 1899.

Soon afterwards Arctowski accepted the position of meteorologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium at Uccle, as it is known in French, a beautiful village outside of Brussel, and began to cash in on his experiences in Antarctica. He wrote papers for scientific publications and delivered lectures near and far on the ocean, weather conditions, icebergs, and other phenomenon he witnessed in the polar region. Adrian de Gerlache himself won a prize for his book on the expedition.

Had he not met Jane Addy, a concert singer from Rochelle, Illinois, during his lecture tour of England, the chances are that he would not have left his position in Belgium for a similar one in Washington, D. C. They were married on March 15, 1900, in the St. Giles section of London and lived in Uccle, Belgium, until they boarded the Zeeland at Antwerp and arrived in New York on October 20, 1909. Apparently he remained in the nation's capitol only long enough to see the dedication in 1910 of the equestrian statute of General Pulaski on Pennsylvania Avenue and the marble tribute in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to General Kosciuszko, a military engineer of the American Revolution.

When New York spent $9,000,000 to build the largest marble public library in the world in 1911 he was horrified that the beaux-art building in the middle of the city provided no separate rooms for library services in the natural sciences. He gave up his post in Washington to organize the division of natural sciences at the New York Public Library. In 1915, while living with his wife in an apartment overlooking the majestic Hudson River at Yonkers, he pledged allegiance to the United States and received his citizenship papers. In addition to his library duties, he prepared a report on Poland, including maps, drawings, charts and tables, for the American delegation to the peace conference after the end of the First World War. It took place in Paris and lasted six months. Arctowski wanted to see his homeland free and attended the sessions of diplomats from 30 countries during the entire time. At the same time his wife sang at concerts to raise money for Polish refugees.

No person was probably more impressed with Arctowski's familiarity with Poland than lgnace Paderewski. When he became the head of Poland after 123 years of partitions, Paderewski wanted to appoint Arctowski the minister of education in the new republic. But Arctowski declined because he had agreed to serve as chairman of the department of meteorology and geophysics at Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow, where over the years he received an honorary doctorate and published 144 papers with assistants. At the same time he took active part in the work of the International Geographical Union.

With his wife he arrived in New York on August 21, 1939, from Gdynia, Poland, on the Pilsudski. Shortly after, Germany invaded Poland and his return to Lwow was impossible. He stayed in the United States and found work at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. He remained there until 1950 when he was unable to travel to work. He died in Bethesda, Maryland, February 21, 1958. His wife of 58 years established an award in his name with the National Academy of Sciences for outstanding contribution to the study of solar physics. Every three years from the beginning, a bronze medal and $20,000 has gone to a person and $60,000 to an organization of the recipients choice to further research in solar-terrestrial relationships. No woman has ever received the award.

Two years after their deaths their bodies were taken to Warsaw, Poland, and tabled at the Powazkowski Cemetery. Among the names he left on the maps of Antarctica are Mount Arctowski in the Graham Land, Arctowski Station on King George Island, and Arctowski glacier.

From: Edward Pinkowski (2009)