Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Polar Explorer Umberto Nobile's Hard Choice

In 1926, Italian explorer Umberto Nobile became the first person to fly over the North Pole, in a hydrogen airship, and he bought his Fox Terrier, Titina, along for the ride, despite the fact that he already had a crew of 16 crammed into a tiny gondola living compartment that was just over six feet square, and which allowed no one room to sit down except for the dog.

Titina was not the only fox terrier polar explorer: Richard Byrd’s Igloo went to Antarctica at about the same time.

As with Igloo, Titina was an abandoned urban founding. Umberto Nobile said he found the starving young dog in 1925 on the streets of Rome, just as he was preparing for his trans-polar flight. She begged for food, and got quite a bit more than that.

After the successful polar air-crossing Nobile was always photographed with the dog, and Titina became more famous than anyone else in the crew except for Nobile himself, meeting the royal family of Norway, Benito Mussolini, New York Mayor Jimmy Walker, Rudolph Valentino, and U.S. President Calvin Coolidge.

Things later turned bad in the public relations department, however, when Nobile's second Arctic airship, the Italia, crashed in 1928 on the ice pack. Half the crew was killed on impact or shortly after, and Nobile broke his leg and arm, but Titina was unhurt.

A rescue plane found them some days later but there was only room for the famous leader of the expedition, Umberto Nobile. Nobile insisted they also take his little dog. The crew of the Italia was rescued from the ice weeks later, but only after famed Norwegian arctic explorer Roald Amundsen and five of his crew lost their lives looking for the crashed airship.

Nobile's decision to take his dog and leave his crew destroyed the explorer's reputation as he was correctly seen as abandoning his human crew while favoring his dog.

Nobile's reputation never recovered, and he died in 1978 at age 93.

There was one bright point towards the end of Nobile's life, however. Nobile wrote seven books, the last of which was called The Red Tent and which tells the story of his rescue after his second airship crashed. The book became a film starring Sean Connery as Roald Amundsen and Peter Finch as Nobile and, of course, featured a little Fox Terrier named Titina.

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