Birthday: February 2, 1886
Nationality: American, Danish
Died At Age: 71
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Lorenz Peter Elfred Freuchen
Born Country: Denmark
Born in: Nykøbing Falster
Famous as: Explorer
Height: 2 m
Spouse/Ex-: Dagmar Cohn, Magda Lauridsen
children: Mequsaq Avataq Igimaqssusuktoranguapaluk, Pipaluk Jette Tukuminguaq Kasaluk Palika Hager
Died on: September 2, 1957
place of death: Anchorage
Lorenz Peter Elfred Freuchen was an explorer from Denmark renowned for his participation in the Arctic exploration. He was also an author, journalist, and anthropologist. A native of the southern Danish city of Nykøbing Falster, Freuchen studied medicine for a period before opting for a life in the outdoors. In 1906, he embarked on his first expedition to Greenland. He and Polar explorer Knud Rasmussen ventured on several expeditions together, between 1910 and 1924. They set up the Thule Trading Station at Cape York (Uummannaq), Greenland, as a trading base in 1910. In time, it started being used as the home base for the seven Thule Expeditions, between 1912 and 1933. During this period, Freuchen developed a deep understanding of the Inuit culture. His first wife was an Inuit herself. In the later years of his life, he worked at the newspaper ‘Politiken’ and was employed as the editor-in-chief of a magazine, ‘Ude og Hjemme.’ Freuchen was also involved in the film industry. He was a consultant, scriptwriter and even had his own movie company. During the World War II, he actively worked against Nazi Germany and was part of the Danish resistance movement. As an author, he published both fiction and non-fiction books, several of which were edited by his third wife, Dagmar Cohn.
Childhood & Early Life
Born on February 2, 1886, in Nykøbing Falster, Denmark, Peter Freuchen was the son of businessman Lorentz Benzon Freuchen and his wife Anne Petrine Frederikke, née Rasmussen. His father wished that Freuchen should have a stable life, so he convinced him to enrol at the University of Copenhagen to pursue a degree in medicine.
It did not take him long to realize that a life in the comfort and safety of his home was not enough for him. He craved to live a life filled with excitement and danger. He subsequently quit school and decided to be an explorer.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
Career & Later Life
In 1906, Peter Freuchen went on his inaugural expedition to Greenland. Accompanied by Knud Rasmussen, he travelled by a ship from Denmark and ventured north as far as possible. They then left their ship and travelled by dog sled for over 600 miles. During their travel, they came across many Inuit people. They traded with them and learned their language from them. They even took part in their hunting expeditions.
The Inuit people are known hunters of walruses, whales, seals, and even polar bears, and Freuchen fit right into that lifestyle. He was a man of large stature (6'7") and was a great help during polar bear hunting. In fact, he killed a polar bear and made a coat out of it, and wore it for years to come.
In 1910, Freuchen and Rasmussen created a trading post called Thule in Cape York, Greenland. This name was inspired by the term “Ultima Thule”, meaning “beyond the borders of the known world” in medieval cartography. Between 1912 and 1933, Thule was used as the home for seven expeditions which were named after it.
From 1910 to 1924, Freuchen helped people who visited Thule with instructions on Inuit culture. He explored Greenland more thoroughly and visited the previously unexplored Arctic.
In order to test the theory of a channel dividing Greenland and Peary Land, he made one of his earliest expeditions, which was one of the Thule expeditions. He eventually made a 620-mile trek across the frozen wasteland of Greenland that ended with his renowned ice cave escape.
In his autobiography, ‘Vagrant Viking’, Freuchen gave a detailed account of what transpired. He stated that this expedition was the first-ever exploration of Greenland. However, he and his crew found themselves in a blizzard. Freuchen attempted to hide under the dog sled but ended up fully buried under the snow. It soon turned to ice.
At the time, he did not have his usual tools like daggers and spears with him. As a result, he had to improvise. He shaped a dagger out of his own faeces and carved himself out of the ice cave.
When he reached the camp, he realised that his toes had gotten gangrenous and his leg was severely frostbitten. He did not have any anaesthesia with him, but nonetheless, proceeded to amputate the affected toes himself and attached a peg where his leg used to be.
While Freuchen spent most of his time in Greenland in the 1910s, he came back to Denmark from time to time. In the 1920s, he developed an interest in politics and became associated with the social democrats.
Continue Reading Below
Around this time, his career as a journalist also took off. He wrote articles for the political newspaper ‘Politiken.’ In 1926, he became the editor-in-chief of ‘Ude og Hjemme,’ a magazine founded and owned by the family of his second wife, Magda Vang Lauridsen.
When the World War II broke out, Freuchen actively rebelled against Nazi Germany. He was part of the Danish resistance movement, fighting the Nazi occupation in his native country, and even his missing limb did not deter him. He did not tolerate any anti-Semite views and openly proclaimed himself to be Jewish.
Several members of the Nazi leadership, including Hitler, regarded Freuchen as a threat and wanted him dead. They eventually caught him and sentenced him to death, but Freuchen somehow managed to escape his Nazi captors and went to Sweden.
In 1956, he made an appearance on the American TV quiz-show ‘The $64,000 Question’ and went on to win it.
Peter Freuchen was a prolific fiction and non-fiction writer. Over the course of life, he authored over 30 books, many of which were edited by Cohn. Freuchen also joined the film industry, serving in various projects as a consultant and scriptwriter. Understandably, his contributions were mostly to Arctic-related projects.
One of the most renowned films that he served on was MGM's Oscar-winning ‘Eskimo/Mala The Magnificent’ (1933). It was based on two of his books, ‘Der Eskimo’ and ‘Die Flucht ins weisse Land’. Freuchen also appeared in the film, playing the role of Ship Captain.
As an author, Freuchen won the Sophus Michaëlis' Legat in 1938, Herman Bangs Mindelegat in 1954, and Kaptajn H.C. Lundgreens Legat in 1955.
Freuchen was a member of the Royal Danish Geographical Society, who awarded him the Hans Egede Medal in 1921.
He was selected as a fellow at the American Geographical Society.
Continue Reading Below
Family & Personal Life
Over the course of his life, Peter Freuchen married three times. His first wife was an Inuit woman named Navarana Mequpaluk, whom he married in 1911. They had two children together: one son, Mequsaq Avataq Igimaqssusuktoranguapaluk (1916-1962) and one daughter, Pipaluk Jette Tukuminguaq Kasaluk Palika Hager (1918–1999). In 1921, Navarana died of Spanish flu.
After Navarana’s death, he expressed his desire to bury her in the old church graveyard in Upernavik but the church did not grant him permission as she was never baptized. Freuchen eventually buried her himself.
In the subsequent years, he became an outspoken critic of the Christian Church’s attempt to convert the Inuit people without comprehending their culture.
His second wife, Magdalene Vang Lauridsen, was the daughter of Johannes Peter Lauridsen, who was a prominent Danish businessman and director of Danmarks Nationalbank. The wedding took place in 1924. Freuchen and Lauridsen divorced in 1944, after being married to each other for about two decades.
He married his third wife, Danish-Jewish fashion illustrator, Dagmar Cohn, in 1945. The couple later relocated to New York, where Cohn had landed a job at ‘Vogue.’
The last years of his life were predominantly spent in US. While he and Cohn lived primarily in New York City, they also owned a house in Noank, Connecticut.
Death & Legacy
On September 2, 1957, Freuchen passed away in Anchorage, Alaska, US because of a heart attack. He was 71 years old at the time. He reportedly wrote the preface of his last work, ‘Book of the Seven Seas’, three days prior to his death. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated, and his ashes were dispersed on the table-shaped Mount Dundas outside of Thule.
In 1938, he established The Adventurer's Club (Danish: Eventyrernes Klub), which is still operational. After his death, they planted an oak tree in memory of him and set up an Eskimo cairn not far from the place from where he departed from Denmark for Greenland in 1906. Located in the east of Langeliniebroen in central Copenhagen, the cairn was founded near The Little Mermaid statue.
Besides the Arctic, Freuchen has travelled to various other places, including South Africa (in 1935) and Siberia.