A polar hero, forgotten no more

Over 100 years after the historic expeditions, Amundsen’s cook finally gets his recognition

Photo courtesy of Håkon Anton Fagerås
Lindstrøm, memorialized by sculptor Håkon Anton Fagerås, stands by the harbor in Hammerfest.

Tove Andersson

Over 150 years after his birth, Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm is finally being honored for his contributions to Norwegian polar history.

The Norwegian chef and polar explorer was born in 1866 on May 17, better known as Norway’s National Day. His father, lumberjack Johan Hansen Lindstrøm (born 1810), and his mother, Marie Mathilde Johannesdatter Ruonata (born 1824), both came from Kemi in northern Finland.

He took part in Otto Sverdrup’s expedition from 1898 to 1902. He then joined Roald Amundsen during his navigation of the Northwest Passage and on the South Pole expedition of 1910 to 1912 as well as an expedition to Siberia from 1914 to 1916. During the journey with Fram, he collected large amounts of stones and plants from Greenland and the east coast of Canada.

Lindstrøm was a big, jovial man who rarely left the ships unless he saw a possibility for hunting. He was also a compassionate friend who calmed the crew’s “polar nerves,” an inventor in the kitchen, and a key player in the first mapping of flora and fauna in the polar areas.

“He has rendered more valuable services to the Norwegian polar expedition than any other man,” wrote Amundsen about Lindstrøm in his diary on April 5, 1911.

In 1906, Lindstrøm received the Order of St. Olav for bold nautical achievement. He also received the Fram Medal and the South Pole Medal. Lindstøm died in Oslo on September 21, 1939, after an eventful life.

Photo: John Tore Svendsen
From left to right: sculptor Håkon Anton Fagerås, American relative Karin Gjelseth, and author Jan Ove Ekeberg.

When author and TV-anchor Jan Ove Ekeberg wrote a book about the polar explorer, Et liv i isen (2000), the interest in Lindstrøm’s life was renewed.

“Lindstrøm was in many ways forgotten when I picked him up for my book. The reason I wanted to write about him was that I wanted to see our polar history from the viewpoint of a common member of these expeditions. Instead, I found a very central member of the expeditions. In the diaries from the expeditions he participated in, much is written down about him. At times more than what was written about Amundsen. Lindstrøm could be a clown and make the most insane pranks, but in fact he was a social genius. This is probably what fascinates us today,” writes Ekeberg.

In the book, Ekeberg explains how incredibly challenging these expeditions were on so many levels and focuses on Lindstrøm’s biggest influences on Norwegian polar history.

“Lindstrøm’s most obvious contribution is of course the food. None of the Norwegian expeditions ever suffered from scurvy. Another important feature Lindstrøm had on expeditions was as a social center. The expeditions went to the most windy and coldest places on the globe. Lindstrøm’s galley was hot; there was coffee to get and a chat. It is no exaggeration to say that Lindstrøm was the glue that kept the crew together at the expeditions he participated on,” says Ekeberg, who has been fascinated by historical figures for a long time.

Photos: Kreativ Industri
A couple of Lindstrøm’s relatives made it out to the statue’s unveiling with those who made it possible. From left to right: Henrik Adolf, sculptor Håkon Anton Fagerås, author Jan Ove Ekeberg, and Karin Gjelseth.

After reading Et liv i isen, the project group Lindstrøms Venner (Lindstrøm’s friends) set out to gather money for a statue to honor the 150th anniversary of his birth, and they made a pin for help supporting the statue.

Finally, a year late due to financial challenges, the Lindstrøm statue is in place in Hammerfest with a little help from Olav Orheim, former director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. Håkon Anton Fagerås is the artist behind the bronze statue.

Members of Lindstrøm’s family, now living in the U.S., were present at the unveiling.

“We are pleased to have found two of Lindstrøm’s relatives, one of them Karin Gjelseth from Texas,” says Knut Arne Iversen from Lindstrøms Venner.

“They were delighted,” he adds. “They were happy that their famous relative finally received well-deserving honor.”

Karin Gjelseth tells iFinnmark that she has lived in Chicago most of her life but now lives in Texas. As one of Lindstrøm’s relatives, she has been involved in research on ancestors for Lindstrøms Venner. “I have inherited his love for travel,” she says.

Another relative, Henrik Adolf, came from Haugesund to witness the unveiling. “We held our uncle Lindstrøm high and my mother wanted me to be named after him, but using Henrik first, as Adolf had some connotations (after WWII). I have followed my uncle’s principles during my work abroad for over 35 years. We have to use what we got as a gift at birth,” Henrik Adolf says, pleased to see his uncle in bronze.

Hammerfest Tourist, in cooperation with Hurtigruten, will arrange expeditions in order to give the forgotten polar hero the attention he deserves.

This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is www.frilanskatalogen.no/frilanstove, and she can be reached at tove.andersson@skrift.no.