Henson Re-creates Ancestor's Arctic Trek

The Scene -- County currents and undercurrents

April 15, 1992

James Ellis Henson, the county's new human rights administrator, likes to talk about his ancestors -- great uncle Matthew Alexander Henson, co-discoverer of the North Pole with Robert E. Peary, and the Rev.Josiah Henson, a runaway slave portrayed in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

If they were alive today, his ancestors might be talking about him. An ardent student of black history, Henson does everything with flair.

It is not surprising that when he began thinking about a way to honor his great uncle on the 83rd anniversary of the discovery of the North Pole -- April 6, 1909 -- Henson decided to follow in his footsteps.

Well, almost. The Perry trek was made by dogsled. Henson's was by airplane. Also, he didn't quite get to the pole. He went as far as the last land base in the arctic -- 500 miles north of Thule, Greenland, and 300 miles short of the pole.

A retired Air Force mastersergeant, Henson rode in a C-130 equipped with skis instead of wheels for landings, making it "an exciting trip," he said.

When he reached his final destination -- a remote outpost called Station Alert -- a helicopter was supposed to fly him another 50 miles to meet with his "Eskimo cousins." But the helicopter couldn't get through.

What happened instead is that he made the trip on dogsled.

When he arrived on April 6, he was greeted with fireworks and embraces.

"It was a wonderful way to celebrate my great uncle's accomplishment," hesaid upon his return to Ellicott City this week. "Now if I could just get the feeling back in my fingers."

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