Amundsen Visits the South Pole... and La Crosse
(Written by Bill Petersen, Archives staff)
On February 9, 1913, Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer credited with leading the first expedition to reach the South Pole, gave two lectures at the La Crosse Theatre, located at 115 S. Fifth Street (now Fifth Avenue).
La Crosse Theatre, ca. 1913
Amundsen was the guest of Dr. Adolph Gundersen, who resided at 1231 Ferry Street. It was not the first time Amundsen had been a guest at the Gundersen home. The Norwegian explorer had visited Gundersen in La Crosse in 1908 when he gave a lecture about leading the first successful expedition through the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in 1903.
During this first visit to La Crosse Amundsen befriended local attorney Olaf Skaar. Prior to the start of his first lecture on his South Pole discovery, the young daughter of Skaar appeared on stage dressed in a traditional Norwegian costume, bearing a large bouquet of red carnations for Amundsen. The famous explorer smiled at the gesture and bowed to the little girl after receiving the flowers.
Amundsen’s lecture, which featured motion pictures and colorized photographs, focused on his 99-day journey to the South Pole which culminated when Amundsen and four other members of his party reached the Pole on December 14, 1911. Amundsen was in a race with English explorer Robert F. Scott, who reached the South Pole 35 days after Amundsen did.
Ironically, at the same time that Amundsen was giving his lecture in La Crosse, the world learned that Scott and his four companions had died on their way back to their base after reaching the South Pole. The bodies of Scott and his companions were found by a search party on November 12, 1912. The last entry in Scott’s diary was March 29, 1912.