Lorenc Peter Elfred Freuchen was a 6’7” tall walrus-spearing, peg-legged, anti-Semite-clobbering Danish explorer and badass old-school 1900s explorer who wore a fucking awesome coat made of polar bear fur, rocked a seriously epic beard, rode a dogsled 1,000 kilometers across the Greenland ice cap in the 1910s, killed a wolf with his bare hands, escaped a Nazi death warrant at the height of the Third Reich, amputated his own fucking gangrenous toes with a pair of pliers (and no anesthesia), and starred in a goddamned Oscar-winning movie – which was based on a book that he wrote. And this guy was so over-the-top awesome that he played the fucking villain in a movie that was loosely based around his own autobiography. He was also the fifth person to win the jackpot in the TV game show The $64,000 Question, published thirty books, founded two Adventurer’s Clubs, and his biography is called The Vagrant Viking.
Need more proof? Check this shit. One time he was caught in a blizzard and ended up being buried alive in an inescapable cocoon of ice so tightly packed around him that he could barely move. After 30 hours trapped in a frosty tomb the size of a large suitcase this behemoth Dane escaped certain death by molding his own shit into a fucking knife and using it to carve through a solid wall of ice, then crawled another three hours back to base camp like something out of The Revenant meets Everest meets goddamn Shawshank Redemption.
Oh, yeah, and he looks like this:
Freuchen with his third wife.
His coat is made from the fur of a polar bear that he killed himself.
Peter Freuchen was born in Denmark in February 1886 (his birthday was exactly 130 years ago last Tuesday). He studied to be a doctor at some pretty swanky Danish schools, but order and structure and living indoors in the civilized world like a fucking chump wasn’t what Freuchen was put on this earth to do, and after getting in trouble quite a bit in school (he wrote in his awesomely-titled autobiography The Vagrant Viking something along the lines that “the first victims of my hunter’s instincts were my early instructors”) Freuchen peaced out and said fuck people, I’m going to go explore the damn wilderness. He signed on with every Polar expedition he could, and became obsessed with exploring the uncharted wilderness of Greenland and the North Pole. In 1906, at the age of 20, he and his buddy Knud Rasmussen sailed as far north as they possibly could, then got out of the ship and traveled 600 miles across the frozen wastes of Greenland on a damn dogsled just to see what was out there. They met the Inuit, who were awesome, traded with the natives, learned the language, and then went on badass co-op hunting expeditions to spear walruses, whales, wolves, seals, polar bears, and other insane things.
That looks pretty cold.
Freuchen also went on sea-and-land expeditions to places like South Africa, Siberia, and a few other inhospitable wastelands where no person should ever be able to survive (ok, maybe South Africa isn’t that bad, but they do have hella Great Whites and that shit freaks me out), but Freuchen’s heart was in Greenland. So in 1910 he returned, went as far north as he could bear, and then set up a trading station where he could live among the Inuit. He named his two-person town Thule, after Ultima Thule, which was a marking used in medieval cartography to denote anywhere that was beyond the borders of the known world.
This is an aerial photograph of Thule today:
In Thule the daily mean temperature this time of the year is twelve degrees below zero. Negative-twelve. Fahrenheit. As an average daily temperature. And we are talking 1910, when you didn’t have windbreaker jackets and wetsuits and Gore-tek thermal shit. This motherfucker was wearing furs, leather, and wool to keep warm. That’s it. At one point, his cabin was so could that his breath was turning to ice and lining the inside of the cabin. After he burned through all of his coal, the got smaller and smaller from all the condensation until it was so cramped that he could barely stand up.
Freuchen lived here for like the next decade, learning fluent Inuit and accidentally becoming basically the world’s first and foremost expert on the native peoples of Greenland. He married an Inuit woman and had two children, who were given the alphebet-heavy names of Mequsaq Avataq Igimaqssusuktoranguapaluk and Pipaluk Jette Tukuminguaq Kasaluk Palika Hager. Freuchen’s grandson would become the first person of Inuit descent to be elected to the Canadian Parliament. Today Thule is home to a friggin’ United States Air Force base. They have aircraft, fighters, and radar listening posts, and it’s home to the 12th Space Warning Squadron, which I think is either something designed to provide early-warning detection against either Russkie ICBMs and/or Cylon Basestars.
Freuchen and his wife in the 1910s.
She joined him on many of his early expeditions.
Thule served as the home base for seven expeditions between 1912 and 1933. The First Expedition, in 1912, involved crossing a thousand kilometers across Greenland just to prove to Commodore Peary that the North Pole wasn’t separated from Greenland by a river. Both Freuchen and Rasmussen almost died on the trip, but they became national heroes overnight for their accomplishment.
Freuchen’s first wife died of the Spanish Flu in 1921, and he returned home to Denmark for a while. He began writing for a newspaper called Politiken (it’s still around today), and began working on the first of the nearly 30 books he would publish in his career as a bestselling author. Most of his works were focused on Inuit culture and badass man shit like killing bears and surviving in a climate where your piss can practically freeze mid-stream, but he also wrote about the oceans, sailing, and put out some cool hardcore “dude kills everyone in a fit of vengeance” fiction stories like the ones you see in those old awesome 1920s pulp magazines.
In 1924, Freuchen married a friggin multi-millionaire, who was the heiress to a huge fortune because her folks ran the most successful margarine business in Denmark (I’m not making this up). Her parents liked Freuchen so much that when they founded a new magazine in 1925, they made Freuchen the editor-in-chief. The magazine is still in circulation today – it’s the longest-running magazine in Danish history.
But don’t go thinking Freuchen was going soft just because he was a millionaire best-selling uthor who lived in a massive estate on his own private island (even though that totally did happen). He kept making trips back north and going on badass expeditions, including the one in 1926 that I referenced in the poop story earlier.
Basically, Freuchen was exploring the Northern reaches of Greenland when he got caught out in a hardcore insane blizzard storm:
He took cover beneath a dog sled, but the snow and ice overtook him and he was trapped. The ice was so tight against him that his beard froze to the ice, meaning that if he wanted to turn his head he had to fucking yank a piece of his beard out. After 30 hours of trying to claw and punch his way to safety, Freuchen ingeniously and hilariously chiseled through the wall of ice with a fucking shank he fashioned from his own shit, crawled three hours back to base, took off his socks, saw his fucking toes had gangrene, and then amputated his toes with a pair of pliers and a hammer.
When he got back to safety he had his leg amputated.
He had a peg leg for the rest of his life.
This did not stop him from going back to Greenland. A lot.
One of Freuchen’ books about the Inuit was turned into a movie in 1933. Telling the tale of a fictional Inuit warrior’s adventures in the Arctic, the film’s dialogue was entirely in Inuit with English subtitles. Freuchen wrote the story, translated the dialogue, was an interpreter on the set, helped the film crew survive on set, and played the movie’s villain. It won an Academy Award, which is awesome, even if the Oscar was for “Best Film Editing” which really isn’t something that Freuchen was actually involved with at all whatsoever. Either way, an awesome side note is that during the premier of Eskimo, Freuchen apparently picked up Nazi director Leni Reifenstahl (Hitler’s favorite director, btw), held her over his head, and spun around in a circle, laughing his ass off. She did not enjoy this. He couldn’t even use the excuse that he was wasted at the time, because Peter Freuchen never drank.
Freuchen founded “The Adventurer’s Club” in Denmark in 1938, a cool place for cool dudes to sit around and smoke cigars by a fireplace in an awesome wood-paneled room with animal heads on the walls. But unfortunately Denmark was having some Nazi problems around this time, which pissed off Freuchen quite a bit. According to what I’ve read, any time someone would say some anti-Semite shit around him, Freuchen would stand up to his full height, walk right up to the dude, and intimidatingly say something along the lines of, “I’m Jewish. What are you gonna do about it?”
When the Germans took over Denmark, Freuchen was part of the Danish Resistance. He hid refugees, subverted Nazi operations, and pissed off Hitler so hard that the Germans arrested him and sentenced him to death.
Freuchen escaped, fled to Sweden, and continued undermining the Nazis. Because if an icy coffin isn’t going to kill him, the Nazis weren’t either.
In 1945 Freuchen moved to New York City and married his third wife (the one pictured above), Dagmar Cohn. Dagmar was a fashion illustrator who worked with Vogue, and the pair settled down in NYC to wait out the rest of the war. Nearly 60 years old by now, Freuchen joined the New York Explorer’s Club, another cool hangout spot, and today they have a big painting of him mounted on the wall between the taxidermied heads of exotic African wildlife. Freuchen became friends with Mae West, bench-pressed Jean Harlow at a party once, and in 1956 he became only the fifth person to win The $64,000 Question (they asked him about the Seven Seas… big mistake).
Peter Freuchen died of a heart attack in 1957, just three days after completing his final book. He was 71 years old.
His ashes were scattered over Thule, Greenland.
International Policy Digest
Full Text of Freuchen's Autobiography