Q: Clearly there were reports there was a lot of drinking on the expedition.
Were you aware?
NV: Well I was aware of a lot of drinking about one group. When the boat went
through the Panama Canal a fifty-five gallon drum of alcohol was given to the
expedition. Of course for medical purposes. The drum of alcohol was put into
the warehouse and somebody got a long tube and would siphon alcohol out of the
barrel. And the habit was to siphon it out into a pitcher and then take this
pitcher into what was called the Norwegian House where there were eight people
living. And the group that were drinking were all assembled there every night
and they would drink very heavily. And one night there was some alcohol left
in the pitcher and the next night when they started to drink they consumed that
first before sending one of them out to get more alcohol. That man that went
out to get more alcohol was pretty intoxicated because he was a lone drinker
before anybody else started and he didn't know he was going out to get it but
he did go out and when he inhaled through the tube he was supposed to feel the
solidity of the liquid in the tube as it went by his fingers and then he would
turn the tube and make the tube into a siphon and get all the alcohol he wanted
but he didn't feel the alcohol in the tube. And took a great inhale for
another breath and pulled this cold alcohol into his mouth and throat and the
result of that was exactly the same as if he'd taken a blow torch and put it in
his mouth, for the temperature of that alcohol was fifty and sixty degrees
below zero. I don't know, just extremely cold because it was packed in the
ice, been there all winter. And when it got into his mouth and burned every
part of his mouth his mouth swelled up and he couldn't eat, couldn't swallow,
couldn't do anything about it and the Doctor Coleman thought that he might lose
him but he worked on it and got a passage way through to his throat and then
fed liquid through it, through the throat and pulled him around out of it but
that was a drastic experience.
Q: How big an issue was drinking on the expedition? Was it a big problem?
NV: Oh I don't think it was a big problem at all. I think these fellas were
drinking. It was all during the winter. They had nothing more to do and they
were stealing the alcohol. What could you say. Of course they were drinking
but I didn't think it caused any trouble in camp. It was just jealousy more
than anything else that they were getting away with it and so other people,
some people didn't want to drink at all and those that did finally drank. But
Byrd himself never was apart of that party that I knew nothing about.