Oscar Mathisen
Speedskating - Oscar Diary

The old champ rides again

It is August and still summer, with birds chirping and green herbs growing even into the darkest and sootiest of city lanes. Life springs forth and moves about on foot and wing or vehicles of the weirdest sorts. Several months have passed since the last strokes of the skating season 1911, and the modernist world keeps steaming on unsteadily towards an uncertain fate.

Pancho VillaMany a strange and momentous event has been taking place in this wobbly world. In Mexico, the revolution gains momentum, and battle follows battle. In the latter half of March, Zapata is elected leader of the revolution in the south, but acquires a dangerous rival in Ambrosio Figueroa. In April, bloody battles are fought in the north, first at Bauche with no clear result, then again at Agua Prieta, where the rebels won. In May, Zapata takes Jojutla town without much resistance, and in the north Madero attacks Ciudad Juárez. The dictator Diaz tries to avert the attack by offering to resign, and Madero accepts the offer. He commands his army to stop fighting, but they don’t listen to him and conquer the city after three days of bloody fighting. Pancho Villa is one of the leaders. And it gets still bloodier in the south when Zapata spends a week conquering Cuautla, while Madero takes Torreon at the same time. On May 21, Diaz capitulates and signs a treaty with Madero demanding his resignation. His minister of defense, Francisco Léon de la Barra, takes over until elections can be held. The revolution is victorious. It seems.

But Madero declares that the hacienda owners are to be left in peace, and that all land issues are to be settled in court. In June he marches into a tremulous Mexico city, stricken by an earthquake killing 207 residents. Zapata is there, bidding him welcome. Madero asks him to disarm his troops, but he refuses as long as the peasants still haven’t had their land returned. Madero travels to Morelos in order to assess the situation. He promises Zapata money to buy back the land, and a position as chief of the police in the province. Zapata starts disarming his army. The hacienda owners along with rich merchants and other former Diaz supporters put pressure on Madero to get rid of Zapata, and he complies. Zapata retires officially on June 22 and gets married four days afterwards. Thus peace is restored, sores can be healed and the country sent on the path to growth and prosperity again.

But not for long. The conservatives consolidate in the Barra regime. The Maderistas protest against their activities, and now, Zapata joins the protest. Armed friends circulate around him again. On August 2, Alberto Garcia Granados is appointed secretary of the interior, and demands another demobilising of Zapata’s men, which he refuses. Granados sends Victoriano Huerta, one of Diaz’ generals, to the province with a 1000 men. On August 10 the election scheduled for the 13th is called off. On the 12th, de la Barra declares martial law. Next day, Madero travels to Cuautla to negotiate with Zapata, who is unyieldingly convinced that the revolutionaries must keep armed forces as long as the land issue remains unsolved. Also, he demands the withdrawal of all government troops from the province.

Tuesday (15th of August): The ministry of defence asks Huerta to warn Madero that he will advance if Zapata does not demobilise forthwith. Huerta receives the telegram, but fails to warn Madero. Instead, he asks de la Barra to provide more artillery and ammunition.

On Wednesday, Madero goes back to Mexico city and Huerta promptly starts advancing. But on his arrival, Madero is able to persuade the council of ministers to wait for 48 hours while he attempts another round of negotiations.

Madero leaves again on Thursday, meets Zapata on Friday and this time he agrees to demobilise provided that his candidate for the governorship of Morelos is accepted, that Madero’s brother Raúl is appointed national chief of police, and that all government troops are pulled out of the province. Madero offers to remain in Cuauca as a guarantee of peace until Huerta is out of Morelos.

On Saturday a 100 years ago yesterday, Zapata starts disarming his men. Huerta starts moving as agreed, except that he moves the wrong way, advancing instead of retreating. Meanwhile, de la Barra gives Figueroa orders to threaten towns on Zapata’s side in other southern provinces.

A 100 years ago today there are massive protests in Mexico city. Madero sends a telegram to the president and asks him to order another 48 hour truce. Huerta obeys for the moment.

Down in the Antarctic the winter reigned, limiting the activity of the two expeditions. Scott spent the first part of the fall in Hut Point, where the 16 men hunted seals, made sporadic investigations, tended the animals and improved the house while waiting for the sea to freeze enough to give them passage to Cape Evans, where they had their winter quarters. On Tuesday the 11th of April, Scott and the first party set out, only to be weatherbound for the whole of the next day as was their habit. But on the 22nd all were safely quartered. Next day the Sun showed her face for the last time, declaring winter, a winter though that inaugurated an almost paradisical existence for the expedition participants. They had reasonably comfortable quarters, an excellent cook in Clissold, who also turned out to be a mechanical genius, and the days were spent in hunting seals, playing football, exercising the animals, going on sporadic small expeditions, admiring the polar lights, drinking tea, improving the house and furniture, making various scientific observations, listening to the scientific lectures of each other, and to Scott’s sermons on Sundays. The evenings were spent in reading, writing, games or some odd work. The gramophone filled the confined air with music many a night.

Scott’s last birthday dinner, from his Journals, published by Oxford World’s ClassicsOn June 6th they celebrated Scott’s birthday, his final one, with seal soup, mutton roast, red currant jelly, a fruit salad, asparagus and chocolate with cider, sherry and liqueur. On the 22nd they celebrated midwinter with a “Buszard” cake and champagne followed by more seal soup and roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, fried potatoes and Brussels sprouts with desserts consisting of a flaming plumpudding, mince pies, anchovies and cod’s roe. After this Christmas dinner followed a slides show prepared by Ponting with music, soundly applauded, and then snapdragon, a curious British Christmas tradition consisting of snapping raisins out of a plate of burning brandy. Then they toasted in milk punch and danced traditional Christmas dances. All this alcohol had different effects on the men. The biologist Wilson went to bed early. Oates bubbled with merriment and insisted on dancing with Omelchenko. Evans whispered deep secrets to his companions. “It’s true! It’s true!” Keohane was even more Irish than usual and politically argumentative. Clissold sat with a constant and widening smile, uttering only an occasional delighted “Whoop!”. Finally Bowers and a helper brought in a huge Christmas tree, artifical, with flaming candles, crackers and presents to all, prepared by Wilson’s kind and considerate sister.

Even outside the party atmosphere prevailed. In Scott’s own words: “The elements without seemed desirous of celebrating the occasion with equal emphasis and greater decorum. The eastern sky was massed with swaying auroral light, the most vivid and beautiful I had ever seen—fold on fold the arches and columns of vibrating luminosity rose and spread across the sky, to slowly fade and yet again spring to glowing life. The brighter lights seemed to flow, now to mass itself in wreathing folds in one quarter, from which lustrous streamers shot upward, and anon to run in waves through the system of some dimmer figure as if to infuse new life within it. It is impossible to witness such a beautiful phenomenon without a sense of awe, and yet this sentiment is not inspired by its brilliancy but rather by its delicacy in light and colour, its transparency and above all by its tremulous evanescence of form. There is no glittering splendour to dazzle the eye, as has been too often described; rather the appeal is to the imagination by the suggestion of something wholly spiritual, something instinct with a fluttering ethereal life, serenely confident yet restlessly mobile.”

In the last week of June, Bowers, Wilson and Cherry-Garrard went out on a 5 week expedition to Cape Crozier. This turned out to be rather a bit of a test with temperatures down to −61 °C and frequent storms. They did collect a scientific measurement or two, but the real test subjects evidently were themselves.

In the last half of July twilight appeared around noon, and on August 1 a sunlit cloud was observed. On the 17th the Sun shone on the tops of Erebus and the western mountains. And on the 20th, a hundred years ago today, a morning blizzard cleared to reveal dazzling sunshine on the mountain sides.

Amundsen was back from his depot drive to 82° on March 21st. By then only one of his dogs, “Lassesen” remained alive. Among the victims were the trio nicknamed the “three musketeers”, “Ola”, “Jens” and “Rasmus”, the three fastest, strongest and most dominant dogs in the expedition, appropriated and befriended by Amundsen. Now they were dead, spent through an overloaded sledge and too low temperatures.

Amundsen and his men doing routine evening work, from Roald Amundsen: OpdagelsesreiserOn March 31st his last depot party drove out, 7 men with 6 sledges and a huge amount of seal meat for 80 degrees south. Amundsen stayed behind. They returned on April 12th. On the 21st the Sun went down for the last time that fall, signalling winter. And this winter they spent in roughly the same fashion as their rivals further west. Amundsen didn’t hold services on Sundays, though, and there were scarce tea breaks. Neither did they celebrate Christmas on midwinter day like Scott, but Amundsen does make mention of the unusual polar lights display. And they did celebrate St. John’s Eve the day after, with a steam bath on 79°S, and a celebratory dinner, not quite as sumptuous as Scott’s, but plum pudding and millefeuilles and a bottle of P.A. Larsen’s punch raised the moods a bit. The gramophone played hit tunes like “Kvæsarvalsen”, “Kjempene”, “Tale for madam Hansen” by Schmelck, an aria from “The Huguenots” sung by Michaelowa, and the star number “Solveig’s song” sung by Borghild Bryhn, always building up big lumps in every throat.

August arrived with prospects of spring at Framheim, too, and the crew started packing their sledges on the 16th. This was done indoors, as the temperature outside stayed between 50 and 60 centigrades below. A hundred years ago today they were still busy with this work. Outside the Sun had started shining on the peaks and on the tallest pressure ridges in the north towards the sea. The sight of the golden red light upon the ice ridges in contrast to the deep blue shades around Framheim was striking, and Amundsen sensed the millennial peace and serenity of it, but also the smoke rising from the house announcing the breaking of it.

Our man Oscar Mathisen had not been any more idle than these polar explorers. In the spring a phone rang at Sam Eyde’s office where he was employed, and a voice informed him: “Hans Erichsen calling. I need a man in my shop. Would you happen to be interested in the position?”

Hans Erichsen, allegedly a former European Champion in track cycling (but I have not been able to find evidence of this), had a sports store on Nytorvet specialising in bicycles. In addition he was a vice chairman of the KSK, and thus he knew very well how hard up Oscar was in his current position and why he had been obliged to pawn his medals. He started on April 1st, and now a new phase in his life and career began. He was given every opportunity to train and participate in any meet he would like to, and his salary was much improved compared to Eyde’s.

Oscar Mathisen, Stener Johannessen and Jul Hansen on the starting line at Bislett.The bikers had prepared for the competitive season through early summer and the vacation time (though most had less than a week of vacation—similar to Asia today). At an unspecified time, but before August 3rd (most probably July 30), Spk. Vidar arranged a meet at Bislett with the following results:

1609 m: 1. Gunnar Schou 2.58,2 2. B Andreassen 2.58,3 3. Oscar Mathisen 2.58,4
10000 m: 1. O Mathisen 17.22 2. Daniel Klausen 17.23 3. Magnus Herseth 17.25 4. Schou 17.48,4
5000 m handicap: 1. Carl Olsen (150 m) 8.13,5 2. Herm Rasmussen (200 m) 8.14,0 3. C Gulbransen (200 m) 8.14,3. The scratch starters Mathisen and Schou did not carch up.
Not only Oscar, but Schou and Herseth are prominent in skating as well, Klausen from a few years back. Evidently he has specialised in cycling.

A hundred years ago today a meet was held at Kongsberg, where they had an earthen track in usable condition despite a long spell of dry weather. They arranged qualification heats and finals in the English mile: 1st heat: 1. O Mathisen, Kristiania 3.05 2. Stener Johannesssen, Kristiania 3.05 5/9(!) 3. M Herseth, Kristiania 3.06,5. 2nd heat: 1. Gunnar Schou Kristiania 3.07 2. J M Røed, Drammen 3.08 3. A E Hansen, Kristiania 3.08,2. 5 men qualified for the final. Mathisen and Schou encountered some loose sand in the northern curve and lost their chances. Results: 1. Herseth 3.07,2 2. Johannessen 3.08,0 3. Mathisen 3.08,2.

In the 10000m, Josef Bye took the lead from the start and kept it for 18 of the 20 laps despite a strong wind. Hence he was awarded a well-deserved leader prize. Results: Oscar Mathisen 16.09 2. Hansen 16.10 3. Røed 16.10,5 4. Schou 16.11.

5000 m handicap: 1. Bye (100 m) 8.17,4 2. Schou (80 m) 8.18,2 3. A Knudsen, Kongsberg (250 m) 8.19 4. O Mathisen (scratch) 8.25.

Referee: Hj Thorstensen, Kristiania