Perhaps it’s time to introduce the love interest in We Hear the Dead. He’s not the typical boyfriend you find in a YA novel, although I’m pretty sure women did swoon over him. In fact, Elisha Kent Kane was one of the most beloved celebrities of the 19th century: a doctor, an explorer, a scientist, a writer, a world traveler, and a military hero who combined the flair of Indiana Jones with the science of Jacques Cousteau.
Born into an illustrious Philadelphia family, Kane nearly didn’t make it to adulthood due to an illness that almost killed him in his late teens. Young Kane’s reaction to his near-death experience was to throw himself headlong into a life of adventure worthy of a dime novel.
Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a medical degree, Kane traveled extensively in Asia and Africa. In the Philippine Islands, he performed his first feat of derring-do — rappelling down the gaping mouth of a live volcano. (Yes, the volcano in the picture at the top of this blog!)
Upon his return to the U.S., Kane secured an officer’s commission in the Mexican-American War. On the field, Kane defeated a Mexican detachment, but afterward clashed with his commanding officer over the treatment of their prisoners.(Kane was against slaughtering them!) He narrowly escaped a court-martial, but he returned to Philadelphia a hero, the darling of the press.
Still, it was his role in Arctic exploration that made Elisha Kane truly famous. His first foray into the frozen north occurred when he served as ship’s surgeon on the U.S. Grinnell Expedition in search of the missing British explorer, Sir John Franklin. Although the expedition didn’t find any trace of Franklin’s men, Kane returned afire with the exploration bug. He threw himself into the lecture circuit to raise money for the next expedition, which he was destined to command. Kane attracted crowds all across the country with his enthralling tales of adventure in the north.
But no celebrity is complete without a romantic scandal, and Kane was no exception. Maggie Fox burst into the limelight in 1848 with a talent for contacting the dead, manifesting mysterious messages from spirits. Kane was no Spiritualist, but he fell helplessly in love with the enigmatic Miss Fox and began to court her with an enthusiasm he had heretofore reserved for his career.
And Elisha Kane was used to getting what he wanted.
To Be Continued …