Herskind’s memory of Greenland (1860–1900)

This article is chapter 1 of Secrets of Sweden, a 2012/2015 miniature sourcebook for the fictional setting known as the Cthulhu Mythos.

Sebastian Herskind was born in Denmark in 1843, the son of a whaler. In 1860, he was one of the sailors on Professor William Channing Webb’s expedition to Danish Greenland.1 On subsequent voyages, Herskind gained a dim awareness of the Cthulhu Cult through its activities in the cosmopolitan nautical community. By the 1880s he was first mate on a Swedish migrant ship, making regular tours to New York.

The Swedish Society of Anthropology and Geography (SSAG) was founded in 1873, getting its present name in 1877. Its purpose is to bridge academic research to the public mind, with grant money and popularizing literature. Several famous Arctic expeditions have been funded by the Society and undertaken by its members.

In 1895, Herskind was paralyzed by polio. He never fully recovered and retired from sailing to live in Karlshamn, where he had married a Swedish woman in 1871. He became a member of the SSAG by correspondence and moved to Stockholm in 1897 to pursue a new career in naval engineering. He was elected to the board of the SSAG in the same year.

Sven Hedin (1865–1952) was an internationally prominent explorer and a member of the SSAG. In 1897 he had just returned from his first expedition to Central Asia. On one of his adventures there, two companions and seven camels were killed as a result of dehydration on a trip to the sunken city of Dandan Oilik. The city’s location was soon lost to human knowledge once again, beneath the shifting sands.

Herskind and Hedin met in Stockholm in 1897. Late one evening, the younger man was describing a queer feeling of vertigo and revulsion he had felt on observing a mariner’s idol on the South China Sea. Herskind noticed parallels with his own experiences in Greenland, which remained fresh in his memory. Herskind intuited a connection and began to suggest new expeditions to both areas.

The SSAG met Herskind’s ideas with incredulity. Nonetheless, over the following three years, Herskind helped conduct amateur anthropological research by correspondence. He also collected anecdotes on the criminality of non-European sailors and would frequently derail Society meetings by retelling them.

Sebastian Herskind was found dead in his wheelchair, at home, in October of 1900. The autopsy was inconclusive, noting no tissue damage other than potentially defensive wounds on the man’s fingers. The majority of his copious notes from the last few years were missing, along with all valuables. The remaining notes were archived, unread, by Sven Hedin.

  1. This expedition is described in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926).