Aug. 11, 2007
North Pole tussle, Duluth can stake a claim
By Steve Kuchera
Efforts by Russia and Canada to assert sovereignty
over the Arctic ignore the rights of an earlier claimant.
Almost 47 years ago, Duluth native Thomas Miletich
spread dirt from his mother’s garden on the North Pole and
claimed the region for Duluth.
“I just thought it might be a good thing
to do,” said Miletich, who was serving aboard the nuclear-powered
attack submarine USS Seadragon when it surfaced at the North Pole
on Aug. 25, 1960.
Some crewmen left pictures of wives and sweethearts
at the pole to mark the occasion. Others had letters postmarked
there. Miletich spread the dirt, left a Duluth phonebook and claimed
the region for his hometown.
“No one thought of doing that but me,”
he said. “I’m the only one that claimed it for anybody.”
Miletich, 69, now lives in Gautier, Miss. He joined
the Navy in 1954 and served21 years, reaching the rank of chief.
He was a torpedoman aboard the Seadragon when it set out in August
1960 to attempt a submerged transit of the Northwest Passage from
the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea. After successfully completing
the passage, the sub went to the pole.
The Seadragon’s crew knew of the mission
before setting sail. According to an Aug. 26, 1960, story in the
Duluth Herald, Miletich gathered the dirt from his mother’s
garden at 225 S. 57th Avenue West while on leave earlier that year.
When Italika Miletich asked her son what he was doing, he replied,
“I’m going to take possession of the North Pole for
Duluth, and I need something to back up my claim.”
Five countries — Canada, Russia, the United
States, Norway and Denmark — are competing to secure subsurface
rights to the Arctic seabed, which may contain a quarter of the
world’s undiscovered oil and gas. Russia recently symbolically
staked a claim to the North Pole by sending two submarines to plant
the country’s flag on the ocean floor 2.5 miles down. On Wednesday,
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper began a three-day trip to
the Arctic to assert sovereignty over the area.
“They’re coming in after Duluth,”
Miletich said. “No matter what, they’re coming in second.”
It’s not clear, however, if Duluth will
try to assert its claim.
“As far as I know the only person who has
sovereignty over the North Pole is Santa Claus,” City Hall
spokesman Jeff Papas said.