George Borup’s correspondence with Marie Peary: friendship, love and tragedy

Every now and then, I get the opportunity to dig in to an already processed collection in a way that allows me to understand the people and issues represented in a robust way.  A researcher calls up a collection or writes with a question, and I am often compelled to explore further than the original query demands. Every time I do this, I get a richer sense of the collection at hand, and I am much more prepared to help the next person who asks about connections in the materials.

Such was the case when an out-of-state researcher wrote to ask for copies of the correspondence from George Borup to Marie Peary. While I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Marie Peary’s diaries and souvenirs from her travels, I had not explored much of her correspondence.  I knew Borup’s name, but did not know much about him. At first, the letters were simply friendly cheerful notes that contained some teasing and references to her family.


In addition to letters, there are some postcards documenting Borup’s travel across the United States for the American Geographical Society.

Some of the letters were short missives that inquire about Marie’s day or relay information to coordinate visits, and others were accounts of his adventures out in the “wilds” of America.


While I stood at the photocopier, skimming letters as I went, I began to see a developing love story. Borup was deeply infatuated with Marie, yet I know that he was not the man she ended up marrying.

In all the folders of letters, this is the only correspondence from Marie to George.

In several letters, Borup referred to the expedition he was about to embark upon, telling her that if she falls in love with another guy during his time away, he will find some way to go on without her.



Borup’s letters became more and more intense, as in this one, where he tells Marie that he could not imagine life if she did not love him, that she brought life back to him lost when his mother died. He offers his heart-wrenching story with such earnestness that I worry Borup might die of a broken heart.


At this point, I decided to do some research about Borup, and what I found was a tragic ending.
Borup’s star was burning bright and he was set to do what so few men of his time had the opportunity to do when he drowned while canoeing with his friend. While taking in Borup’s unfortunate death, I found myself a little relieved for him because his letters documented Marie’s cooling attention and his increasing bewilderment at her distance. I became curious about Marie’s position, whether her diary recorded her feelings about Borup or reflected upon his death.

I was pleased to see a diary from 1912, pages full of Marie’s neat script. I skimmed through and found a few references to spending time with George, but they pale in comparison to George’s cloying letters to Marie. As the winter was coming to an end, Marie wrote that George’s constant attention was annoying, and she mentioned many other men who caught her eye. She seems like a teenager (which she was at this point) with her many infatuations, none of them becoming serious. At one point she caught herself, reflecting that a girl who is “good as engaged” should not be looking around so much, but this observation does little to stop her roving eye.

In the weeks leading up to George’s death, she barely mentioned him in her diary. Her entry on April 29 began as any other entry did, with a description of her day, then she recounted learning of Borup’s death. Her dismay was clear.

On April 30, Marie ordered flowers and talked about her father going to the funeral, but she decided not to attend Borup’s funeral, writing that she wanted to remember him as he was in life. I looked through other dates of the diary to see if she reflected on the funeral, her decision to remain home, or anything else about Borup, but it appears that she says little. She seemed to move on quickly to shopping and traveling with her family.

With my curiosity satisfied, I resumed reading about Borup, glad to have learned more about this interesting man, who helped to flesh out my understanding of the Peary family’s story.

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