Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post, about Minik Wallace, is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
New York Inuit
In September of 1897, American explorer Robert Peary docked his steamer under the Brooklyn Bridge after returning from a long expedition to Greenland. It was one of many trips Peary took to the Arctic on his quest to become the first person to reach the North Pole. He didn’t reach his goal on this voyage, but he did bring back some interesting cargo: a 100-ton meteorite and six Inuit, including a father and his 7-year-old son Mene, called Minik.
Thousands of eyes fell upon the Inuit, dressed in sealskin coats trimmed with polar bear fur. They seemed distressed in the early autumn sun, or maybe by the sheer number of people staring at them. Apparently Peary though experts at the American Museum of Natural History would like to study these live specimens, and he abandoned them in New York. With nowhere to go, the Inuit were housed in the museum basement, where they were treated as part of the collection. Though they were not an official exhibit, they were on view for some museum guests. Though the adults were more aware of how they were being treated, Minik seemed happy, as he would play in the Arctic exhibit with objects familiar to him.
The Inuit didn’t stay at the museum very long. Without immunity to American diseases, all six fell ill. In the fall, Minik’s father and three others died, one returned to Greenland, and Minik survived but was left on his own. To appease a grieving Minik, a funeral was held for his father, but the body wrapped in furs was actually a log. Eventually, Minik discovered that his father’s body and the other bodies were sent to Bellevue Hospital for dissection. Flesh was stripped from their bones, which were then bleached and stored in the museum where Minik once lived as a display. The museum never allowed Minik to have his father’s remains back.
At first, New York seemed like heaven. He found amusement in what most New Yorkers considered to be common things, like bicycles. But he was an orphan now, alone and out of place in New York. The superintendent at the Museum of Natural History, William Wallace, took Minik in and educated him. Minik even attended Manhattan College, but despite being adopted and raised in a loving family, he never really felt at home. When Minik was 12, he was finally able to sail back to Greenland, but he didn’t receive the homecoming he had hoped for. He was a foreigner in his own land; he didn’t belong in Greenland either. So when he was 19, Minik returned to America. He found work in a New Hampshire lumber camp, and there, he contracted influenza during the epidemic of 1918, and died.
Minik Wallace in Play
An NPC based on Minik would be a memorable character to encounter in a big city. With all he’s been through, he’d probably act older than his age. He might ask your party for help retrieving his father’s remains from their storage for a proper burial. Maybe when the PCs encounter him, he’s gotten himself in trouble with a local gang by failing to understand American social customs. Alternately, your PCs might encounter an adult Minik in his remote homeland. Imagine their surprise when they’re greeted in their native tongue by a man so familiar with their culture it’s as if he grew up in it. If the PCs grow attached to Minik, they could even actively search out a place where he would feel at home. Minik’s remarkable story will make him a unique NPC with easily-understood fears and concerns. Yet he remains generic enough that he fits in almost any kind of campaign.
Do you have thoughts about this sort of displacement? Have you ever used a similarly fish-out-of-water NPC at your table? Come tell me about it over at the Facebook page!