A ukulele at the north pole 1926 — and a minor mystery

I read on page 57 of Jim Beloff’s excellent book, The Ukulele: a visual history, about Richard Konter and his smuggling of a ukulele onto Commander Byrd’s expedition to the north pole in 1926. Konter, adventurer and ukulele enthusiast, wanted to introduce the ukulele to the Eskimos — noble fellow. We’re told that the uke was a koa Martin, and the very uke is now (complete with 1926 trekkers’ signatures) in the Martin Museum. I had no reason to doubt this, until I read the following report from The Music Trade Review of 10 July 1926 (reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International):

An Exploring Uke

An Epiphone ukulele made the trip with Lieut-Commander Byrd to the North Pole, according to Epi Stathopoulo, head of the House of Stathopoulo, Inc, manufacturer of Epiphone Banjos, Long Island City, N. Y.   A dinner was tendered by the Greenwich village Historical Society last week to Dick Konter, the well-known ukulele teacher and song arranger, who reported to Mr. Stathopoulo how well his miniature Epiphone ukulele stood the trip.

Was it not a Martin that Konter took to the NP? Is an Epiphone in the Martin Museum? Was Epi Stathopoulo trying to steal Martin’s thunder? (Surely not!) Of course, as an enthusiast, Konter might have taken more than one ukulele with him (afterall, he was hoping to meet Eskimos and share the joys of ukulele with them). So it remains a Mystery…

[UPDATE: the MTR of 3 July 1926 tells how the story of Konter and his ukulele at the north pole was picked up by several newspapers, including the New York Times (30 June 1926, page 30). Neither this report in the MTR, nor the extract from the NYT it provides, gives any indication of the brand of uke that was taken over the pole on 9 May 1926. The MTR was naturally more concerned with the boost the publicity gave to sales of Konter’s ukulele instruction book.]

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Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 6:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. I met Mr. Richard Konter in 1963, through my grandfather, John L. Cooke, who served with him in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish American War,sometime between 1898 to 1901 or so!
    Mr. Konter gave me some envelopes & letters, that were mailed from the North Pole, when he accompanied Admiral Byrd on two of his expeditions, around 1929 or 1930! They were misplaced for over 30 years, but I found them about 10 years ago!
    Mr. Konter also wrote a book called “SHIPMATE’S AHOY”, which mentions my grandfather in it! Would you have any knowledge of where I could find it? If so, please let me know! Thank you, Ronald Gendron

    • Hi Ronald,
      Thanks for dropping by. You have a great story there! You might try http://www.abebooks.com — there are two copies starting at $68 plus postage.


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