Among the hundreds of small rocky islands that rise out of Maine’s Casco Bay is Eagle Island. As you sail toward it, a solitary house amid the fir trees seems to breast the waves like a ship. Closer to land, you make out the U.S. flag flying from a 50-foot mast in front of a wide front porch that looks like a pilothouse. Having dropped anchor and made your way ashore and up to the home that was once that of Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, be sure to stop and admire the compass rose painted on the porch deck; it orients you in terms of your present position. If you stand facing the water straight ahead, your heading will be close to the one Peary followed on his final dash to the North Pole in 1909.
The admiral himself designed the house, which has become a museum. Amid its reminders of the Peary family’s life are mementos from his Arctic expeditions. The largest of these is the specially built player piano, whose foot pedals a docent pumps as you tour the house. The piano roll turns, producing the same tinkling music that Peary heard. The instrument was carried on board the Roosevelt, a wooden-hulled, steam-powered polar ship that Peary also designed.