The Story of Westarctica...
Inspired by Ice
(2001 - 2004)
It was in the pages of the CIA World Factbook that Travis McHenry first discovered the unique international political situation in Antarctica. Under the section titled “Disputes – International” one line of text made his breath catch in his throat and set him on a course that would forever change his life: "no formal claims have been made in the sector between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west." If no one had bothered to claim that large swath of Western Antarctica known as Marie Byrd Land, Travis thought, why not take the opportunity to do it himself?
At first, he decided to name his claimed lands The Achaean Territory of Antarctica, having been inspired by The Illiad, which he was reading at the time. The proposed capital city was to be named Achilles and would be located at the site of the seasonally abandoned Byrd Station.
Over time, like-minded individuals occasionally reached out with a desire to join his cause for statehood in the coldest place on earth. What drove them to his door remains a mystery, but it appears that each person had their own reasons for wanting to abscond to a desolate realm on the far side of the world. Despite the Achaean Territory's growing citizenship roster, they made absolutely no progress toward actual colonization of Antarctica. Scientists wouldn't return e-mails, and few people took the upstart group seriously. Even the simple goal of convincing someone to plant the Achaean flag in the ice of Western Antarctica seemed well out of reach.
Westarctica Is Born
(2004 - 2006)
It was during this time that Travis had a religious experience that caused him to briefly convert to Christianity. As a result of this conversion, he decided to reboot the project and declare it a fully functional sovereign nation. The new country was called The Grand Duchy of Westarctica. The name Westarctica was carefully chosen to evoke images of Western Antarctica, and also, as an homage to the Napoleonic Kingdom of Westphalia. Plus, the name rolls off the tongue far better than West-ant-arctica.
The years from 2004 – 2006 were the high times of Westarctica's prestige. Travis married his girlfriend, Cathryn, who wore a tiara during the wedding ceremony and proudly joined the ranks of the Westarctican nobility. When she gave birth to Prince Daniel Nicholas in November of 2005, it was a time of excitement for everyone in the nation. With a little help from the international media, public interest in Westarctica increased, and the correspondence and citizenship requests began arriving on a daily basis. The general public was fascinated by Westarctica and by the concept of claiming previously unclaimed land.
The Associated Press had run a story on new country projects that made mention of Grand Duke Travis and Westarctica. Unfortunately, his supervisors at his day job in the Navy didn't find the concept of Westarctica as fascinating as their civilian contemporaies. He was given a choice: either dump Westarctica, or lose his security clearance and thus his job. So in January 2006, Travis contacted his closest friend in the Westarctican government, Philip Karns, the Duke of Ravencroft, and Minister of Information, to ask if he would be willing to take over the reins of government.
The Reign of Two Grand Dukes
(2006 - 2010)
Grand Duke Philip ascended to the throne at a time when Westarctica was internally strong and prosperous. His first 100 days in office were marked by progress and creativity. He published an eight-page newsletter called Westarctica Quarterly, which, most significantly, had lengthy articles written by every member of the Westarctican government. Things were progressing nicely until Westarctica's Chief Herald, the Duke of Moulton-Berlin, began to feel as though he was being attacked in Westarctica's online forums. Although the exact nature of the dispute is unimportant, the internal squabbling led to the departure of most members of Westarctica's leadership team.
After spending a mere 10 months on the throne, Grand Duke Philip's health began to deteriorate and he slowly withdrew from public life. To the outside world, it appeared that Westarctica had become stagnant. The forums were devoid of activity, the nobles had disappeared, and the Grand Duke was silent. Many people wondered if the country was finished. The final blow to Westarctica's prestige came when Grand Duke Philip allowed the official website for the nation to go defunct. Even a neglected website can provide some information to visitors and interested parties; however, the Grand Duke failed to re-register the westarctica.com domain name and the web address fell into the hands of a domain parking service.
On June 23, 2008, Travis received an impassioned e-mail from the Duke of Moulton-Berlin, Jon-Lawrence Langer, a fellow Pennsylvania native and longtime member of Westarctica. In the e-mail, he asked some very important questions, and made some profound statements about how the intrepid vision behind Westarctica had changed his life. After a chain of e-mails and phone calls back and forth, Travis and Jon-Lawrence were able to convince Grand Duke Philip to step down from the throne. His final words before abdication were tired, but honest: “If they want it, the crown is theirs.”
Jon-Lawrence eagerly replied, “I invite the challenge.” And without further delay, the throne, crown, and full dictatorial power of Westarctica was peacefully passed from one citizen to another. In response, the new Grand Duke launched westarctica.org, and proudly proclaimed the restoration of Westarctica's government and his ascension to the throne. After the new website was launched, the world was once again interested in the goings-on in Westarctica. Within the first six months of his ascension to the throne, Grand Duke Jon-Lawrence was faced with multiple attacks on Westarctica's sovereignty. All the individuals who had made claims to Marie Byrd Land while Philip was incommunicado suddenly rose to the surface and started questioning the status of our claim. The Grand Duke took a heavy-handed approach in dealing with the challengers, issuing ultimatums that left no wiggle room for negotiation.
At the Grand Duke's behest, Wolf, the Count of Waesche, had been communicating with many of the challengers, and was making steady progress with friendly discussions. Jon-Lawrence couldn't see their side of the argument, however, and promptly ordered Wolf to cease communication with the usurpers. A series of legal threats and firm refusals to negotiate followed, and by late 2009, Westarctica was right back where it had started: isolated and internally fractured. Things went downhill rapidly, and on November 24, 2009, Jon-Lawrence sent Travis an e-mail expressing his weariness at running the nation.
The Founder Returns
(2010 - 2014)
Throughout the month of May in the year 2010, Wolf was in constant contact with Travis in regard to Westarctican affairs. There was great concern that our nation had once again fallen into a spate of non-activity and was again relegated to the dustbin of world history. Wolf enthusiastically encouraged Travis to return to a position of leadership, and offered to be of service in any way necessary. He desperately wanted to fulfill the resolution to the conflicting claims that he had negotiated in previous years. Many of the claimants had become respected new country leaders in their own right, with the Grand Duchy of Flandrensis garnering even more press coverage than Westarctica.
Travis attempted e-mailing and calling Jon-Lawrence on numerous occasions, but he never returned any of the e-mails or calls. Wolf pressed for a course of action, insisting that the best choice would be for Travis to return to Westarctica and take his place as leader of the nation. The primary reason for Travis' return to Westarctica was to restore the good name and dignity of the project he had created and to raise our country's prestige once again in the eyes of the world. He sent one final plea for cooperation to Jon-Lawrence before seizing control of the country on May 26th.
Before the end of the following week, he had purchased a new domain name, westarctica.info and established a new website promoting a transitional government that was now firmly in power. Jon-Lawrence had been overthrown by Travis' own hand, and Wolf was elevated to the role of Prime Minister. Despite his reluctance to assume the throne, Travis was declared Grand Duke again on June 4th during his 30th birthday while celebrating in a suite at the Grand Californian Hotel. The Viscount of Whitmore was in attendance and grunted his approval. Count Waesche ascended to the dignity of Duke and was appointed Prime Minister with full responsibility for the foreign and domestic affairs of the nation.
Wolf immediately negotiated a peace with all of the rival claimants, and everyone was happy again.
Westarctica had successfully reclaimed her dignity.
(2014 - Present)
On the eve of Westarctica's 13th Anniversary, our founder realized that he could be more effective as an advocate for Western Antarctica if he took the bold step to turn his new country project into a nonprofit corporation whose stated purpose aligned perfectly with the original goals envisioned when our territory was first claimed. We have always been champions of environmental and animal causes in Antarctica, and becoming a tax exempt organization with legal standing as a corporation would allow Westarctica to transition from an obscure novelty into an international charity capable of bringing about positive change on a global scale.
And so, on November 21st, 2014, Travis filed with the state of California to make Westarctica Incorporated a legally recognized nonprofit public benefit corporation. His request was approved and officially registered on December 5th. As a nonprofit entity, Westarctica Incorporated will achieve more than ever before, becoming a beacon for increased awareness of the perpetually neglected western side of Antarctica.
Our first major accomplishment as a nonprofit corporation was being granted non-consultative status as a non-governmental organization by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs on January 20th, 2015. This recognition will pave the road for Westarctica to participate in the international future of Antarctica.
In 2018, Westarctica was granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service of the United States. This status not only allows donors to receive tax deductions for their contributions to our nation, but also permits Westarctica to receive Federal funding grants for scientific expeditions to Antarctica.
The Claimant Letter
This is the letter that started it all. On November 2, 2001, it was sent to the polar administration offices of every signatory nation of the Antarctic Treaty. Click the letter to save a PDF copy for yourself.