Michael Rockefeller (1938-1961) was the youngest son of Vice President of the United States Nelson D. Rockefeller. Today he remembered mostly for disappearing while studying the native tribes in New Guinea though he did have a brief career as an anthropologist.
Born into the wealth and privilege of the Rockefeller family, he was heir to an immense fortune as well as being heir to his family's interest in the arts. After graduating from Harvard in 1960, in 1961 he travelled to New Guinea on an expedition for Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. On the expedition, he served as a sound man for the film crew and a still photographer. There, the mission studied the Ndani tribe in New Guinea's Baliem Valley. Later, Michael and a friend travelled to find the Asmat tribe, which was so isolated that it was one of the last stone age cultures. Locating the tribe, they studied the people briefly and then returned to rejoin the Harvard expedition.
After a brief stay in the United States, he travelled back to New Guinea to trade with the Asmat for their wood carvings which he hoped to add to the museum's collection. He set out from a Christian mission at the village of Agats for the village of Atsj on November 18, 1961. Sailing a catamaran with a friend and two native assistants, they capsized at the mouth of the Eilanden River. The two native assistants swam to shore for help while Michael Rockefeller and his friend remained clinging to the boat. After nearly a day of waiting, Michael decided to swim to shore, fashioning a floatation device out of two empty gasoline cans. His friend remained with the boat and was later rescued. With no sign of Michael Rockefeller to be found, a search and rescue effort was launched. This search was massive and included military assistance from the Dutch Navy and Australia. Despite all of the effort, he was never seen again and no trace of his body was ever found.
Though rumors persist that he may have been killed and eaten by cannibals in New Guinea, it's generally accepted that he simply drowned as he had to swim twelve or more miles to shore from where his capsized boat was found.
Memorializing Michael Rockefeller today are an arts center at SUNY in Fredonia, New York, a Traveling Fellowship that provides "a year of purposeful world travel and immersion in foreign culture" to selected Harvard graduates, a wing of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and a stained glass window in the Union Church of Pocantico Hills, NY that was designed by Marc Chagall.