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Polar Record publishes article on Cook’s lost notebook

February 18, 2014

The Polar Record published the author’s article on Cook’s Lost Polar Notebook on January 26 as a “First View” article, meaning it now available to view online to subscribers. The title is “It proves falsehood absolutely …” The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook. It can be viewed by clicking on the link to Polar Record in the Blogroll.


The Smoking Gun

December 31, 2013

At last the “smoking gun” is found for Cook’s North Pole hoax.

After nearly two years of work, The Lost Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook, the author of this website’s transcription of Cook’s polar diary is now available. The book is 426 pages long and contains a full annotated transcription of the diary Cook kept on his polar attempt from the time he left his winter base until he arrived at his jumping-off point for the pole. Here is the description of the book as posted with the book’s listing on Amazon.com:

On September 1, 1909, the veteran American explorer Dr. Frederick A. Cook wired the unexpected news that on April 21, 1908, he had attained the North Pole, the greatest geographical prize left on earth. His landing at Copenhagen touched off a frenzy of adulation, ending with him heaped in honors. The drama increased when word arrived that Robert E. Peary, after 23 years of intermittent arctic expeditions, had reached the North Pole on April 6, 1909. A few days later Peary intimated that Cook’s story should not be taken seriously and before the week was out declared that his rival had simply “handed the world a gold brick.” Thus began the greatest geographical dispute of all time. “The Polar Controversy” was front page news for the better part of four months and has been argued over ever since.
Cook was the public’s initial favorite because of his gentlemanly demeanor in the face of bitter attacks, but before long a skillful press campaign mounted by Peary’s powerful backers began to undermine Cook’s credibility.
First, members of Peary’s expedition swore that Cook’s Inuit companions denied ever being out of sight of land on his recent attempt, and therefore never closer than hundreds of miles to the pole. Next, Ed Barrill, only witness to Cook’s 1906 claimed ascent of Mt. McKinley, swore the climb was a hoax arranged to help Cook avoid financial ruin. Finally, two men swore additional affidavits saying they had been hired by Cook to fake a set of astronomical data in proof of his having been at the pole. When Cook’s polar “proofs” were examined by the Copenhagen scientists to whom he had promised them while in Denmark, they found no trace of the allegedly forged observations among them. But they also could not find in them “any proof whatsoever of Dr. Cook having reached the Northpole.”
The negative verdict of the judges Cook had chosen for himself instantaneously branded him in the press as “a monster of duplicity.” This, coupled with the fact that Cook had apparently fled the country, convinced many that their recent hero was nothing more than a contemptible cheat. At the same time it allowed Peary to step forward and claim the prize he had sought for so long: the everlasting fame that belonged to the Discoverer of the North Pole.
The last thing Cook did before dropping from sight for a year was to submit one of his polar notebooks in support of his claim to the University of Copenhagen. Originally he had only sent a copy of a part of it, along with narrative material similar to that published in the newspapers in the Fall of 1909. The Danes were not impressed. They said that the notebook did not alter their previous verdict and that, in fact, it raised further doubts.
The entire affair was an acute embarrassment to Denmark, where Cook had received high honors, including a gold medal and a very rare honorary doctorate from the University. He had even been personally received by the Danish king, who, along with the Danish scientists, were now being depicted as gullible fools in the American press. Although in turning over the notebook Cook had stipulated that no part of it could be copied or published, the Danes made a complete photographic copy of the book and stored it away quietly before returning the original to him in 1911.
In 1993, while doing research for his monumental study, Cook & Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved, published in 1997, the author recovered the photographic copy of Cook’s notebook, the original of which is now lost, from where it had lain unnoticed for more than 80 years.
That notebook is the subject of this study. It provides the “smoking gun” that proves Cook did not reach the North Pole in 1908 in the form of a complete transcription of Cook’s original diary. Its accompanying annotations clearly show why it contains convincing proof that Cook’s claim was a premeditated hoax and that the verdict rendered in Copenhagen in 1909 was correct and fully justified.


Polar Record to publish article based on transcription of Cook’s “Lost Notebook”

October 14, 2013

Readers of this blog will have noted the last post in 2012 reporting the author of this website’s plan to transcribe one of the notebooks Cook kept on his 1908 polar expedition. As that plan nears completion, The Polar Record, published by Cambridge University Press, has agreed to publish a major article summarizing the author’s findings resulting from his transcription. The article was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in October and will appear in a future number of the prestigious journal. Interested readers should watch the journal’s website, which is part of www.journals.cambridge.org for the publication of the article. The book itself is projected to be published before the end of 2013 and will be available through Amazon.com.


Frederick A. Cook website relocates to a new domain

March 12, 2013

As reported on this blog last year, the Frederick A. Cook Society website domain name Cookpolar.org was sold to an outfit in Japan and the content disappeared from the Internet except for a screen shot taken by the Library of Congress. Now, the same content has resurfaced at a new domain. The new domain name is www.frederickcooksociety.org. It appears that all of the former content from the previous domain has been transferred to this one, but there have been no new postings to the site since 2009.


Author plans transcription of Cook’s polar notebook

August 22, 2012

The author of this website is now well into writing a transcription of Frederick Cook’s polar notebook which he unearthed in Denmark in 1993. The notebook exists in a photographic copy made by the University of Copenhagen in 1910. The whereabouts of the original are unknown. This notebook contains a diary of Cook’s polar expedition from the time he left his winter base in February 1908 until he reached Cape Thomas Hubbard, the place from which he left land for his polar attempt. A partial analysis was published as part of Cook & Peary, the Polar Controversy, resolved in 1997, but a full transcription was impossible then because the copies available at the time were not fully legible. The author obtained a digital copy late last year and after evaluating it for legibility, now plans to publish a book containing a full transcription with annotations of this important document. Preliminary plans are to publish the book on Amazon’s self-publishing subsidiary Createspace, if that forum allows for the author’s vision of the book. He does not contemplate publication by a commercial publisher simply because such a book would have negligible commercial potential, though it should have real value to the community of scholars of polar history. If all goes well, the author hopes to have the book ready for publication sometime in 2013. As a result of the amount of work necessary to meet this goal, it is likely that the frequency of posts on this blog will be even less in the coming year than the three or four a year that has been the recent average of posts.


Frederick A. Cook Society website bought by “King Hen”

June 19, 2012

Another sign of the hard times the Frederick A. Cook Society has fallen on is the lapse of their website located at www.cookpolar.org. For some time the site just vanished from the web; then the domain name came up for sale. I put in a bid for it, but they claimed it was worth far more than the $10 I bid. Eventually it was purchased by an outfit in Japan called, Sedori King, which if you can believe a Google translation of their page, translates to “King Hen.” Apparently, it is some sort of producer of software that is used to resell goods on Amazon. In any case, it has nothing whatever to do with polar matters or Dr. Cook. What has happened to the content once on the society’s webpage is anyone’s guess. There has been no word from the society on plans for a future web presence and none of the links to the former web address have been changed by any of the websites who have links to cookpolar.org. The only trace of the content once on the website at present can be found on screenshots the Library of Congress took of the site in 2008 as part of their effort to document and preserve web content.king hen


Dr. Cook at the Front of the Stage

February 12, 2012

Today is the one-hundred-first anniversary of Frederick Cook’s first appearance in Vaudeville.
On February 12, 1911, Cook appeared on the stage of Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera House as an “added” feature to a six-part vaudeville card directly after the Panklebs, an act billed as “Comedy Clay Modelers.” Herbert Bridgman, the secretary of the Peary Arctic Club, hired a stenographer to get a running account of the whole thing.
Cook said he was appearing gratis in exchange for the opportunity to place his story before the public. This statement was viewed with some skepticism by the audience, which greeted it, as they had his appearance, with a mixture of hisses and catcalls mingled with some cheers. The doctor then displayed the fruits of his recent Chicago venture, showing a set of “historically accurate” motion pictures dramatizing episodes of his polar experiences, entitled “The Truth About the North Pole.”
In the opening scene the “Arctic Trust,” a “nefarious body in active operation,” was shown as it is thrown into consternation when it learns that Dr. Cook has started for the pole. Meanwhile, at the box-house in Annoatok, Dr. Cook, playing himself, leaves “Franke” in charge of his belongings and sets out on his journey north. In the next tableau, Franke, ill and despairing, starts on a desperate trip south. In due course, the “Roosevelt” arrives and stirs new hope in the fever-stricken Franke. With true melodramatic instinct, “Peary,” depicted, according to the stenographer, as a “very, very bad man,” ruthlessly extorts Cook’s property from a starving Franke as the price of his return to America, then seizes Cook’s stores and places his henchmen in charge. During the unfolding of the events at Annoatok, Dr. Cook was shown in a split tableau struggling northward until the great goal is reached and his sextant shows the position as 90 degrees north.
Upon his return, travel-weary and worn out, he is denied entrance to his own house by the brutal bo’sun “Murphy.” Dr. Cook then entrusts to “Whitney” his instruments as he departs. When Peary reappears, he is furious at the news that Cook has returned, and “the sole owner of the North Pole” orders Whitney to remove all of Cook’s belongings from his effects in spite of his pleas for fair play.
When the Arctic Trust learns of Cook’s success, one of their agents is seen on the way to Tacoma for the purpose of bribing Ed Barrill into swearing Cook never climbed Mt. McKinley. In the final scene, Cook’s welcome at Copenhagen was shown on half the screen as the backers of Peary, depicted as “a ghoulish lot of old dried up scientists, who hesitate at nothing,” are thrown into confusion and anger on the other, followed by a depiction of the impotent rage of the author of the “Gold Brick” dispatch.
During the showing of the film, one loud protestor had to be forcibly removed from the theater. But though the stenographer was impressed by an occasional “really remarkable scene,” most of the audience seemed “seized with an uncontrollable desire to snicker and laugh outright at Dr. Cook in the Arctic regions.”
In his talk that followed, Cook denounced Peary and his backers in no uncertain terms. Bridgman’s stenographer took down his lecture word for word:

“Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have tried to maintain patience. I have tried to show the attitude of fairness and manliness. My faith in human nature was such that I counted on meeting gentlemen in a public question, but I find I am dealing with dogs. . . . Today I will throw off the mantle of diplomacy and seek with a knife the brutes who have assailed me. . . .
. . . For three months mud-charged guns from every point of the compass were directed at me, all the world blushed with shame. The ‘Arctic Trust’ in the meantime bribed men to sell their honor and mind. . . . Cook must be downed at all cost! . . . What chance for fair play have I, all alone, a mere man, against such a combination? It is all a shame- faced underhanded battle, and to meet it we have made the moving picture, and I am here to see that the picture is started around the world on its eye-opening mission.”

At first, the audience listened patiently, but as he went on, they became restless, and their intermittent clapping and hissing seemed unrelated to the words heard from the stage. At one point an urchin in the highest balcony shrieked, “Git der Hook!” and sent the entire audience into convulsions of laughter, but the doctor only smiled and went on to the finish:

“I have reached the pole. What is my reward? . . . I have simply sought to be credited with the fulfillment of a personal ambition. This the Arctic Trust refused. It is little enough to seek—an empty ambition perhaps, for I only ask that my footprints be left in the polar snows. . . . Will you deny me that? . . .
. . . I challenge each and all to answer. If this is not the underhanded effort of a lot of thieves, let them explain.”

Bridgman forwarded the stenographic report to General Hubbard, who passed it on to Peary with his comments: “It is rather laughable, although venomous. The way in which he was treated by the audience shows that the address did not have much effect, except to cause laughter. Very likely Cook is inviting legal proceedings—a libel suit, or something of the sort—in order to pose more effectively as a persecuted man. I think he should be let alone.”

There is no record that Cook ever repeated this performance. Instead he went on the more respectable Chautauqua lecture circuit.
At the time Cook and Peary was being written I discovered Bridgman’s transcript in the National Archives documenting Cook’s completely forgotten film. I conducted a search to see if The Truth About the North Pole still existed in any of the several collections of early films held around the United States. All inquiries came back empty. Then, in 2000, the BBC, while preparing their film Mountain Men, located a copy in a film-footage dealer’s holdings that it had acquired in the purchase of a large private collection in California. But the BBC’s attempts to get a copy were answered by the company with a statement that the film was “lost” and could not be located in the company’s holdings. The BBC’s producer asked me to see what I could do, and my efforts were rewarded by a new search that located the film’s only print. At that time the whole film could only be seen in a “time stamped” copy used to sell clips by the second. But within three years a copy appeared for sale along with other unrelated “Arctic” shorts on a homemade DVD on eBay. I purchased a copy and posted it on the Google hosting website. This link was subsequently taken down when Google changed its hosting policies, but the film can now be viewed at an unassociated site in a larger format than the one I used.

You can see the entire film Cook showed that evening at the Manhattan Opera House by pressing Contol while clicking this link:



“A Hack job”: An Editorial Review of True North.

October 18, 2011

How the mighty have fallen

In 2005 yet another attempt to resuscitate Frederick Cook appeared under the imprint of the once-respected independent publisher W.W. Norton Co., whose proud motto once was “books not for the single season, but for the years.” As a case study in how the print publication industry is foundering, Norton’s publication of True North by Bruce Henderson would do nicely. It speaks volumes about the sorry state of Editing, Proof-reading, and Fact Checking in a time of struggle, transition and consolidation in the face of new technology in which several mightier than Norton have already fallen.

A penchant for plagiarism

This is all the more disheartening because Henderson’s previous polar potboiler, Fatal North,  had already firmly established his propensity for plagiarism and reader deception. That book was not simply an unnecessary retelling of Charles Francis Hall’s Polaris expedition of 1871-72, already told so masterfully in Chauncey Loomis’s Weird and Tragic Shores (Knopff 1971), which acted as Henderson’s blueprint. A significant portion had been copied from Arctic Experiences, containing Capt. George E. Tyson’s Wonderful Drift on the Ice-Floe, a History of the Polaris Expedition, the Cruise of the Tigress, and Rescue of the Polaris Survivors, to which is added a General Arctic Chronology, Tyson’s account of his experiences as a member of Hall’s expedition, published by Harper and Brothers in 1874. Fatal North also contained a considerable amount of quoted dialog between the expedition members of which there is no record in Tyson’s book or any other source. Henderson couldn’t copy this, so he simply made it up.
In fact, although Henderson adopted all of the trappings of a legitimate scholarly effort in Fatal North, an examination of the three books will quickly demonstrate that, beyond his fictional dialogs, Henderson’s talent for either original research or prose is limited indeed. Even his copying without attribution was done in so crude a manner that no responsible secondary school teacher would have permitted it in a student paper. Take this passage on a single incident as copied from Tyson’s book:

p. 223 of Tyson:

“I have been thinking of home and family all day. I have been away many Thanksgivings before, but always with a sound keel under my feet, some clean, dry, decent clothes to put on, and without a thought of what I should have for dinner; for there was sure to be plenty, and good too. Never did I expect to spend a Thanksgiving without even a plank between me and the waters of Baffin Bay, and making my home with Esquimaux; but I have this to cheer me—that all my loved ones are in safety and comfort, if God has spared their lives; and as they do not know of my perilous situation, they will not have that to mar their enjoyment of the day.”

p. 166 Henderson:

“Tyson thought of home and family all day long. He had been away at sea on many Thanksgivings before but always with a sound keel under his feet, clean and dry clothes, and no thought of what he would have for dinner, for it would doubtless be turkey with all the trimmings aplenty and delicious. Never did he expect to spend a Thanksgiving without even a plank between him and the waters of Baffin bay, making his home in a igloo with Eskimos on an ice foe. But he had this to cheer him: his loved ones were together in safety and comfort, and they knew nothing about his perilous situation.”

The reader of these two passages might notice that the one original thought Henderson added to Tyson’s account is nonsensical. It would be a rare 19th Century sailing vessel that could boast a galley stocked with “turkey and all the trimmings” ready at hand.

Likewise, Henderson tries to pass off True North as an original and unbiased study of the Polar Controversy, backed by research in the original sources. It is nothing of the kind. Like Fatal North, Henderson again merely picks and chooses what suits his bias for Frederick Cook from easily obtained secondary sources without acknowledging this is what he has done, although he lists them in his bibliography.
Nevertheless, on its jacket, Norton’s copy writers tell us “Bruce Henderson has crafted a gripping account of the claims and counterclaims, and presents fascinating scientific and even psychological evidence to put the harrowing details of polar exploration in a new context.” In reality, True North had about as much “craft” to it as Fatal North.

Henderson’s blueprint this time was the now-obsolete first biography of Cook, Andrew Freeman’s The Case for Doctor Cook (Coward-McCann 1961). True North repeats the substance of Freeman’s portrayal of Cook as a, naïve, helpless and even hapless outsider cheated of his great achievements and victimized by the big power and monied establishment represented by the Peary Arctic Club, which bankrolled the efforts of Cook’s eventual polar rival, Robert E. Peary. But not only does Henderson adopt this characterization pioneered by Freeman, and taken up by all of Cook’s subsequent partisans; as he did with Tyson’s, he often appropriates Freeman’s exact text, with only the slightest of paraphrasing.
To cite just one example, compare this paragraph of Freeman’s text on his page 17 and one from Henderson’s page 31, line for line:

Freeman: “The great blizzard of 1888 forced him to suspend milk deliveries and medical studies. Not a wheel turned on streets, roads, or railroad tracks.”

Henderson: “During a massive blizzard in 1888, New York City came to a standstill, leaving Frederick unable to make milk deliveries or attend class.”

Freeman: “There was a dearth of all necessities, principally coal. To replenish his mother’s supply, he put sledge runners on an eighteen-foot boat Theodore had built to use at the beach during the summer and hitched two of his horses to it.”

Henderson: “To replenish the family’s coal supply he rigged up sledge runners on an eighteen-foot boat built by one of his brothers for summertime at the beach, and hitched two horses to it.”

Freeman: “As he drove home from the coal yard, he was offered premium prices for deliveries.”

Henderson: “On the way back from the coal yard, he picked up other customers willing to pay a premium for coal deliveries.”

Freeman: “Night and day for a week or more thereafter he and Will were in the coal business. Before the boat-sledge was retired, a picture of it was made by a photographer for one of Frank Leslie’s magazines, which reproduced it as an exhibit of man’s resourcefulness during the blizzard.”

Henderson: “He was in the coal business round the clock for a week, and before the specially outfitted boat was retired, a photographer took a picture of him standing with his innovation. The image ran in a magazine as an example of individual resourcefulness during the storm.”

Henderson might try to defend himself by saying he is only repeating facts, but because these “facts” and their specific sequencing are original to Andrew Freeman’s book, being the result of personal interviews Freeman conducted with Cook during the 1930s (no one knows whether this story is really true), Henderson’s use of them nearly verbatim without citing their source is the very definition of plagiarism.

Curiosities of a copyist
Other examples of similar direct paraphrasing could be cited that occur in Henderson’s book: many more from Freeman, some from John Edward Weems’s Peary, the Explorer and the Man, and some from my own book, Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved. Additionally, scores of facts first published there, and still available nowhere else but the original documents, are reused in their same contexts, in the same sequence and in similar language unique to my book, making clear that it, and not the original documents, was the source of these facts.

The trouble with copying, beyond its ethical considerations, is that when something is copied without examining its sources, the author has no way of judging its accuracy. In other words, copied material in the hands of an uniformed author is only as accurate as the material being copied, at best. He has no real basis by which to distinguish what is actually true or false. Because of this, Henderson has inevitably copied others’ mistakes, “facts” that newer scholarship has supplanted, and material that the copied writer simply made up, whole.

The point is not that these errors matter in the larger scheme of things, but that they show the methods by which Henderson assembled his text from others’ without examining their sources. Almost all of his quoted references taken from original documentation are copied from already published quoted references to those same documents in others’ books. A comparison of these common quotations shows that Henderson’s quotes use the exact same text as the other writer published, even when inaccurately transcribed by the first author, that he uses the same edits done to the original text by the author he copied, which do not appear in the originals (see Weems’s note on this, on his page viii), and he uses ellipsis marks to omit the exact same text omitted by others, or he cites less of the quotation than appeared in the secondary work used, but never more. All of these characteristics of Henderson’s quotes are dead giveaways proving that Henderson did not use the original sources he cites, but instead used the secondary sources that originally cited them. Yet he cites his sources as if he did use the originals. In doing so, Henderson has attempted to deceive his readers as to the basis of the authority of his text, and ultimately the conclusions he draws. His citations of “original sources,” therefore, are mere window dressing, not the actual authority of his text. To anyone familiar with his sources, it is self-evident that Henderson was never even in the same building with 95% of the “sources” he quotes. Such a willful deception of his readers condemns True North’s scholarly merits even if it were not defective in other ways. In a book whose title’s first word is “True,” that’s not a small matter.

An inability to distinguish fact from fiction undermines credibility
Ironically, the few previously unpublished materials that Henderson does use introduce many complete false statements into Henderson’s narrative. Most of these come from a single source: Cook’s unpublished memoirs. They were written in the mid-1930’s, as much as sixty years after the events they describe. Yet they are full of quoted dialog. Think about it: can you now recall, word-for-word, conversations you had even a year ago, much less twenty or sixty years ago? Cook couldn’t either, and such material is no more valid than the fictional dialogs Henderson made up to fill out Fatal North. An author can’t put words into the mouths of historical characters and call it non-fiction. Likewise, an author can’t rely on after-the-fact memoirs that contain many “facts” that can easily be shown to be his own self-serving inventions when compared with contemporary primary sources associated with the events he is describing. To cite just one infamous example from Cook’s memoirs used by Henderson, consider Cook’s account of his alleged diagnosis of pernicious anemia in Robert E. Peary in 1901.

As I show in my book (p. 788), pernicious anemia is impossible to diagnose in a patient, even with all of today’s medical knowledge, as far in advance of its once-fatal manifestations as Cook claimed to have done in his memoirs. The account of Cook’s diagnosis of the disease 19 years before it killed Peary, and Peary’s refusal of the correct treatment Cook prescribed to Peary (although then totally unsuspected), is simply a fantasy concocted by Cook in 1935 to lend an ironic twist to Peary’s fate. By then, Peary had already died of pernicious anemia (in 1920) and the treatment of the disease had been described by its discoverers, for which they won the Nobel Prize in 1934. Cook’s “diagnosis” is a favorite fable of the Frederick A. Cook Society, Cook’s booster club, and is endlessly repeated by it as fact in its propaganda, which goes so far as to say Cook should have gotten the 1934 Nobel Prize instead!
Even given this, Henderson never fathoms the difference between simple anemia, which can be caused by any number of underlying conditions, and pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is a specific autoimmune endocrine disorder that results in an inability of the stomach to produce the intrinsic factor necessary to metabolize vitamin B12. It is not a blood condition, per se. And it is definitely not a “Polar malady”as Henderson says on his page 277. Anyone can develop PA, but it is most likely inherited. The fact that True North’s index lists only “anemia” to cover all of his references to both simple and pernicious anemia, shows Henderson didn’t know the difference. It is dangerous to the credibility of copyists to try to make pronouncements on complex subjects they haven’t taken the proper time to study, like medical pathology or the Polar Controversy.

Since Cook’s memoirs are corrupt, I made very little use of them in Cook and Peary, and when I did, I always cautioned the reader that they were being used only because there was no other account. This is how a responsible author uses the material at his disposal. He evaluates all sources, compares them, rejects after-the-fact accounts that conflict with other sound primary evidence or known facts (in this example, medical reality), and synthesizes his account accurately. Then he cites exactly what he has used, its actual source, and when necessary, cautions the reader when he doubts its authenticity. A scholar does not sit down with half a dozen published books and booster club publications and assemble a new text from them, just trusting them to be correct, or picking and choosing passages from them that suit his agenda. There may be other names for such a writer, but none of them would be “scholar.”
And, of course, a scholar never quotes as if he has used the originals when he has merely lifted them from a previous writer’s finished pages. Henderson, however, has done this repeatedly, and because even the best copyist makes mistakes, he has inadvertently made an enormous number of errors through copying mistakes or because he lacks knowledge of the underlying topics, like pernicious anemia, or even elementary polar conditions in general. My point, again, is larger than the fact that Henderson made these mistakes. Every book has mistakes, including my own. The point is, a huge number of mistakes and obviously ignorant statements undermine the authority for whatever conclusions an author may eventually draw.
Worse yet, some of Henderson’s citations are pure fabrications, because they are also due to copying others’ citations rather than consulting the original sources. (If you are interested in a detailed example of how this happened, read the one appended to the end of this review).

If an author is going to rely on being a copyist, he needs to know enough about his subject to at least be able to recognize which is the most reliable secondary source from which to copy. Henderson would have done well to have stuck to my book, it being the most recent and based on a massive number of primary sources, many never before cited, and all precisely documented in its more than 2,400 endnotes. Generally, where he did, he did well, but, alas, Cook and Peary also has a few errors in the text, and Henderson relied on so many of its facts that he managed to copy at least two of its mistakes into his own text: L.L. Dyche was not a professor at Kansas State University (Henderson’s p. 99, copied from my page 114) –he taught at the University of Kansas; the ship the Portia ran over in 1894 was the Dora M. French, not the Dora N. French (his p. 106, copied from my page 128). Sorry.

Even copyists need knowledge
Copying from other non-fiction titles is one thing, but when an author indiscriminately copies from fantasy sources without knowing any better, this really condemns all pretensions to original scholarship or subject expertise. Quoting extensively from Bradley Robinson’s Dark Companion, whose style is more like a Rover Boys novel than a work of non-fiction, and which is filled with totally invented dialog and “facts” that appear nowhere else and can be easily demonstrated to be the inventions of either Robinson or his subject, Matt Henson, when compared with known primary sources, is bad for Henderson’s or any other author’s credibility. To be able to tell truth from fantasy, you must have a decent grounding in a subject won by many hours of study, and the first step in that process requires at least reading the easily available published accounts of those who participated in the events under study.

That Henderson thinks Langdon Gibson’s first name was “Longdon” (copied from Robinson, who bizarrely thought “Longdon” and Gibson were two entirely different men!), and that he reports John Verhoeff was from St. Louis, rather than Louisville, shows Henderson has never read any of the primary published books on Peary’s North Greenland Expedition by Peary, his wife, or Eivind Astrup, much less ever looked at the extensive original documentation of that expedition at the National Archives II or Bowdoin College. Even Andrew Freeman got those two facts correct. But when Henderson starts incorporating details from childrens’ books that have no pretension to being truthful (apparently children are in even less need of Truth than adults), like J. Alvin Kugelmass’s Roald Amundsen, a saga of the polar seas, and doesn’t know that anything is wrong, a knowledgeable reader has no alternative but the dismissal of Henderson’s whole text as having doubtful authority, at best, and his conclusions as having no credibility whatsoever.
The Belgian Antarctic Expedition is one of the best documented of all polar expeditions by its participants. Of the nineteen who sailed on it, five left published accounts, so there is not much question over the basic facts. Yet here are some of the fictitious “facts” Henderson copied from Kugelmass’s book for children (recommended for “Grade 7 and up” and panned by the New York Times Book Review in 1955): There was no “French sailor” named Ernest Poulson in the crew at all; they were all either Norwegian or Belgian. (There was a French cook, but he was left the ship in South America before the Belgica sailed for Antarctica). Had Henderson even opened Cook’s own account of the expedition, Through the First Antarctic Night, he would have seen pictures of every sailor on board (opposite p. 401), and this person is not among them. Not only did the non-existent “Poulson” never fall on his own knife and die, no sailor went mad and threw himself from the yardarms, either. These are all Kugelmass’s inventions, copied by Henderson. Two people died on the expedition: one, a sailor named August Wiencke, fell overboard in a storm on the way to Antarctica, and Emile Danco, the magnetician, died of a congenital heart ailment during the winter there. All of this proves Henderson didn’t even bother to read the one easily available source in English detailing this expedition—Cook’s own—although he is ostensibly the subject of Henderson’s book. I suppose that is the advantage of being a copyist; you not only don’t have to bother with looking at original sources, you don’t have to read much of anything. But the disadvantage is that you have to trust much. Because of this, copyists who pretend to be scholars always get caught out.

Boosterism and bias
Beyond mistakes, there is the matter of intent. It is very clear that the intention of Henderson’s book, following Freeman’s lead, is always to maximize Cook and minimize Peary. One of the many examples of this that could be cited is Henderson’s repetition of another favorite fable propagated by Cook’s boosters: that Cook’s services to the Belgian expedition were thought to be so exceptional that he was the only non-Belgian awarded the Order of Leopold after the expedition returned from the Antarctic. (Henderson’s p. 132, copied from Freeman p. 58). In fact, the other three members of the scientific staff, Arctowski (Polish), Dobrowski (Polish), and Racovitza (Romanian), plus all of the officers, got the same award as Cook. In proof that both Freeman and Henderson are wrong, here is a picture of Roald Amundsen, the second mate, who was Norwegian, wearing his Order of Leopold.

amundsen and medal Even more remarkable, but characteristic of the way Henderson’s book was assembled, Cook’s memoirs, which Henderson heavily relied upon for favorable but fabled “facts,” states on page 17 of Chapter 14: “King Leopold honored the officers and the scientific directors of the Belgica. Amundsen, the doctor and the foreign workers all got the same rewards. We were knighted as Chevaliers of the Order of Leopold, an honor of great distinction for which we were grateful.” Here he had Cook’s own contradiction of it, yet Henderson copies Freeman’s incorrect statement instead.

Uninformed and out of date
Henderson’s True North is, quite simply uninformed, and it was out of date on the day it was released, since it failed to account for or counter any of the already published documentation that proves that Cook’s two biggest geographical claims were both circumstantial hoaxes. Instead, it quotes freely from those self-justifications written by Cook himself and his apologists’ baseless theories and arguments as “evidence” that he did climb Mt. McKinley and reach the North Pole, just as he said. Nothing could be more out of date than to quote Cook’s 1911 book, My Attainment of the Pole, in his defense. My own book spent many pages pointing out its provable lies exaggerations and citing the many improbabilities it contains. And nothing could be more uniformed than disregarding the only scholarly examination of Cook’s personal papers, available since 1990, which revealed doctored diaries and faked photographs showing that Cook’s claims to attaining the Pole and summiting Mount McKinley were knowing frauds, especially when Henderson has manifestly made no effort to examine these materials for himself.

Even so, Henderson’s retelling of Cook’s northern journey of 1908 on pp. 228-29 adds more fabulous new details that Cook never thought of: Henderson says Cook used his collapsible boat to get back to land on his return from “the Pole.” He also says he used it repeatedly to try to reach his caches on Axel Heiberg Land, but failed. Cook by his own account never used the boat until he reached Jones Sound, far south of either of these locations. He couldn’t, simply because, again by his own account, he still had up to ten dogs with him up until then. And he did not winter upon reaching Cape Sparbo, as Henderson would have it. He went far past that cape, seeking to reach a whaler in Lancaster Sound so that he could emulate Nansen’s famous chance meeting with Frederick Jackson in Franz Josef Land 1895. Since there was no whaler in sight, he then doubled back to Cape Sparbo, which he noted was teeming with game when he passed it. And he did not live in the “ruins of an old ice cave” as Henderson puts it. He reconstructed a perfectly standard Inuit winter stone igloo from the ruins of an old one, and enjoyed a very comfortable winter, by Arctic standards, shooting the abundant musk oxen there at will with the 120 rounds of ammunition he still carried with him. After the sun set, he spent the winter there perfecting the details of his fictitious attainment of the Pole in his notebooks. Cook’s narrative is not at all confusing on these points, except his experiences that winter, but that point is clear from his original notebooks. His so-called “stone-age winter” is simply yet another of the favorite fables of the Frederick A. Cook Society, disprovable from Cook’s own hand.
Using disproven “findings” to bolster Cook’s case does nothing for Henderson’s credibility, either. Cook’s long journey through the Sverdrup Islands, where the ice did not drift, even in summer, proves nothing about him as an “ice traveler” or his sledging ability to reach the North Pole over constantly shifting pack ice. But it does prove that he lied about his return route.

Polar precedents
As I demonstrate in detail in Chapter 29 of my book, Cook’s “original descriptions” of conditions in the Arctic were solidly based on conventional scientific beliefs of his time, some of them now proven false, and therefore his “findings” are now inaccurate as well. His knowledge of an unknown westerly drift does not require attainment of the Pole for him to have observed it. Cook’s description of Bradley Land does not even remotely resemble an ice island, and it doesn’t exist anyway (even though he published two photographs of it). Therefore, Cook’s published narrative is neither credible or consistent in itself, as my analysis in Cook and Peary shows, and when compared to his original notebooks it is very inconsistent with them, even as to several versions of where he claimed to have been on certain days during his journey, and even variant on what day he claimed to have discovered “Bradley Land” and reached the North Pole. It is therefore condemned as an out-and-out fake.

As Captain Thomas Hall remarked on such conflicts as Cook’s notebooks contain in his pioneering analysis, Has the North Pole Been Discovered?:

“Did all these various writings agree with themselves . . . it would not prove their statements to be true, because they might, nevertheless, be fabrications; but as they contradict each other in every particular, it proves falsehood absolutely. If one is true, the other speaks falsehood. If the other is true, the one speaks falsehood. There is no authority for believing either; and if the author cannot be believed in what he sets out to prove, the author is not entitled to be believed in anything he may say at any time. Truth is a uniform thing.”

Likewise, the “findings” Henderson lists about Mt. McKinley prove nothing about Cook’s claim to have climbed it. The estimate of its elevation Cook gave was nearly identical to the one already determined by triangulation previous to his “climb.” That McKinley has twin peaks is obvious to anyone approaching from the southwest, and was first reported by Edward Brooks in his official report in 1902. Even Cook made note of this fact in 1903, and is quoted as doing so by Henderson, himself, on his page 150, long before Cook attempted any climb at all. Also, the upper slopes are easy to observe from 25 miles off at the snout of the Muldrow Glacier, even without binoculars, and Cook had this very view through binoculars in 1903. When an explorer has circumnavigated the entire mountain, as Cook did in 1903, all the time looking up at the summit, it is not evidence of his having climbed it for him to state what could be seen looking down from the summit. But, in fact, Cook badly exaggerated how far he could see from the summit, and he failed to make any description at all of the dozens of then unknown glaciers and peaks he could have seen had he ever been there. That’s because the closest he ever got to the summit in 1906 was about 15 miles as the crow flies, and he never climbed higher than 5,300 of the requisite 20,320 feet above sea-level.

Who found the “findings”?
And whose “findings” are these anyway? They are no more than the pet arguments of Cook’s boosters, which are endlessly repeated by them and have been copied by Henderson (again, nearly word for word) from the publications of the Frederick A. Cook Society.
Upon finishing Henderson’s book I realized that he acknowledges absolutely no one as an aid to his writing it: no librarian, no archivist, no editor. This is singular among all previous books ever written on this subject. Given all of the above, however, it is also self-explanatory: copyists don’t want to acknowledge their real sources. And I also noted that his bibliography, small as it is, is nevertheless padded. For instance, Henderson doesn’t even have an index entry for Ernest Shackleton in his book, let alone a single word about his Endurance expedition, yet he cites his account of it, South. And Henderson makes absolutely no mention of Joseph Bailey, Cook’s mail-fraud trial lawyer, yet cites Sam Hanna Acheson’s biography of him. Many of the entries seem once again to have simply been copied for show, this time from the extensive bibliography that accompanied Frederick Pohl’s introduction to Cook’s posthumous book, Return from the Pole.

Finally, Henderson gives no space to Cook’s baffling mentality as one of the world’s greatest fabulists, even though it lies at the heart of the Polar Controversy. The argument over what Cook really was, and not what he claimed to have done, is what actually drove the Polar Controversy. But to Henderson, like the Frederick A. Cook Society, which aided him, it is all so simple: The naive Underdog shorn of his laurels by the all-powerful Establishment. To blandly accept this cartoon-like characterization of such a complex character as Frederick A. Cook is to throw away the opportunity to examine the most interesting part of the Polar Controversy and the larger lessons it has to teach about human belief and how history is made.
Had Henderson written an original book, with a single original thought in it, or a single piece of original evidence that added to the history of the events it discussed, I would have been pleased to have noted it. Alas, there are none. Instead, in reading it, I had the distinct, and well-justified, feeling that I had read all of this before somewhere: in Freeman or in Weems, and, indeed, I had no trouble at all in recognizing that I had written some of it myself. Because of the way it was assembled, then, not written, True North contains many accounts and assertions already proven untrue.

You can’t fool all of the people all of the time
A book like True North is still possible only because the Polar Controversy is an extremely complex subject filled with more details and subtleties than most people can or want to absorb (or publish), and because, as Dr. Cook knew, the big lie once spoken will always find someone with a reason to give it credence. Even so, among a number of submissions from readers who Henderson succeeded in deceiving, one review posted by a perceptive Amazon.com reader shows that all of this was not lost on him:

“Evident in his depictions of Cook versus Peary, Henderson’s motive is to prove that Cook was indeed cheated out of a victory that was rightfully his. Through Henderson’s descriptions, Peary is shown to be an egotistical and hard-handed man concerned only with fame, with a boisterous attitude and little respect for other people. In opposition, Cook is portrayed as being very humble and quiet, an inventive man who is content to share victory. When the events of the contested pole discovery come about, Henderson details how Cook was thwarted his due by Peary’s sabotage, and raises suspicion for Peary’s claim by pointing out that Peary would not hand over his own notes for inspection before Cook released a statement, insinuating that Peary was getting information from Cook to use in his own dubious notes. As told by Henderson, Cook’s evidence, though he produced no notes as proof and with only a diary and the statements of him and his Eskimo companions to back him up, is still more credible than Peary and the incomplete notes he supplies. It is even insinuated that Peary was responsible for Cook later going to prison for mail fraud because the judge trying the case was a friend of the family. Henderson finishes up his assessment by listing all of the ways in which Cook was right or credible in both his pole and Mt McKinley claims. So, despite Henderson never explicitly stating to support Cook, it comes through in his presentation of facts and their evident bias. Whether or not the facts are true as stated, Henderson clearly wants us to see things a certain way.

“Henderson’s source usage raises concerns over his presentation of facts and how they support his central purpose. True North is rich in detail and follows the separate and intertwining paths of Cook and Peary closely, even to minute detail. Yet the background provided, including an array of personal stories and emotions too intimate to be part of common knowledge, is given no footnoted documentation, which calls into question the validity of the information, its truthfulness, and whether or not Henderson is being true to the facts and portraying them accurately. A reader would have a difficult time verifying many of the things said and claimed to have happened by Henderson. Henderson does provide a selection of source notes at the end of the book, which serve the purpose of explaining where some of the specific personal statements come from. These are actually very informative and valuable to the credibility of the story because they are all primary sources, sources that come direct from people involved or in the time- they are the words of Cook, of Peary, of people witness to the events in question. There is included a bibliography at the back, but without the aid of footnotes, one cannot tell if the books listed at the end are indeed used and where.”

Another Amazon reviewer was more blunt in summing up the truth about True North: “In short, this is a hack job, ” he wrote.

Beating a dead horse, or how Henderson invented citations in True North
On Freeman’s page 231, he cites Representative Roberts’s comment on Peary’s notebook: “If the members of the committee care to, I would like to have the book examined particularly with reference to its condition and state. It shows no finger marks or rough usage; a very cleanly kept book.” On Henderson’s page 275, this quotation is abbreviated to “shows no finger marks or rough usage; a very clean kept book,” which is a slightly inaccurate copy of the portion used. But leave that aside.

Freeman cites this quote as coming from “Extension of Remarks,” House of Representatives, January 25, 1916, 64th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 53, No. 44, Part 14, Appendix 1-13, page 275. Henderson cites it as Congressional Record, 61st Cong., 3d sess., vol. 46, “Extension of Remarks,” Rep. Henry Helgesen, p. 275. But the citation from the Congressional Record Freeman cites is actually that of a speech given by Representative Bruce Macon of Arkansas.
How this happened is clear to those who actually have an acquaintance with the publications cited and the works Henderson copied his citations from, in this case Freeman’s p. 300. The Congressional Record, and the Appendix to the Congressional Record are entirely separate publications, with separate paginations. Macon’s speech was actually given in 1911 on the floor of Congress, whereas Helgesen’s “Extension of Remarks” was merely entered into the Appendix, never read. Freeman’s citation of each of these is correct, but Henderson’s of Helgesen, which appeared in the Appendix to the Congressional Record in 1916, is cited as appearing in the Congressional Record in 1911. Unfortunately for Henderson, when Freeman cites Roberts’s remarks on Peary’s notebook, he is citing Helgesen’s speech a second time, so he just refers the reader to “Helgesen’s ‘Extension of Remarks,’ as above, page 275.” When Henderson looked “above” he accidentally copied Freeman’s citation for Macon’s 1911 speech, thus creating a unique fabricated reference because Henderson is not so good a copier. It is very clear that Henderson never read either speech in its original, but merely copied the identical excerpts from Freeman, then miscopied his citation of the latter, thus inventing a completely false citation in the process.

Another example: On page 245 of Freeman’s book, he quotes a passage from Judge Killits’s sentencing speech to Dr. Cook. He gives as his reference on his page 303 “The excerpts from Killits’ charge are from the court record.” In 1973, Hugh Eames, another copyist, copied Freeman’s quotation into his book, Winner Lose All, and stated as his reference: “Court Record 2273, Fort Worth, Texas.” Eames at least had obtained portions of the transcript of the trial (but not this speech) so he knew the number of the court record. Henderson cites portions of Freeman’s quote from the speech on his page 287 and gives as his reference “U.S. District Court record 2273, Fort Worth, Tex.”

It is possible that the judge’s speech was part of the court record when Freeman was working on his book in the 1930s, but it is no longer part of it today. I went to Fort Worth in November 1991 and spent a week there going through every page of the 12,000-page court record of Cook’s trial now at the Southwest Branch of the National Archives. The judge’s sentencing speech was not in that record. After I returned and made note of Freeman’s and Eames’s citations, I wrote to Margaret Schmidt-Hacker, archivist at the Southwest Branch, asking her to check again for this speech. After she conducted her search, she wrote to me assuring me that this speech was not among the records of the trial or any associated material (see my note 75, p. 1,065 in Cook & Peary). Henderson simply copied it from Eames, who had assumed its presence in the court record that he learned of by reading Freeman, but without seeing it for himself.


Centennial of the publication of MAP

August 3, 2011

Cook and flagMy Attainment of the Pole
Cook’s “final summary” of his expedition was a long time in coming. Cook had become so notorious after the Copenhagen decision that no legitimate publisher would touch his narrative.
Because he self published it, Cook tried to save expenses. Although the finished book looked good, it was shoddily bound, and even though 604 pages long, had a lot of white space. The cover is notable in that it shows Cook’s profile, in long hair and beard, between those of Etukishuk and Ahwelah. The dedication is also unusual in its acknowledgments :

To the Pathfinders
To the Indian who invented pemmican and snowshoes;
To the Eskimo who gave the art of sled traveling;
To this twin family of wild folk who have no flag goes the first credit.
To the forgotten trail makers whose book of experience has been a guide;
To the fallen victors whose bleached bones mark steps in the ascent of the ladder of latitudes;
To these, the pathfinders—past, present and future—I inscribe the first page.
In the ultimate success there is glory enough
To go to the graves of the dead and the heads of the living.

MAPCook established the Polar Publishing Company to publish his book and manage the series of lectures he planned to give after its released on August 3, 1911.
Cook once said of an Eskimo’s central desire of life: “The real pivot upon which all his efforts are based is the desire to be rated well among his colleagues. . . . Is not this also the inspiration of all the world?” That desire was also Dr. Cook’s inspiration, that and every man’s desire not to be forgotten. Dr. Cook knew the truth about human immortality: that as long as just one living person remembers you, you are immortal, and as long as that one believes in your goodness, you are in heaven, not hell. And there are good reasons, based on the contents of My Attainment of the Pole, for belief in Frederick A. Cook and his ultimate salvation, if one only makes the right interpretations and has faith.
Lending additional strength to those who still believe today are many harsh charges leveled against Peary on the pages of Cook’s book, which convinced many of its original readers that a moneyed conspiracy had robbed Cook of his honor, while blurring the fact that his own lack of proof was actually the cause of the rejection of his claims. Some of these charges, widely dismissed at the time of their writing, now have been shown to be true, and most of the rest have at least some plausible basis.
My Attainment of the Pole is then, a polemic—not for scientific vindication—but for popular belief, and a magnificent one, couching its true intent in the beguiling story at its core.
Nonetheless, Cook always maintained that the proof of his claim lay in the narrative content of My Attainment of the Pole. In 1917, Captain Thomas F. Hall found Cook’s narrative consistent and pronounced it “unimpeachable.” But much of it has since been impeached by the knowledge of the central Arctic Ocean basin accumulated since Cook wrote his book.
But unlike Peary’s, most of the defenses of Cook’s claim do center on his polar narrative. Its defenders contend that it describes physical features that only a person who had actually made the journey could have known about, since no one had ever been there before. They argue that Cook had observed these things first hand and therefore must have at least reached the near vicinity of the pole.
Cook described two islands lying at about 85 degrees north, which he named Bradley Land. These islands, like Peary’s “Crocker Land,” do not exist, yet Cook’s partisans have tried to resuscitate Cook’s credibility by linking “Bradley Land” to a discovery made in the Arctic only since Dr. Cook’s death.
After World War II, aerial reconnaissance revealed a number of large tabular bergs drifting slowly clockwise in the arctic basin north of Ellesmere Island. Several arctic researchers and scientists have suggested these so-called ice islands—breakaway pieces of its ancient ice shelf—are probably what Cook mistook for “Bradley Land,” and Cook’s advocates have repeated these statements to support the doctor’s claim.
Cook gave this description of “Bradley Land”: “The lower coast resembled Heiberg Island, with mountains and high valleys. The upper coast I estimated as being about one thousand feet high, flat, and covered with a thin sheet ice.”

"Bradley Land"Ice islands are no more than 100 to 200 feet thick, total. They are nearly flat, with only rolling undulations and rise only about 25 feet above sea level. Cook’s “Bradley Land” therefore does not remotely resemble an ice island, or even an ice island magnified by mirage. And Cook published two pictures of the high, mountainous land he called “Bradley Land.”

Cook’s Inuit companions are reported to have said these pictures were of two small islands off the northwest coast of Axel Heiberg Land; others believe they are of the coast of Heiberg Island itself, though the pictures have never been duplicated.

A far better candidate for an ice island is the “Glacial Island” that Cook said he crossed between the 87th and 88th parallels. His description of it fits almost exactly the ice islands now known to drift within two degrees of the pole—exactly where Cook says he crossed it (see MAP 265-66). “Bradley Land”is photograph of it in MAP, like that of “Bradley Land,” has proven a fake.
British explorer Wally Herbert found a differently cropped lantern slide of this picture among Cook’s photographic material donated to the Library of Congress. It shows substantial, rocky land on the right-hand margin—an impossibility at the reported position of the “Glacial Island.” Below the two images have been laid over one another to form a composite picture. Notice how Cook cropped the picture in MAP very precisely to exclude the rock.
But how could Cook have dreamed up an ice island before any had been discovered? There were precedents. Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen had mentioned in his book, Farthest North, that he passed over undulating country covered with snow far at sea. In Nearest the Pole, Peary described crossing “several large level old floes, which my Eskimos at once remarked, looked as if they did not move even in summer,” and “several berg-like pieces of ice discolored with sand were noted.” Cook probably positioned his glacial island where he did because scientific theory at the time suggested possible land at that location.
"Glacial Island" Many of the features and incidents described along Cook’s route from his jumping off place to his “Glacial Island” will sound familiar to anyone who has studied the previous writings of Cook and Peary. The distortions of the sun at low altitudes and the descriptions of ice flowers forming along new ice can be found in Through the First Antarctic Night. The sudden storm on the pack ice has a close parallel in a “hurricane” at Annoatok described in Cook’s Winter Diary of 1907-08. The collapse of the igloo on the arctic pack is very similar to the collapse of an igloo in 1892, as described in Peary’s Northward Over the “Great Ice,” and Cook’s crossing of the Big Lead shares much with Peary’s description of that same accomplishment in Nearest the Pole.
As for conditions at the pole itself, though not definitely known in 1908, there was general agreement after the discoveries of Nansen aboard the drifting Fram in the mid-1890s that there was no land in the immediate vicinity of the pole. Dr. Cook held this view himself. “The north pole is in the center of an imprisoned sea of ice,” he wrote in 1904. In fact, nearly every observation contained in Cook’s narrative is firmly grounded in the scientific theory of his time, whether correct or incorrect.
At the pole, Cook set the thickness of the ice at 16 feet, a very common measurement in the central polar basin cited in other narratives, including Nansen’s. Cook correctly said the ice drifted southeast over the pole, but this might have been deduced from the drift course of the Fram.
About the only original scientific observation Cook published was to say that his magnetic compass pointed south toward the magnetic pole along the 97th meridian when he was at the North Pole. We now know from computer models that in 1908 the magnetic compass would have pointed 133° 28.8′ west + or – 0.5 degrees. This leads to the logical conclusion that Cook did not actually determine magnetic declinations. If he had done so, he would not have claimed that the compass pointed 180° south along the 97th west meridian. Furthermore, there are no original data on magnetic declination anywhere in his surviving notebooks, nor any observational record for magnetic declination among his papers.
Cook also placed the temperature at the pole ten degrees higher than south of it, in line with a long-held but incorrect contemporary scientific theory that the temperature would rise as the pole was approached because of the constancy of sunlight.
Contemporaneous scientific theory also led Cook to believe that each pole was depressed about 13 miles to compensate for a perceived equatorial bulge of 26 miles. Today, satellites have revealed that instead of a depression, the earth bulges slightly at the North Pole—62 feet higher than if the earth were a perfect sphere. Given the theories of his time, however, perhaps Cook’s only obvious gaff came in his description of the movements of the sun at the pole—a concept, like celestial navigation and geomagnetism, that requires a grasp of mathematical concepts. Such concepts always gave Cook trouble. Cook originally described his observations of the sun at the North Pole like this: “In two days’ observations it was determined that the sun circled the horizon always at the same elevation, from which resulted the only possible proof that the pole was actually reached.”
Of course, the sun does not do this at all, but actually rises spirally, higher and higher, until June 21, then it begins to sink spirally until September 22, when it sets. On April 21 and 22 the sun would have appeared to rise, respectively, 20′ 33” and 20′ 21” daily, but Cook did not include this in his reports until the publication of his book in 1911.
Moreover, many of Cook’s more commonplace scientific observations about the central Arctic Ocean have proved incorrect. Cook said it was “a dead world of ice.” This was the popular view at the time, but the arctic pack is not a “sterile sea,” nor has it been so reported by travelers toward the pole since 1908. Polar bears have been seen above the 88th parallel. Since bears sit at the top of the Arctic’s food pyramid, their presence implies a complete chain of life below them.
In 1914, the Scottish Geographical Magazine summed up all the observations of Cook’s polar narrative and found in them nothing startlingly original: “With a knowledge of Peary’s Crocker Land, found in 1906, Peary’s land ice near 86 degrees N., found the same year, and the experience in polar travel, which Dr. Cook certainly had, both in the Arctic and Antarctic, we submit that an imaginative man, taking into account probabilities, had an easy task in writing the story, and surely any man of even average education could write of the pole as ‘an endless field of purple snows. No life. No land.’ The more plausible hypothesis is that Cook never traveled as far north as the alleged Crocker Land, but turned back at or about the Big Lead and unwilling to admit defeat in the project which he asserts was his life’s ambition, proceeded to write his story from the data previously outlined by Peary.” On his return journey, Cook said, he was unable to reach his outward caches because an unknown current drifted him far to the west. Eventually it became known that a westward flowing current does pass through the area that Cook would have traversed on his described return route. This has been advanced as positive evidence of the authenticity of his narrative. But he might have discovered it by a journey of about 100 miles to the northwest, which is exactly the extent of his journey indicated in his original notebooks. Donald MacMillan, on just such a journey in 1914, noted a strong tide or current at the place he turned back. Or it could have been just a lucky expedient, since Cook’s story made it necessary that he be carried west to explain his inability to reach his caches in Nansen Sound and his subsequent absence over the next winter.
Cook devotes a considerable part of My Attainment of the Pole to describing the winter he spent with his two Inuit companions at Cape Hardy. Cook claimed that he was without civilized food or ammunition to obtain game and survived only by reviving the techniques of the Stone Age hunter. Many who have vehemently denied he reached the North Pole have been willing to acknowledge his winter on Devon Island as one of the greatest of all arctic survival stories. But even this enthralling story collapses upon analysis of Cook’s original diaries now at the Library of Congress. According to them, Cook arrived at Cape Hardy with considerable food and ammunition, wintered in a snug standard Inuit stone igloo in a far milder climate than northern Greenland and was surrounded by ample game which he shot at will.
Other important details of Cook’s narrative also suffer on close analysis, though less so than Peary’s. One of the chief jibes against Peary concerns the incredible speeds he claimed during the unwitnessed part of his polar journey. Cook’s, by comparison, look conservative, yet Cook’s progress to the pole, at an average of more than 15 miles a day is far faster than he, himself, estimated was possible before he attempted it. No dog-sledge journey to the Pole, before or since, even ones that were resupplied en route, and so did not need to haul all its supplies from land to the pole and back again, has ever approached anything like it. In fact, until 1995, no surface expedition of any kind reached the North Pole and returned to any point of land unresupplied in any amount of time. All of Cook’s pictures purporting to illustrate his climb of Mount McKinley in 1906 have been shown to be misrepresentations or out-and-out fakes, such as the one he claimed showed his climbing partner standing on the summit of the mountain itself. The editor’s recovery of an original uncropped print of this picture in 1994 proved irrefutably that it was taken on an insignificant outcrop of rock more than 19 miles from the true summit, just as Cook’s critics had alleged for decades. His polar pictures fare little better upon analysis.

Cook printed two pictures representing his igloo at the North Pole, which contain little detail and no discernible shadows. Cook attributed their washed-out appearance to the actinic light at the pole, which cast a “blue haze over everything” and had a diffuse effect on the film. A print of the original photo now at the Library of Congress (above) rather shows the washed out appearance is due to dodging and burning in developing, even washing out the uniformly dark, unexposed frame, and that there was actually good detail in the original negative.
"The North Pole" Donald MacMillan reported that one of Cook’s Inuit companions told him that this “polar igloo” was built near Cape Faraday on the eastern shore of Ellesmere Land in the spring of 1909. By that time Cook had abandoned one of his sledges and all of his dogs, and his remaining sledge had been cut in half. No dogs and only a portion of one sledge, not enough to tell its length, are visible in either of Cook’s polar igloo photographs, though he claimed to have two sledges and at least twelve dogs at the pole. That the Inuit are wearing musk ox pants rather than polar bear suggests it was taken later as well.
Other photographs indicate misrepresentation as well, when compared with original prints now in the Library of Congress. In the one opposite MAP 172, the original shows definite shadows of measurable objects, none of which are long enough for even the highest sun angle Cook would have experienced on the outward trip—12 degrees. This picture must have been taken when the sun would have been at a far higher angle than implied by its position in the text.
MAP 172 Proponents have often pointed to one of Cook’s photos as evidence in his favor. The one labeled “Mending near the Pole,” has shadows appropriate to a sun angle of 12 degrees, but this could be a coincidence or even an easily faked deception, which in isolation proves nothing.
But the most damaging evidence comes from Cook’s own hand in the form of the diaries and notebooks he kept during his 1907-09 expedition. They show every indication that Cook’s tale is true only to a point, and that point lies more than 400 miles short of the North Pole. The rest is a fabrication, based on Cook’s real experiences, embroidered with his extensive knowledge of other arctic narratives and the scientific opinion of his day.
When the various versions of his polar journey contained in his various notebooks are compared, Cook gives different observed locations on the same date, and various major events, such as his discovery of Bradley Land, occur on different dates. There can be no legitimate justification for these discrepancies, especially the failure of dates and latitudes in his notebooks to match the “original field notes,” if those notes were genuine. Rather the inconsistencies of his own accounts of the events of his expedition, written in his own hand in his contemporaneous notebooks kept on his polar journey, are the badges of fraud.

Cook was a remarkable man in many ways, with many real accomplishments to his credit, but he was never satisfied with his real experiences, remarkable as they were. He always wanted more and knew how to embellish even remarkable experiences to make them extraordinary, and to do so in a way that would convince his audience that they were completely plausible. There are ample examples in My Attainment of the Pole.


The end of the Frederick A. Cook Society?

June 14, 2011

2010 was not kind to the Frederick A. Cook Society.
First, Dr. Ralph Myerson, a Philadelphia area M.D. and long-time treasurer of the society passed away on January 31. Dr. Meyerson was 91. I had a number of dealings with Dr. Myerson over the last fifteen years and always found him to be courteous and accommodating. He was interested in Cook as a fellow medical doctor, and contributed many pieces to the Cook Society’s publications on medical aspects of polar exploration. He never openly advocated for Cook’s attainment of the pole in any of these. He represented the society at several conferences, including the Belgica Centennial Conference held in Brussels in April of 1998. His paper, “Frederick A. Cook, M.D. , the art and science of medicine aboard the Belgica,” was published in the proceedings of that conference.
Next, the long-time sitting president of the society, Warren B. Cook, died on March 25, a few days short of his 80th birthday. Mr. Cook, who was a New Jersey insurance man, met his great uncle, Frederick Cook, as a small boy, and was very devoted to him as an adult. Warren Cook was the grandson of Frederick Cook’s brother, William, who partnered with him in their Cook Brothers Milk and Cream Company business in Brooklyn, NY, before Frederick Cook took a medical degree in 1890. Mr. Cook, like Dr. Myerson, was also very courteous and accommodating and granted me unlimited access to Dr. Cook’s papers and the rights to quote from them in connection to the publication of Cook and Peary in 1997. It was a difficult task to inform him shortly before my book was published that my research had come to the definite conclusion that both Cook’s claim to have ascended Mt. McKinley and to have attained the North Pole were fabrications. After the book was published, I had little contact with Mr. Cook, but before my negative conclusions appeared he wrote to me, “The Cook Society is very appreciative of your meticulous and unparalleled research of Dr. Cook’s life and achievements. Other than not having met him, you know more about him than his Grand Nephew.”
Finally, the society’s executive director and editor of its publications, Russell Gibbons, passed away on September 24 at 78. A native of Hamburg, New York, he became involved in the Cook saga when he chose Cook for the subject of his undergraduate thesis, taking up the standard Cook line that he was discredited by a monied conspiracy that deprived Cook of his rightful claim to the Pole. Apparently, Mr. Gibbons, long-time director of communication for the United Steel Workers in Pittsburgh, had an “us against them” mindset and a fondness for conspiracies, so Cook’s story had a strong appeal. Gibbons always professed an open mind about the truth of Cook’s claims in public, but, in reality, he was very heavy-handed in dealing with anyone who opposed Cook. At one of the conferences the Cook Society sponsored, Gibbons was observed removing literature and articles that provided evidence that Cook had not been to the summit of McKinley or reached the North Pole, which had been placed on a table provided for handouts for conference attendees, even though no restrictions had been placed on what could be given out. According to public records, Gibbons was paid a considerable sum yearly for his editorial services on behalf of the society, but its publications suffered as a result. Although he edited a number of publications for USW and other organizations throughout his career, his work for the society was very shoddy, both factually and physically. When the proceedings of the 1993 conference on Cook was released by Ohio State University some years later, it must have been an embarrassment to anyone involved in the conference, due to its gross editorial mistakes and misrepresentations.
The deaths of these three officers of the society follows closely on the dissipation of the last of the substantial funds provided the society to promote Dr. Cook’s claims by his last lineal ancestor, his grand-daughter Janet Vetter. Much of these funds was spent on an ill-advised republication of Cook’s four published books. These titles, all in the public domain, were soon-after offered by a number of print-on-demand publishing companies, leaving the society holding a large stock of unsalable physical books. More money went to several conferences designed to lend academic stature to Cook’s achievements. The society’s annual payments to Ohio State University to conserve a collection of papers the Cook Society had in its possession further senselessly depleted society funds; they could have been donated to the Library of Congress and thereby be reunited with his other papers and conserved at no cost. More went to fund dubious “expeditions,” such as two that tried to retrace the route Cook claimed to have used to summit Mt. McKinley in 1906. The leaders of both said they had proved Cook had made the climb, but each came to diametrically opposite conclusions on the route he took. And a substantial amount was used to compensate Gibbons for “editorial” work and other society officers for “historical research,” even though such payments are not allowed under the terms of NY State’s non-profit educational corporation statutes under which the society is organized. Finally, a rather inartistic monument placed in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, near the columbarium where Cook’s ashes are stored, all but finished off the trust funds.
At an International Polar Year conference in Philadelphia in 2008, there were rumors of the society’s insolvency. Funds had run so low by the centennial of Cook and Peary’s claims in September 2009, that Warren Cook felt compelled to ask for donations to keep the society going. This plea appeared in the last newsletter the society published, the publication of its annual journal having already ended for lack of funds. For twenty years, Janet Vetter’s trust fund had made the society a player in the ongoing Polar Controversy. But with the three Cook stalwarts at the heart of the organization gone, and the once-substantial trust funds depleted, it seems unlikely that the Cook Society will be able to have much of a future role except as the low-profile booster club it was before Vetter’s death.