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Cook and Peary, up to date

September 22, 2015

It is now difficult to remember a time before the Internet was ubiquitous. It had been around, but it only came into wide usage about 1996 with the invention of practical search engines. Since then, the quantity, if not the quality, of information literally at ones fingertips has mushroomed to then unimaginable proportions. But Cook & Peary was entirely the product of a pre-internet world, when each bit of information had to be ferreted out of physical collections of published and unpublished documents held in specialized collections or libraries, and laborious page-by-page looks through newspaper and periodical literature with virtually no indexing. In the case of manuscript sources, often the only way of taking away the documents’ content was by making a handwritten copy. Consequently, many small errors of transcription or interpretation were unavoidable in such a large effort as that. A frequent source of error was a by-product of this: mistakes that were transcribed faithfully from the original, such as Frederick Cook’s numerous misspellings of foreign place names, not only in his private writings but also in his published works. Today, misspelling of uncommon foreign place names, terms and proper names can easily be checked and corrected. Most of the corrections can be found on the Errata sheet for Cook and Peary (C&P) that appears as an addendum to The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook (LPN), published by the author in 2013. A few errors were introduced during the editing process, but these were not many. In addition to errors, new information inevitably comes to light after any publication that adds to knowledge of the subject or that clarifies or corrects what has been included in a finished book. The annotations here seek to inform the reader of such new information that has come to the author’s attention since C&P was published in February 1997. The amount and, for the most part, the importance of it are not very great, but it is included here as part of the record of the momentous dispute that enthralled the world in the last months of 1909.
p. 145 at note 35: the leader of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition’s name is properly de Gerlache. However Cook in TAFN always referred to him as Gerlache, as did Amundsen in his book, My Life as an Explorer. In keeping with these accounts, “Gerlache” was adopted as the spelling here and throughout C&P.
p. 146 line 37: Cook refers to Amundsen throughout TFAN as First Mate. Actually, Amundsen’s official rank was 2nd Mate. Captain Lecointe was officially First Mate, ranking after Commandant de Gerlache. He is referred to throughout, as Cook referred to him, as 2nd Mate. Melaerts was 3rd Mate.
p. 172 Here are the two finalists for “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”.

Cleo de Merode

Clara Ward, Princess de Chimay

p. 177, quotation at note 3: de Gerlache’s book appeared in English for the first time in 1998 as Fifteen Months in the Antarctic, in a translation by Maurice Raraty, published by Erskine Press, UK. For an alternate translation of this passage, see page 137.
p. 181, for an alternate translation of the passage at note 12, see p. 145 of the above.
p. 204, line 21: It is doubtful that Cook met with Shackleton at this time. According to Roland Huntford’s biography, Shackleton, during the period Cook was in England, Shackleton was at sea aboard the Carisbrook Castle, shuttling between Southampton and the Cape Colony. He did not return until “early March, 1901.” Shackleton had been appointed to the Discovery expedition while still at sea, on February 17. Cook returned to America before the end of that month, so would have had no opportunity to meet him before the Discovery sailed on August 6. Another scholar, Leif Mills, who has done research on many of Shackleton’s assistants and who is familiar with his movements confirms this.
p. 216, line 1: The unedited version of Wyckoff’s diary was published in 2002 as part of Boreal Ties by the University of New Mexico Press. Any variances from the version of the diary provided the author can be found in this book. For the differences between the two versions, see the editorial note at the front of Boreal Ties. Likewise, Boreal Ties also contains the full diary of Louis Bement. It came to light only after Cook & Peary was published (see the note at the head of Chapter 10 on page 1011). The full diary adds very little that is not mentioned in Wykoff’s accounts.
p. 223: see the note above on Wykoff’s diary.
p. 267, line 19: Svartevoeg is Cook’s misspelling of Sverdrup’s Svartevaeg. It is used here and throughout to avoid confusion, as Cook’s misspelling is preserved in many subsequent books on the Polar Controversy. “Svartevaeg” refers to the black cliffs which line the eastern coast of Axel Heiberg Island just below Cape Stallworthy. In MAP 200 Cook gives a footnote which explains his use of the term as a substitute for Peary’s Cape Thomas Hubbard, which is the cape just west of Stallworthy, and the point from which Cook departed across the Arctic Ocean toward the Pole. He considered Peary’s naming the cape after one of his major backers as an attempt to rename Sverdrup’s original discovery.
p. 320, line 9: Cook consistently spelled Cape Viele incorrectly both in MAP and in his original polar notebook.
p. 323, The story related by Stefansson here is almost surely not true. It is contradicted by a letter dated in 1910 that the author found in Peary’s papers after Cook & Peary was published. Its text precludes that this meeting ever took place. Furthermore, in his autobiography, Discovery, p. 99-100, Stefansson relates that he went to the Grand Union Hotel hoping to meet Peary, but “I did not find Peary there—he was away at the time—so I went about my own business. . . .”
p. 325, line 38: A study of Cook’s original polar notebook reveals that Koolootingwah was not with the party that was sent on this errand, although Cook claims that he was in MAP 149-150. The “advance party” consisted of three Inuit only: Essyou, Kudlu and Metik. See LPN 131. This party was also sent to look for a way up onto the inland ice so the polar party could descend into Cannon Fjord, which Cook hoped to use as a shortcut to Nansen Sound.
p. 327, line 25: Franke’s published account says they stopped 3.2 miles short of the cache at Cape Viele.
p. 327, line 35: Koolootingwah was with the main party, not the advance party, see above.
p. 349, line 11: The telegraph office was located in the upper floor of the Post Office on Commercial St. This was verified by the author on a visit in June 2014 to Lerwick and the very same building from which Cook sent his telegrams.
p. 349, line 15: More details about the telegrams Cook sent can be found in the author’s article: “One man’s trash; the recovery of Frederick A. Cook’s original telegram drafts announcing his attainment of the North Pole,” published in The Polar Record 45 (235) 351-359 (2009).
p. 349, line 27: There was no American consulate in Lerwick. For details see the referenced Polar Record article above. See the news section of the author’s website at www.polarhist.com.
p. 364, line 3: Dannebrog was misspelled in the American newspapers; the medal takes its title from the popular name for the Danish flag. Here is the medal Cook might have received had King Christian IX not decided to withhold it.


p. 570, the passage ending at note 80 is not in MacMillan’s notebook now at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This appears to be the original, and the one used in this chapter, now at Bowdoin College, appears to be an expanded copy. See the news section of the author’s website at www.polarhist.com. The mileages also differ somewhat between the AMNH and Bowdoin notebooks.
p. 583, paragraph 6: Cook’s statement about the Emden could not be true, since the raider had been sunk the previous fall near the Cocos Islands. This may be another example of Cook’s tendency to embellish his stories.
p. 612, line 7: this is not entirely correct; while Strine was Peary’s personal physician, examination of his blood was done by Dr. B.L. Hardin. It was Dr. Hardin who diagnosed pernicious anemia in Peary. Strine treated him for it.
p. 682, line 24: Notice that the resulting correction is still “incorrect.” The text says Kittit’s; the original says Killit’s, which is supposed to be Killits’s, of course.
p. 757, paragraph 2: Dennis Rawlins pointed out to the author that he did mention Captain Hall once in his text. However, he makes no mention of Hall’s as the pioneer in analysis of the Polar Controversy, or of the significance of Hall’s work.
p. 747, paragraph 2: In a telephone conversation with the author on Nov. 29, 1998, Mr. Gonnason told the author that at the time he had not seen Washburn’s photos. The photos he examined were obtained from General Dale V. Gaffney of the 72nd Reconnaissance Squadron in Fairbanks.
p. 808, line 16: A detailed, direct comparison of the Cook and Barrill diaries appears in the author’s “Cook’s Curious Timetable,” DIO, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 77-88, published in December 1997. An online version of this article can be found at www.DIOI.org.
p. 809, line 28: Barrill’s map is reproduced on page 800.
p. 811: Photocopies of the original diary were not allowed at the time the author did his original transcription. Later, he went to the Library of Congress and made copies of the microfilm of the diary. In rechecking these against his handmade transcription he found there were some small transcription errors, mostly punctuation, not affecting the text. The publisher did not take up the author’s instructions to insert these. To achieve the absolute accuracy promised on page 1083 under “Notes for Chapter 28,” these changes should be made in the entry for September 16:
Sept. 16 should be underlined
top should be capitalized and have a period behind it
delete the period behind slope
delete the period behind sq
Actually, the line that starts out “Tube with date etc. . .” probably should read:
“The hand shaking 20 minutes Tube with date etc flag & names”
“Tube with date etc.” is written above “flag & names” and probably goes with it, but this is a matter of interpretation.
p. 812, line 42: An analysis of Cook’s claim to have climbed Mt. McKinley with new evidence against
it, including unpublished photographs and images from both Cook’s and Barrill’s diary pages, appeared in the author’s “The Fake Peak Revisited,” DIO, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 40-76, published in December 1997. An online version of this article can be found at www.DIOI.org.
p. 819, line 39 at note 33. After a rereading of this material, the photos Browne is referring to in this letter appear to be his own photographs of Fake Peak, taken in 1910, not Cook’s original negatives from 1906. If so, then the subsequent discussion on p. 820 is incorrect. Cook’s negative appears never to have been in Browne’s possession. See a discussion of this point in the author’s “Resistance of Resolution,” DIO, vol. 9, no. 3, published in December 1997. An online version of this article can be found at www.DIOI.org.
p. 821, line 8: No satisfactory copy of the inferior print of the photograph (see note 38, p. 1087) could be had until after C&Ps publication, when most of the photographic materials held by the Frederick Cook Society were transferred to Ohio State University. The photo was first published in the author’s “The Fake Peak Revisited,” DIO, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 68-69, in December 1997. The clear original seen by the author in 1991 has never been seen again; there is some evidence to suggest that the Cook Society intentionally suppressed it and possibly destroyed it.
p. 822, line 7: The original of this photo showing Ed Barille to the right of the tent, like the original clear picture of Cook’s “summit” photograph has also gone missing, along with several other original prints including “photograph 5” on p. 832. A CD compilation of all of the images at OSUA proves these were removed from the materials by someone at the Cook Society before they were transferred to OSUA. However, one practically identical to Belmore Browne’s sketch made from the top of Fake Peak was among those they received and was published in DIO, vol. 7, no. 2, p. 74. An online version of this article can be found at www.DIOI.org.
p. 833, picture at bottom: Notice that Browne’s caption on the drawing, “N.E. or Eastern Ridge” shows the same confusion as Cook’s over which ridge was which.
p. 834, line 3: the caption might also be read “Mck. from Top. view from N.” This would make sense if Cook’s sketch is equivalent to Browne’s on p. 833, i.e. that it was made from the top of Fake Peak.
p. 834, line 29: The right to reproduce the drawing in question was subsequently released to the author by the rights holder. Here it is:

Missing drawing

A number of other pictures from Barrill’s diary are reproduced in DIO, vol. 7, no. 2 by permission of his daughter, Marjorie Mt. McKinley Barrill.
p. 849, line 4. Cook referred to his experimental sledges in MAP 101, but this was published more than two years after Bradley’s statements.
p. 865, paragraph 4: With the advent of sophisticated computer models this is no longer true. See the note below on this matter.
p. 868 at note 48: “and so they are not there to this day” is an unprovable statement, since the original of Cook’s notebook has yet to be found. It is only known from the photographic copy made by the Danes, which, of course, was it’s state at the time it was filmed by them, before February 1911. Acomplete annotated transcript of the photographic copy can be found in LPN.
p. 881, line 33: Cook’s original notebook indicates he left from Cape Thomas Hubbard, not Cape Stallworthy.
p. 884, at note 81: The original print of Cook’s “Bradley Land” picture was published in DIO, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 94-95 in December, 1999. An online version of this is available at www.DIOI.org.
p. 885: An analysis showed that neither the picture in MAP nor the lantern slide represents the full original image. See: DIO, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 78-79 for a discussion of the two versions of this picture and to see a composite of the two images. This available online at www.DIOI.org.
p. 886 at note 86: The paper was read on April 29, 1907. Therefore it was read before Cook left, but published only afterward.
p. 887 at note 89: According to the National Geophysical Data Center’s GEOMAG, a computer model based on spherical harmonic analysis, on April 21, 1908, the magnetic compass would have pointed 133 degrees 28′.8 west, plus or minus 0.5 degrees. This is very close to Rawlins’s estimate. The program mentioned was only brought to my attention after the book was published because neither of my technical experts (one of whom worked in the very office mentioned) made me aware of it earlier. The correction of this error strengthens the thesis that Cook was never at the Pole, but that his supposed “data” and “observations” were based on his interpretations of accepted scientific theory of the time.
p. 889, paragraph 1: An original print of the picture of Cook’s photograph of the igloo he says was built at the North Pole was found in Cook’s photographic material at the Library of Congress. It was first reproduced in DIO, vol. 9.2-3, p. 48, published in December 1999 along with an analysis of it. It appears to have been intentionally overexposed during its development to obscure its telling features.
p. 889, paragraph 3: A comparison of this picture’s three versions, including an original lantern slide now at the Library of Congress, can be found in LPN, page 223, including an analysis of the shadows visible in the picture by Dennis Rawlins. His analysis supported the author’s conclusion that this photograph could not have been taken at any point along Cook’s described route on his reported time schedule.
p. 899, line 16: In the transcription of the entire diary from better copy for LNP, the illegible words proved to be “over a sea haze.”
p. 900, paragraph 3: Dennis Rawlins’s analysis of this picture leaves open the possibility that it was taken at Cook’s turnaround point; see LNP, page 222.
p. 901, line 6: A complete transcription of his notebook indicates the date Cook turned back was about April 19; see LPN.
p. 903, paragraph 7: It seems likely from an analysis of the two handwritten versions that the version of the “original field notes” written in Cook’s original notebook was put in that notebook after the set in Notebook 1 was written; see LPN, page 312.
p. 916, paragraph 2: The complete transcription of the diary in LPN shows that a majority of the narrative in MAP up to the time Cook starts for the North Pole was written in draft form in this notebook. Many passages are nearly identical, even as to preserving many misspellings of geographical place names and other correctable mistakes that appeared in MAP. So, it appears that both Harré’s and Cook’s descriptions of his role and contributions in regard to MAP are accurate.
p. 893-894: At the time the author viewed Cook’s diaries at the Library of Congress, they were still in the transfer files, and photocopies of them could not be made due to restrictions on copying bound materials. Therefore, any material copied from them had to be done by hand on loose sheets of paper provided in the manuscript room. These notes were consequently transcribed for later use. Divorced from the full context of the actual diary, a few elements in these notes were misattributed. The “start” being described here by Cook was one of them. He is actually describing the one in February 1909, from his winter quarters at Cape Sparbo. Consequently, this passage has no bearing on Cook’s departure from Annoatok in February 1908.
p. 895: as above, the handwritten notes taken at LC caused these mistakes of transcription; the slide caption numbers were mistaken in the handwritten notes for diary page numbers. The respective page numbers should be Page 62 for slide caption 52; Page 65 for slide caption 72.
p. 974: The reason for all of these changes was a misreading of Notebook 4, which does indeed record six days; this is indicated by a shift in tense in the opening summary passage and is easy to miss, because for one of the days Cook gives no mileage traveled. This was first pointed out in a review of Cook & Peary by Randall Olseveski. Therefore, the notebook indicates he went some distance farther that the 92 miles recorded in the narrative in the notebook, probably the 22 miles he gives in his “field notes” in My Attainment of the Pole (and probably the meaning of the marginal 22 on page 7 of Notebook 4), bringing his total to 114. This is supported by his description of the conditions and travel time in the notebook. When the entry in Notebook 4 is read correctly, it adds one day and 22 miles to Cook’s actual trip, placing him perhaps 100 actual miles off shore before he turned back (all of Cook’smileages were only estimated by dead reckoning). This extra day and mileage brings his trip into almost identical agreement with what MacMillan encountered traveling through the same area in 1914, and places him in the same area influenced by the shear zone known to be in that approximate area even today, which MacMillan also encountered and which was the cause of his decision to turn back. This error in reading the text, then, when corrected, adds to the thesis that Cook made the trip described in this diary and turned back because of these same impossible ice conditions. That Hall used 92 miles as the length of Cook’s journey suggests that Hall may have made the same misreading of Cook’s mileages as recorded in his original notebook, indicating he may have access to it in writing Has the North Pole Been Discovered?
p. 975, final sentence: This conclusion must be reconsidered in light of the transcription of Cook’s original notebook, which indicates that Cook had given up on any hope of reaching the Pole by the time he reached a position near Greely Fjord opposite Axel Heiberg Island, and whose actions subsequent to that time indicate he was at least considering a possible hoax by that time. See LPN.
p. 1006; introductory remarks to notes for Chapter 7: de Gerlache’s book is now available in English, see above.
p. 1020, line 7: Although Dedrick’s diary does not contain racist remarks, that is, ones that impute inferiority based on race, Dedrick does use occasional racial epithets, but this was common practice and not considered unacceptable at that time.
p. 1079, note 14: The terms of the restrictions are stated incorrectly. The letters that were restricted were only those between Mrs. Peary and her daughter. In any case, these restrictions have now all expired.
p. 1080, note 26: Melaerts was 3rd Mate, not second; see above.
p. 1087, note 38: The inferior print was transferred to OSUA from the Frederick A. Cook Society subsequent to when the collection was viewed by the author. After C&P was published, prints became available from OSUA. The print was published for the first time in DIO, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 68-69 in December 1997.
p. 1090, note 66: refers to “both quotes.” In reality, there is only one quote. The other was removed during final editing of the book.
p.1096, note 60: This was probably Samuel Blandford, which one contemporary source described as “one of the best known and most successful ice captains of Newfoundland.”
p. 1100, note 70: Wolfe does make a general reference to Peary discovering “new lands,” but in context this seems to refer to the gap that had not been explored by other explorers before Peary’s trip to the west in 1906. After all, this was the point of Peary’s journey. There is nothing that could be held to be a description of what Peary later named Crocker Land, however.
p. 1103, note 74: Tom Avery’s 2005 expedition supposedly recreated Peary’s expedition and accredited Peary’s speeds, however it actually did not recreate it in many crucial aspects, and its results in fact cast further doubts on its authenticity. See the author’s review of Avery’s book in Polar Record, vol. 46, no. 4 (October 2010) pp. 378-380.
p. 1104, paragraph 2: The analysis of this print was based on a Xerox of the original print. Prints of it were not available during the writing of C&P. When the original photograph became available in a professional reproduction and the picture could be studied in more detail, much of this analysis proved incorrect. The bright spot appears to be simply a defect in the print’s processing and the better defined shadows indicate the sun is off the picture and to the left and almost directly in line with the sleds, but slightly toward the horizon. No definite information as to the time of day the picture was taken could be derived from the visible shadows of the sleds or dogs. Jerry Kobalenko sent the author a photo of Ren Bay on the coast of Axel Heiberg Island’s west coast, suggesting that this might be the true location of this picture. There are points of similarity between the two, but they are not a definite match, perhaps because of low haze obscuring some of the details of the land in the distance, a technique Cook had used to obscure the true locations of some of the pictures he had taken on his alleged climb of Mt. McKinley in 1906. An analysis of Cook’s picture by Dennis Rawlins appeared in DIO, vol. 9, no. 3, p.140, in which he concluded the visible land was less than 5 miles distant and about 100 feet high. The original print was reproduced for the first time in DIO, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 94-95. If the picture was truly taken near Ren Bay, the sleds in the photograph are heading south, and the sun is in the north, indicating the time of day is near midnight. In any case, the shadows, as in the picture that appeared on MAP 172, appear to be far too short to match even the highest sun angle Cook would have experienced on his described outward journey, much less on March 30, 1908 at 9 A.M., the day and time he said he discovered Bradley Land.
p.1109, note 103: The discussion and analysis of Cook’s index to his original notebook in LPN, pp. 4-7 supersedes this note.
p.1112, note 111: Of course the winter at Cape Sparbo was nothing close to 6 months long. Total darkness occurred for about 60 days.
p. 1119-20, note 72: Keith Pickering points out that Peary must have meant James Cook; if the mileage quoted for his position is converted to statute miles, it is almost exactly correct.
p. 1121, note 98: there is only one quote; the other was removed during editing.


150th Anniversary

June 10, 2015

Today is the sesquicentennial of Frederick A. Cook’s birth. He was born in Hortonville, NY on this day in 1865. Sullivan County records record Cook’s birth in Hortonville. His family lived there until they moved to Port Jervis in 1878. The family home was occupied by Cook’s brother, Theodore, until his death in 1928, and he and their father, among other relatives, are buried in the hillside Hortonville cemetery. The sign welcoming visitors to Hortonville states that it is Cook’s birthplace.


There is even a New York State historical marker in Hortonville commemorating his birth, erected on its centenary in 1965.

NY State historical marker

So, there should be no doubt about Cook’s birthplace. Yet this simple fact is lost on many who write about Cook on the Internet, often still listing his birthplace as Callicoon. Even the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry listed it as Callicoon until at their request the author of this blog updated their entry on Cook in 1997. Still, Cook’s current Wikipedia article lists Calicoon as his birthplace—a good example of why Wikipedia continues to be less reliable than many established print sources and their web products, like EB’s. EB has a stable editorial board and expert, knowledgeable fact checkers; anyone can write or rewrite Wikipedia articles at will, and the more controversial the subject, the more unstable the content, even as to uncontroversial facts, like Cook’s place of birth. If a writer cannot get indisputable facts straight, how can he be relied upon to get the many complicated and, frankly, sometimes unknowable, details of Cook’s controversial career as an explorer correct, or at least present them in an unbiased manner? I gave up long ago trying to keep the Wikipedia article on Cook accurate. Persons interested in accurate information on Frederick A. Cook and his career should rely on information written by experts in the field, like that available on the present website.


Corrections: round 2

March 2, 2015

Anyone who purchased a copy of The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook between May 22, 2014 and March 1, 2015 should make note of these changes to the text. This is envisioned as the last major revision of the text. Any future corrections will accumulate on an errata sheet and not be made to the text unless some major error comes to light.

page xv, line 2: the correct name for the dialect spoken by the Polar Inuit is Inuktun
page 16, paragraph 2, line 4: George Crocker was a railroad magnate
page 92, paragraph 3, line 1: “1914-17” should read 1913-17
page 167, paragraph 2, line 2: “LNP 159” should read page 159
page 192, line 3: M. E. Rost was Miles E. Rost, son of Ernest C. Rost
line 4: “Board of Directors” should be Executive Committee of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Geography.  Some other additional material about Ernest C. Rost has been added to this page from a pamphlet entitled “The Fabulous Rosts,” privately published by John A. Walsh in 1982
page 212, paragraph 2, line 29: “actinic” should read non-actinic
page 239, line 4: the correct name for the dialect spoken by the Polar Inuit is Inuktun
page 243, paragraph 2, line 1: The source is cited incorrectly. “My Attainment of the Pole” should read “the draft of his unpublished memoirs”
page 300, paragraph 1, line 6: “12” should read 11. Also, on the table, note that there are two sets of entries for April 21 and none for April 12
page 324, paragraph 1, line 3: “LNP 137” should be LNP 139. There is also a reference to Shei Peninsula on LNP 76
page 334, last line: “actinic” should be non-actinic
page 338: A new page was substituted here featuring the first publication of one of Cook’s pictures taken on his North Pole attempt. A future News entry will reproduce this page with commentary.
page 363: the errata sheet entry for “p. 287” should read p. 207
page 345: last paragraph, line 4: “C.E. Rost” should read E.C. Rost


Running into Dr. Cook

December 28, 2014

While in Europe this past spring, there were chances to visit several places connected with Dr. Cook. The first was a drive past the Phoenix Hotel, where Cook stayed as guest upon his return from Greenland on September 4, 1909. Unfortunately, plans to visit this and other sites associated with the “Cook Days” in Copenhagen had to be scrapped because of a change in arrival times in Denmark.

The next encounter with Dr. Cook came during my visit to the Fram Museum in Oslo.  See the post for June 27 below.

Fram Museum (2)

Next came in Kristiansand. It was to this harbor that the Melchior delivered Cook after his triumph in Denmark. It was a Sunday, and the town was dead, but the harbor was still busy. From here the Oscar II of the Danish-American Steamship Co. sailed with Cook on board for New York.


The old fort whose cannons fired a salute for the explorer at the command of Haakon VII is a picturesque place.


Later, during a visit to Scotland’s Shetland Islands, I came ashore at Lerwick on a fine clear day. The town still looks much as it did on September 1, 1909, when Cook landed here and sent his first messages to the world claiming to have discovered the North Pole.

Where Cook sent his telegrams

In 1909 the telegraph office was located on the second floor of the Post Office on Commercial St. It was from it that I mailed the copy of The Lost Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook to the Royal Library in Copenhagen. The change in plans had prevented me from delivering it in person to the “Black Diamond,” as I had intended.

Shetland Museum

After mailing the book I made a tour of the excellent Shetland Islands Museum and dropped off photographic copies of Cook’s telegraphic messages to be put in the archives there.

Naval Museum

On the way home, a tour of the Royal Naval Museum at Greenwich disclosed a number of polar artifacts including many “relics” of the search for Sir John Franklin.

Franklin relics


Differing versions of Donald MacMillan’s field diary brought to light

August 1, 2014

Dr. David Welky, a professor at the University of Central Arkansas, who is working on a book on Donald MacMillan’s Crocker Land Expedition of 1913-17, recently brought to my attention that there is a different and apparently earlier version of MacMillan’s 1914 field diary in New York.

It differs from that now in the collection of the library at Bowdoin College that I relied upon in Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved, in which I noted that this diary was significantly different from the published account of MacMillan’s 1914 journey toward Crocker Land contained in his published narrative, Four Years in the White North. Dr. Welky sent me the entries covering this journey away from Cape Thomas Hubbard toward the supposed location of Crocker Land covering April 15-23, 1914. The source of these entries was the collection of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), under whose auspices the expedition was undertaken.

He no doubt was obligated to turn over journals as part of his record to the museum as a condition of their sponsorship. The thought occurred to me that he might have wanted to keep the originals for purposes of writing his book, and that he may have decided in copying a “set” for AMNH decided to edit out some of the detail of the original, both to shorten his task and also to remove some language or statements that he thought the better of. For instance, he took out “d – - – - -” at one point. My first quick look at Dr. Welky’s material gave me this idea because of several physical details of the AMNH diary and specific passages that differed between the two manuscript diaries. The fact that MacMillan erased and changed some mileages in the Bowdoin diary and left them alone in AMNH’s didn’t even dissuade this thought. AMNH could have been copied before he got down to recomputing his positions in preparation for his book, which his associate Fitzhugh Green, who accompanied MacMillan in 1914, says they did upon their return. Green’s article, Arctic Duty (p. 2473), sheds some light on the mileage changes:

“Immediately after our return I checked up my meridian marks by a long series of observations. After the chronometers were corrected final reworkings gave us very exact positions for our Polar Sea sights. To our satisfaction astronomical data placed the farthest camp at 82 30′ north and 108 22.5′ west, or a little beyond our conservative dead reckoning.”
And when he got down to writing his book, MacMillan made even further changes. On this theory, the AMNH version had already gone to them, so he couldn’t make any amendments to it. However, from information Dr. Welky sent later, these original thoughts now seem to me far less likely, if not ruled out entirely.

Here is an analysis of various points I noticed that might help decide which of MacMillan’s diaries was written first and perhaps indicate if there was even an earlier version that is neither at Bowdoin or AMNH version.

1. THE TYPE OF NOTEBOOK. The size of the AMNH book favors it as the original. However, the type of notebook does not. Explorers tended to use notebooks that had pre-numbered pages. And using a set of what appear to be small ledger books (about 6 x 4) seems odd. However, the Bowdoin books, though numbered, are larger (about 8 ½ x 11) than anyone would want to drag on an extended polar trip both in overall size and thickness. And both books are also just too neat to have been done in typical arctic conditions of the time, an objection that applies to Peary’s as well, but not to Cook’s. A combination of all of these objections suggests that there may have been an even earlier field diary. Also, Peary invariably wrote his daily entries on only one page of a pair. This was quite common amongst explorers, the opposite page being used for notes, etc. MacMillan having been with Peary in 1909 would reasonably be expected to follow his mentor’s methods (he used exactly the same kind of cumbersome “Peary sledge” on the Crocker Land Expedition, for instance), also suggesting there was an earlier diary. These factors do not, however, suggest if one or the other manuscript diaries is a copy, an expansion, or a contraction of an earlier text.

2. STYLE AND CONTENT OF ENTRIES. This, too, could go either way. In the Bowdoin diary there is more detailed information, generally. This might be a later expansion of the AMNH text, or the AMNH might be an editing down of the Bowdoin text. To weigh these possibilities, let’s consider the general differences first.
In the Bowdoin text MacMillan uses the Inuits’ names in full almost always. In the AMNH he uses an initial or “the boys” or some such description in many cases. In the AMNH he also, for the most part, does not name any dogs, though he identifies the ones he is talking about specifically in the Bowdoin. The AMNH is also generally more concise in its description of events. Again, this could be interpreted either way. In my work with Dr. Cook’s diaries, I always found his original diaries stuffed with specific and trivial detail he did not necessarily include in his subsequent drafts or finished narratives, either in manuscript or published.

3. SOME SPECIFIC DIFFERENCES. There are lots of these, but let’s just look at a few consecutive entries and ask ourselves why these may be so different.

Tuesday April 21.
The body of the entry is the same until the last common sentence of the first paragraph:

AMNH says: “Clear tonight but – nothing in sight – yet.” [end of paragraph]
Bowdoin says: “Clear tonight but nothing in sight on horizon. [adding] This disappearance of mist on the ice is an indication that all leads are frozen.”

AMNH concludes this entry with a paragraph on the dogs’ condition and how long he needs to travel before being “through.” Bowdoin has a long description of how Green said he saw Crocker Land and “sure enough” Mac gives a description of “a tremendous land.” After it disappears, he specifically excuses Peary’s citing of Crocker Land as due to mirage. But in AMNH, by saying “yet” and citing the time before he will be “through,” he is anticipating a possible sighting before that time comes. This is a very significant difference. In the first he sees nothing at all; in the second they both see “Crocker Land” but it disappears and provides a detailed excuse for Peary’s citing of “the northernmost land” ever seen, even though it does not exist.

Wednesday April 22
AMNH starts out with the statement about the good weather, then discusses the condition of the dogs. Then it says: “Saw land this morning but think now it was mirage of ice. Nothing in sight.” In the Bowdoin diary, however, he and Green have already seen the mirage the day before and excused Peary. This entry says they decided to take a Meridian Altitude and built an igloo to do so, the Inuit going on ahead while they took sights, and has all kinds of trivial detail about how the Inuit did not go on as far as expected, how they can’t tell time by anything but the hour hand, and how they stopped because they wanted to dry out their kamiks and stockings. It goes on to say that Peeahwato said he was going back, and how Mac insisted he wasn’t.
In this case, based on my reading of a number of other diaries, the detail is usually present in the original. Things like this get written down on the spot and not remembered later, though of course they could later be just made up whole, after the fact, or placed in a specific entry by general recollection if they actually did occur at some time during the journey, as Dr. Cook often did.

Thursday April 23
Here AMNH directly contradicts the entry for the previous day in Bowdoin by saying that the location was determined by “sights at noon today and yesterday morning”; a Meridian Altitude, by definition, must be done at noon, not in the morning, and this entry says the Meridian Altitude was taken April 23, and that the one on April 22 was made in the morning.
Most remarkable is AMNH’s statement: “A great feeling of relief tonight. My dream of 5 years is off,” whereas Bowdoin says nothing about “relief,” but indicates disappointment, if anything, that “my dream (of reaching Crocker Land) of 5 years is over.” Additionally, in neither version is there ever a “tense lapse” putting the narrative out of the present tense or just-past tense. That is not easy to do in a rewrite or write-over—just ask Dr. Cook!

So, it appears an argument could be made for either account being the original. It is difficult to imagine recalling and adding the amount of specific detail that Bowdoin does, unless it is just made up. However, I recall a quote from an associate about MacMillan to the effect that if one knew him, nothing would surprise you, so perhaps this is the case, or the new details were written in generally after-the-fact from memory. Or, perhaps if AMNH is a copy to fulfill the obligation mentioned above, the details were left out, which for the most part would not detract from it as a “report to sponsors,” that is the reason for the differences, which for the most part do not change the time schedule of the sledge trip or most of the stated or implicit observations they both contain, except for the distinct citing of the mirage of Crocker Land, which is used to excuse Peary’s erroneous or false report.
This most problematic passage is that of Green shouting he sees Crocker Land, Mac’s confirmation, and the discussion of mirage as an excuse for Peary strikes me as a concoction to explain away Peary’s “mistaken” sighting. If it were true, then Mac surely would have included it in the AMNH version if it is a condensation, or written it there originally, if AMNH is the earlier account instead of first, instead of saying there was nothing in sight and then just giving an off-hand account of mirage without mentioning Peary at all. After all, AMNH was intimately mixed up with Peary, and they would want some vindication of him in light of his acolyte bringing home a negative report on one of his greatest “discoveries.” But in the AMNH, there is only the matter-of-fact mention of being deceived by mirage on April 22. Reinforcing the notion that the additions regarding the sighting of the mirage of Crocker Land were made to excuse Peary is a later passage in the Bowdoin diary in which MacMillan claims to have seen a very convincing mirage of distant land from the exact position Peary claims to have “discovered” Crocker Land. Again, this passage is absent from the AMNH version.

On this, and the ambiguity of the rest of the indications, I came to the conclusion that the AMNH was indeed written before the Bowdoin version. This was all but confirmed when Dr. Welky told he that there were many of these small ledger books used by various members of the expedition at AMNH and sent me an image of the cover of an identical notebook that had belonged to MacMillan’s physician, Dr. Hunt. It was impressed on the cover “American Museum of Natural History Crocker Land Expedition. Field notebook 70.” Undoubtedly, then, these were the books issued by the museum itself for the purposes stated on the cover, which had even been pre-numbered on their covers for future organization and inventory.
Finally, as mentioned, MacMillan’s finished book is certainly much closer to the Bowdoin, justifying Dr. Welky’s view of it as a draft for the book. However, as I noted in C&P, there are significant factual differences between those two, even so.
Still, an analyst could go on and on, but I doubt any argument could be completely conclusive as to whether there was an early version of the AMNH version, written in another identical book. The handwriting is so neat and even that it suggests the existing AMNH must be a recopy, but this can’t be proven. However, certainly, the differences between the two known versions are significant, and, at best, cast some doubt on MacMillan’s complete truthfulness and the reliability of his journals as absolutely factual reports, though, as stated above, the basic information they contain is consistent.

After receiving this material from Dr. Welky, I considered whether I should modify my analysis and comparison of Cook’s and MacMillan’s very similar journeys toward the location of the non-existent Crocker Land in The Lost Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook, Pages 328-332. In the end, however, I am inclined to just accept the Bowdoin version as an expanded and corrected version of whatever the original sources were, and for the purposes of comparison of the two journeys, as the best of the three versions to use. I therefore do not contemplate making a revision to the book as it stands, though the reader should keep in mind that the AMNH version exists, though I do not believe it significantly changes the comparisons I made in my analysis. Should further information make me rethink this position, I will post any amendments to the current text on the NEWS section of this website.

My thanks to Dr. Welky for bringing this important material to my attention.

Donald MacMillan


Dr. Cook at the Fram Museum

June 27, 2014

Fram musem

This summer I had the opportunity to visit the excellent Fram Museum in Oslo, Norway. Anyone who is in the area should not miss the chance to board this most iconic of all polar vessels.


The museum is a large A-frame building that houses Nansen’s ship, with a wing that houses Amundsen’s Gjøa, on which he successfully navigated the Northwest Passage.
Amundsen and Cook

There is an excellent film in English, informative displays of memorabilia of both ships’ voyages and a thorough history of Norwegian polar exploration. Dr. Cook appears in one of the pictures sitting with Amundsen at the table aboard Belgica working on polar gear.
Amundsen's tent

An example of the tent the two designed together is also on display, one of which was left at the South Pole and found by the polar party of Robert F. Scott, which reached the pole a month after Amundsen.

C&P at the Fram Museum

The museum also has an excellent bookstore. Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved can still be purchased there.


Errata and revisions to The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook

May 26, 2014

A distinct advantage to digital publishing is the ability to correct or update an existing text and incorporate those changes into the latest available printed copies of a book. Since The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook was published in December 2013, several changes have been made to the original file, and no doubt more may be necessary as readers submit feedback to the author. The author welcomes these, and will acknowledge anyone who corrects errors or provides additional information relevant to the book’s text that is published in this post, but so far, the changes listed here have all resulted from a critical reading of the published text by the author himself.

Each copy of the printed book has a date on the very last page facing the inside back cover. Readers who possess copies printed before May 18, 2014 should take note of the following corrections or revisions, and should check this post for future revisions. A separate NEWS post will notify readers of any additional changes, but they will all be posted here as updates. In this way, readers can adjust their copies to reflect any corrections made since their copy was printed.

Changes made on May 18, 2014

Slight adjustments to the text, such as punctuation and those done for grammatical consistency and clarity have not been listed. However, any corrected typographical errors have been included below.

Page 7 line 24: “Notebook 3” should read “Notebook 2”
Page 20 In the paragraph marked “Acpohon” line 3: Ellesmere is the tenth largest island, not “third”
Page 35 line 4: “Notebook 3” should be “Notes III”
Page 67 line 15: “Civilized” should be “Modern”
Page 108 last paragraph, line 1 should read “Cook is now about 5 miles to the west of the Divide Camp (not “40 miles” from Flagler Bay, as Cook implies), . . . .”
Page 112 line 10: “40” should read “45”
Page 112 seventh line from the bottom: “original” should read “Narrative”
Page 112 sixth line from the bottom: “diary” should read “notebook”
Page 136 line 27: “accurate up to the date” not “the the date”
Page 139 the third line of the transcription should read “” not “is ”
Page 219 the solution to the problem is incorrect; it should read 185 x 6 = 1,110
Page 227 line 21: “turned himself into police” should read “turned himself in to the police”
Page 248 line 4: “original filed notes” should read “original field notes”
Page 287 second to the last line: “180” should read “170”
Page 300 line 5 below the chart: “Cook transcribes three” should read “Cook transcribes four”
Page 300 line 9 below the chart: The last two sentences should read “The temperature matches neither the inserted paper’s table nor MAP. The barometer reading matches the table, but not MAP.”
Page 334 last paragraph, second line: remove “not” to read “that would allow a photographic analyst”
Page 337 line 6: “1910” should read “1909”
Page 344 Last paragraph, line 3: “southwest” should read “southeast”
Page 359 line 5: “he hand gone” should read “he had gone”


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.