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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.


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.