[ Content | View menu ]

The Cook-Peary Files: October 20, 1909: Dr. Cook Receives Victor’s offer

February 25, 2019

This is the 12th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

The Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, NJ, was desirous of getting an exclusive contract with Dr. Cook for a record of his voice telling how he discovered the North Pole.

On October 6th they offered him $1,000 for this record, enclosing a check and sending it via the offices of the New York Herald in New York, which had exclusive rights to Cook’s serial narrative, then running every other day in that paper.

Apparently, his telegram in reply to this offer was not clear on the exclusivity of their rights. So they wrote to him again on October 20, clarifying exactly what they wanted and sweetening the deal by adding 10% of the price of each record sold to be added to the $1,000 originally offered.

Victor 1Victor 2

It should be understood that $1,000 in 1909 had the approximate buying power of $27,000 dollars today. Not bad for 4 minutes and 20 seconds of work!

Cook agreed to this proposal and cut his record in the Victor laboratory later that month. The record was a black seal record priced at $1.00. You can hear the result by going to the “Artifacts” section of this website and clicking on the link there, and you can also see the record’s label there as well.

The ad referred to in the letter can also be seen in the artifacts section.

The record was not on sale for long, less than two months. Dr. Cook’s failure to win approval of his North Pole claim from the University of Copenhagen pretty much quashed all sales, and it was allowed to drop from Victor’s catalogue without being repressed.

The letter can be found among the papers of Frederick A. Cook now held at the Library of Congress.


The Cook-Peary Files: October 15, 1909: Herbert Bridgman declines

January 19, 2019

This is the 11th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

In anticipation of Dr. Cook’s imminent arrival in New York aboard the Oscar II, his hometown sought to give him a grand welcome. The aldermen of the Borough of Brooklyn decided a committee to plan the official welcome for the Conqueror of the North Pole was in order. The Borough President, Bird S. Coler, sought the input of prominent citizens to participate in the planning. Among them was Herbert L. Bridgman, Editor of The Brooklyn Standard Union, himself a veteran of a trip to the Arctic on the 1901 relief ship for Peary. To this end, Coler wrote to Bridgman on October 15, 1909:

Bridgeman inviteBridgman was the Secretary of The Peary Arctic Club, an organization of millionaires formed in 1898 to aide Peary materially in his plans to capture the North Pole for the United States, and was sometimes called “Peary’s Press Agent,” because of the favorable publicity he gave Peary in the pages of his newspaper. He was more than that. He had been involved with Peary as early as 1891 and in 1892 had scotched a feature article written by Dr. Cook that he was about to publish after he learned from Peary that he considered it a breach of contract of the agreement Cook had signed before joining Peary’s North Greenland Expedition. In the Polar Controversy Bridgman managed the overall campaign to destroy Cook’s credibility and skillfully gathered information detrimental to Cook’s credibility on topics as variable as his previous claim to have climbed Mt. McKinley and his connection with the publication of a dictionary of the Yahgan language, which he was alleged to have stolen from a South American missionary. Bridgman was the first to raise doubts concerning various aspect of Cook’s polar narrative.

On the first day Cook’s claim was made public he was interviewed, he had this to say:

“Dr. Cook will, of course, recognize the moral and honorable obligation and insist that his claims to the highest geographical distinction be irrefutably established. The word of the Eskimos who went with him will be of use in getting at at the proof. . . . The Eskimos cannot write, but Mr. Peary has told me that they can draw a map of the north pole and the regions surrounding that is remarkable for its accuracy. With this skill, the Eskimos ought to be in position to help Dr. Cook establish beyond doubt his claim. . . . If Dr. Cook has reasonable proofs the credit for having discovered the north pole must go to him.”

After Peary reappeared, claiming the pole for himself, Bridgman qualified this:

“Cook’s word must be taken the same as any other man’s I have not the slightest doubt that Dr. Cook believes implicitly that he has reached the North Pole and that he made his observations with the utmost care, but I do believe that he has made mistakes in the reading of his instruments that will rob him of the glory. I think that when the records are submitted to scientists there will be flaws.
I think when Mr. Peary gives to the world his account of the stories told by the two Eskimo boys who accompanied Dr. Cook their narrations will do much to prove or disprove Dr. Cook’s claim. They are simple minded people, but they have a strange and wonderful intelligence regarding geography.”

This is eerily prophetic of the means by which Peary attempted to discredit Cook’s claim, and the basis on which that claim was ultimately rejected. It is so accurate that it indicates he was aware of Peary’s intended tactics before Peary left for the Arctic in 1908, because when Bridgman made the first statement, Peary had not been heard from at all, and when he made the second statement, Peary had said nothing specific about any interviews with Cook’s Inuit companions. Yet it was just these interviews that Peary advanced to discredit Cook, along with a detailed route of where Cook had actually allegedly traced on a map of the Arctic by them, due to their “wonderful intelligence regarding geography,”.

Bridgman Herbert Bridgman aboard the Erik in 1901

It was most unlikely indeed that Bridgman would have any interest in planning ceremonies to honor Peary’s rival, and Bridgman declined. He forwarded Coler’s letter to Peary with the comment, “No later developments on this. Sept 16 HLB.”

The letter is among Peary’s papers now at the National Archives II in College Park, MD.


The Cook-Peary Files: October 15, 1902: A Ziegler-Cook Expedition?

October 28, 2018

Mrs. Peary 1902AMrs. Peary 1902B

This is the 10th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

Here is a transcription of the above letter:

1700 Summer Street

Phila. October 15. ‘02

Dear Mr. Bridgman;

Mr. Peary wants me to tell you that the operation was successfully performed today & tonight he is as comfortable as could be expected.

He has asked Dr. Keen to send you a report covering three points

1st The simplicity & perfect success of the operation.

2nd That his recovery will be speedy & <successf> complete.

3rd That the Dr. has examined him & found him in perfect health & physique.

I am also commanded by the Commander to suggest to you that you give this report to the Associated Press, (minus any irrelevant matter such as “Mr. Peary wishes you to send this report to the Assoc. Press” &c. &c.) a la Mrs. Ded. He thinks it might read something as follows:

“H. L. Bridgman, Sec’y of the Peary Arctic Club has received the following report from Dr. W. W. Keen the eminent Phila. surgeon in regard to the explorer’s condition & gives it to the Press in order to forestall any exaggerated accounts of the operation.”

Of course I don’t know how to say it but you will get the idea. In regard to the Ziegler-Cook expedition, I say let the good work go on but let me keep my old man at home.

Very Sincerely

Josephine D. Peary.

Recently, a book about the two expeditions William Ziegler financed to reach the North Pole was published. On p. 241 of P.J Capelotti’s The Greatest Show in the Arctic, Univ. Oklahoma Press, 2016 it has this to say:

“One man who could have helped the expedition immeasurably, both with his genial disposition and polar experience, was Dr. Frederick Cook. There were hints in late May 1901 that Cook might join the expedition, but in the end he elected to stay in Brooklyn and write up the results of the Belgica expedition to Antarctica.” The reference given for this statement is “Four of Baldwin’s Party Sail on the St. Paul,” Brooklyn Eagle for May 29, 1901.

However, this must have been a different proposition than the one Mrs. Peary refers to. Evelyn Briggs Baldwin had already been named as the leader of Ziegler’s expedition, and it is likely that Cook was merely offered the position of surgeon, only. Mrs. Peary’s letter was written in 1902, at the time Baldwin had already failed, and Ziegler was looking for someone to return to the Arctic and pick up the effort he had lavishly financed to reach the North Pole from Franz Josef Land. And in 1901, Cook would have been working “on the results of the expedition stated.

But that Mrs. Peary refers to a “Ziegler-Cook” expedition indicates that in 1902 it was abroad in the New York polar explorer’s community that Cook was likely to be offered the leadership. This was the very time Ziegler was searching for a candidate. In 1909 Anthony Fiala, a member of Ziegler’s expedition, said he had recommended Cook to Ziegler. Why Cook was not chosen is unknown. Eventually Ziegler settled on the equally incompetent Fiala, himself.

The operation Josephine Peary refers to was done on Peary’s feet after his return from his five-year “Siege of the Pole” lasting from 1898-1902. He had lost seven toes to frostbite in January 1899 attempting to reach Fort Conger. His physician, Dr. Dedrick, removed those toes in the Arctic, leaving painful stubs. The Dr. Keen mentioned was William W. Keen (below), one of the elite surgeons of his day, who was called upon to assist in the secret operation on President Grover Cleveland when he was found to have cancer of the palette in 1893. It was he who operated on Peary to remove one remaining good toe, leaving him with only his two smallest toes, and evening up the stubs. He then pulled the skin of the sole of Peary’s foot over them, making a cushion for the shortened digits.

ww keen

Mrs. Peary’s reference to “Mrs. Ded” is a reference to Cora Dedrick, wife of Peary’s expedition doctor. The two of them had a falling out during the winter of 1900 and hardly spoke to one another the rest of the expedition. Dedrick knew of Peary’s infidelity with Inuit women, and Peary was deathly afraid it would get back to Morris K. Jesup, President of the Peary Arctic Club and his chief benefactor. Jesup was a straight-laced founder of the New York YMCA and ally of Anthony Comstock, such information would have been devastating to Peary’s interests and future financing.

Peary’s strategy against Dedrick was to portray him as “practically insane,” and to disregard any “insane” charges he might bring. Not only this, but Dedrick, being Peary’s doctor, not only knew that Peary was crippled by his frostbite injuries, but had developed a hernia serious enough to require a truss. Peary didn’t want any news of these conditions to be made public lest it reflect on the claims he would make regarding his achievements on his last expedition or impair his ability to gain financing for another one. Mrs. Dedrick was visited by Herbert Bridgman in an effort to influence her husband to avoid any rash statements long before Peary returned, having learned of the dispute when he led a relief expedition to check on Peary in the summer of 1901. When her husband got back, she and he were indignant at Peary’s attempted portrayal of his former doctor, and she may be referring to a statement about Peary’s physical condition published by the Associated Press. In the end, Dr. Dedrick decided not to speak publicly about the dispute, probably because he had also engaged in sexual indiscretions with an Inuit woman, and suffered from extreme guilt over it. The complex details of these incidents can be found in Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved.

Mrs. Peary’s letter is now in the Peary Family Papers at the National Archives II.


Frederick Cook arrives in Denmark

August 27, 2018

Cook arrives

On September 4, 1909, Frederick Cook arrived at Copenhagen aboard the Danish ship Hans Egede. His telegrams sent from Lerwick in the Shetland Islands on September 1 claiming he had reached the North Pole on April 21 of the previous year electrified the world. Every press organization within range sent representatives to the Danish capital to cover his arrival. The event was even captured on film.

The Danish Film Institute has posted the most complete footage yet seen of Cook’s arrival on YouTube at this URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyQhwosY688

Here is a guide to the footage as posted. It is broken down by scenes; the start of each sequence is indicated by the time cues before the annotations, which can be followed while viewing the film. The viewer should note that the film as posted is not in strict chronological order. It is, in fact, a series of short clips. This will be pointed out as appropriate.

0:14 In the opening scene, Cook is seen standing on the deck of the Hans Egede. Notice that he is missing several of his front teeth. These were knocked out in a fall during his expedition. Soon after his arrival, he was taken in hand by Danish barbers, tailors and dentists, and when he reappeared in public he was faultlessly attired and had regained his missing teeth.
0:25 The Hans Egede is seen in various clips, approaching Copenhagen from the sea, decked out in all her flags, passing the Trekroner Fortress at the entrance to the harbor, and at anchor in the harbor itself. These clips are the product of several different cameras and not in sequence. She made regular runs to the Danish settlements in Greenland. This was her last run from Greenland in 1909, and Cook only secured a berth on her at the intervention of Jens Daugaard-Jensen, Inspector of Danish Greenland, who sent official word to Denmark from Lerwick verifying Cook’s claims.
1:11 This scene is of Copenhagen’s harbor showing the crowds and watercraft, many filled with reporters, awaiting the ship’s arrival.
1:19 Cook is seen on the bridge talking to the ship’s captain and officers.
1:50 Cook is seen waving his hat to the boats filled with reporters and curiosity seekers. Notice the reporter taking notes with pad and pencil.
1:55 Cook is seen pacing the deck, talking to an unknown man and then letting himself down to the main deck. The sign says “No Access” in Danish.
2:15 The greeting party of dignitaries, including the Crown Prince of Denmark and the American Minister to Denmark enter the launch, and it leaves for the Hans Egede.
2:23 Aboard the ship, Cook is waiting by the taffrail to receive the greeting party. Notice that a reporter with a pad appears taking notes below the boat. His arrival is obscured in the first clip by people in the way, but in the next his arrival at this position is clearly visible. This shows that these clips are the product of several cameras simultaneously filming the same scene.
2:59 When the officers salute, they signify the arrival of the Crown Prince aboard.
3:02 The tall man in the top hat and mustache is the Crown Prince of Denmark, later Christian X.
3:05 The man with the wavy hair seen behind the rope talking to Dr. Cook is Commodore Andreas Peter Hovgaard, a naval officer and arctic explorer.
3:06 Cook and the greeting party enter the launch to go ashore.
3:08 The man who takes off his straw hat might be the English reporter Philip Gibbs, who interviewed Cook en route and early on denounced Cook as a fraud, but this isn’t certain. Cook seems to be talking directly to him, and he has a resemblance to Gibbs, but his hair is parted on the wrong side. That he is not part of the official party is shown by the fact that he does not enter the launch. Other reporters can also be seen on deck as the launch departs, as well as in the boats standing alongside.
3:26 The launch leaves the Hans Egede’s side.
3:36 The launch arrives at the dock and the party steps ashore.
3:49 The man who first steps ashore with the stick and who assists Cook is Commodore Hovgaard. The next to debark is the crown prince, followed by American Minister Maurice Francis Egan. The representatives of the Royal Geographical Society follow him, and they make their way through the crowd into the grounds of the Meteorological Department.
4:26 Here you get a brief glimpse of William T. Stead, William Randolph Hearst’s man on the spot, who wrote a colorful account of Cook’s arrival. He’s the man with the white beard and slouch hat.
4:33 This shows a motor car, attempting to leave the Meteorological Department’s grounds. Steed’s account tells how the press of the crowd made it impossible for the party to enter the waiting carriages that were to take them to their destination and that they had to take refuge in the the department’s building. The car was a decoy; Commodore Hovgaard spirited Cook out a back door and into his own carriage for a ride to the Hotel Phoenix. So this is likely out of sequence and should come behind the next sequence of Cook on the balcony waving.
4:45 Cook is seen on the balcony of the Meteorological Department waving his cap to the crowd below. At one point he speaks briefly to those who had been calling for a speech. He allegedly said,
“My friends, I have had too hard a time getting here to make a speech. I can only say that I consider it an honor to be able to put my foot first on Danish soil.”
4:59 This is a brief repeat of the first scene, but a distinctly different clip.
5:05 These two men are Danish Inuits from Greenland, perhaps part of the Hans Egede’s crew. The film camera was so new, the two don’t seem to know what to do.
5:43 This gentleman is C. M. Norman-Hansen, a Danish optometrist and poet, who was also returning from Greenland aboard the ship. Likewise, he seems camera shy. He was at first a staunch defender of Cook’s controversial claims, but turned on him in 1911 and publicly denounced him at his lecture at the Palais Concert Hall in Copenhagen in 1911. After Norman-Hansen disappears, the rest of the footage is a repeat of earlier scenes.


The Cook-Peary files: October 15, 1909: The Parker-Browne testimony, part 3

June 29, 2018

This is the 9th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

This post concludes the publication of the Parker-Browne testimony before the Explorers Club committee investigating the authenticity of Cook’s claim to have climbed Mt. McKinley in 1906. For the previous posts on this subject, see below. Comments about the content of Browne’s testimony are interspersed between the reproductions of the typed minutes of the session.

Parker’s final contention that Cook stated he got around the “impassible” cliffs they observed while camped on a peak along Ruth Glacier on a snow cornice, but does not mention such a cornice in his book, is untrue. In his book on the climb, Cook states that their route took them “up the knife edge of the north arête, around a great spur, from cornice to cornice, cresting sheer cliffs over which there was a sickening drop of ten thousand feet.”
After Parker had finished his own testimony, Belmore Browne had his turn. In many respects he echoed or repeated Parker’s “evidence”: he emphasized what he considered Cook’s suspicious behavior in going off alone with Barrill after he had “assured” Parker that he would make no further attempt to climb the mountain that season, and also that Cook sent him on a hunt to obtain trophy heads, only to never once ask for them once he returned; he cast doubt that Cook was properly equipped to make the ascent, having no safety line or ice creepers, all of the rope, Browne testified, having been burned by he and Parker after the silk climbing rope had failed during a test of its strength, and the ice creepers having been lost; and he laid great importance, as Parker had, on Cook not having the instruments necessary to measure the height of the mountain, even if he did climb it.
But in all these respects, as Parker’s before him, Browne’s testimony failed to establish any of these doubts as undisputed fact, and in some respects Browne was clearly mistaken. In Browne’s 1913 book, he stated that in Cook’s telegram to Herbert Bridgman, sent before he started for the mountain with Barrill, that he was preparing to make “a last, desperate attack on Mount McKinley,” when the actual telegram read: “We are now arranging our final efforts, and I hope to wire you from Seward about our work in early October.” As to his equipment, Cook lists it in his book, To the Top of the Continent, and never claimed to have a hypsometer or ice creepers (he used no creepers in 1903, but was able to ascend to about 11,000 feet on McKinley’s North Face and return safely), but that he took along a “horsehair lariat,” which could only mean the pack rope, as a lifeline. Browne, like Parker, insists that there was no one to read the barometer at a known location so that he could compare and correct his own readings of a barometer during the climb to determine the mountain’s height. Cook gave just those instructions to John Dokkin, who during the climb was at the location they left their boat, at an elevation of about 1,000 feet. In Cook’s diary, he states that he did have in his possession several aneroids, including one with a scale adjustment for reading heights over 16,000 feet.
As to the Barrill affidavit, which Browne states he believes “absolutely,” it seems clear that neither he nor Parker at the time of their testimony, and for a significant time after, did not understand the route described by Barrill in that sworn statement. As late as early 1910 they published a map that mislocates the “Fake Peak” entirely, placing it on the west side of Ruth Glacier (see the map published at page 494 of Cook and Peary). It seems that they only completely understood the route described by Barrill when they went over the same ground later that year for themselves. Even then, there was an element of chance in their finding the location of the place Cook took his famous “summit” picture. Indeed, Claude Rusk, who was on the same ground as Browne, was unable to find it at all, and misidentified the peak he thought it was taken from, even though he had access to both Barrill’s affidavit and diary and Cook’s published photos, just as Browne did.
Some additional elements of Browne’s testimony are noted below.

Explorers Club 9

Explorers Club 10Explorers Club 10Explorers Club 12

As to Cook’s observation of possible routes up McKinley, ironically, he had a very good view of the mountain from the top of the Fake Peak, and this, combined with his observations made three years previously through binoculars from the snout of Muldrow Glacier, probably served as the basis for the route he subsequently claimed. Unfortunately he seems to have failed to realize that the ridge he observed from each of these locations was not the same ridge, as he thought, but two different parallel ridges with a gulf between them, leading to many of the baffling statements he later published about his route up the “Northeast Ridge.” Here is the view he had of McKinley from Fake Peak from a larger photo now held by the Ohio State University Archives, and first published in DIO in 1997.

McKinley from Fake Peak

Browne’s criticism of Cook’s ability to describe terrain through which he had passed accurately is not justified. Cook’s descriptions in To the Top of the Continent are often uncannily accurate considering he is nearly universally believed to never have gotten past the Gateway to the Ruth amphitheater.

Browne’s statement regarding the route taken by Cook and Barrill from the fork at the Ruth Glacier’s amphitheater is interesting. Many have maintained that Cook never went beyond the campsite Barrill described them making at that location. However, Browne claims that Barrill told him after his return with Cook that they circled to the East, but that Cook said they went right over the summit of the ridge before them, that is, the East Ridge. Later Browne claimed that Barrill intimated to him that they had made no further effort to actually climb the mountain when he met with Browne on this occasion. Browne’s account of Barrill’s statement here seems to support that he and Cook went beyond the “Gateway” to the Ruth Amphitheater, which is also suggested by drawings in Barrill’s own diary.

Explorers Club 13

Explorers Club 14

There is considerable evidence by eyewitnesses, one a business partner of Barrill’s, that Barrill stated to a number of people that he actually made the climb with Cook and displayed his diary, which corroborates Cook’s account, as evidence that he did. The statements mentioned here are no more than third party hearsay.

Explorers Club 15Explorers Club 16

The height of Mt. McKinley as determined by Russell Porter’s triangulations was almost identical the the height Cook published in his book. They were only off by a few feet of the actual height.

Cook’s lawyer’s name was H. Wellington Wack, not “Watch.” He did indeed go to the wrong place and so did not put in an appearance that day. Wack appeared with Cook at the club’s rooms at 11 AM on October 17, 1909, instead. Cook did not testify in detail before the committee at this time, pleading that he had no access to his diary of he 1906 expedition since 1908 and wasn’t even sure where it was. He asked for a delay to take care of his commitments for a lecture tour of the Western states and to put his records and photos in order before giving testimony to the committee. The committee agreed to grant him this respite, but he never fulfilled his agreement to lay the records before the committee, including his original diary and negatives of his Alaska photographs. Cook was dropped from the membership of the Explorers Club in December 1909, some said for his false claim of having climbed Mt. McKinley, others that he was dropped merely for “non-payment of dues.”


New edition of the lost polar notebook published

May 30, 2018

After a number of minor revisions since it was first published in 2013, a second edition of The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook is now available on Amazon. The book has been corrected and revised, with the most substantial revision coming to the section dealing with the attempt to reach “Crocker Land” by Donald MacMillan in 1914. This was prompted by the original research of Dr. David Welky, who made some inquiries of me during the writing of his book on the Crocker Land Expedition, and who shared the pertinent parts of MacMillan’s original diary that he read at the American Museum of Natural History in New York as part of his research. My original account was based on a handwritten copy of MacMillan’s “field diary” that I studied in 1991 at the library of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, while researching my own book, Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved. I took the Bowdoin diary, which was hand-written, for the original, but it was not, and there were significant differences between the Bowdoin and American Museum versions which tended to set up an alibi for Peary’s original 1906 claim to the discovery of a land that did not exist (see the News post for August 1, 2014 below). Because some of the differences were not made clear in Dr. Welky’s otherwise excellent book, A Wretched and Precarious Situation, published by Norton in 2017, I felt a revision stating the mileages MacMillan actually covered, as indicated by his entries in the original diary, as opposed to those reported in the Bowdoin version and his later published narrative was in order. Other changes and revisions to the new edition include the introduction of more and better illustrations and a detailed Picture Sources and Credits section. In the process of a full and careful reading, a number of typographical and computer formatting errors introduced into the book during file conversion for publication were addressed and corrected. However, at least two of these errors remain, as the publisher was unable to remedy them. Page 176 is numbered “152,” and extra characters have been introduced on page 168. It is hoped the reader will overlook these until a remedy can be found to printing them as submitted.


The Cook-Peary files: October 15, 1909: The Parker-Browne testimony, part 2

January 7, 2018

This is the 8th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

The lecture Parker refers to took place on December 7, 1906. Cook’s claimed success in Alaska led to his election as the second president of the Explorers Club later that year.  Parker makes much of Cook having a silk flag. This seems trivial, after all, his explanation isn’t implausible, or perhaps he took it along, “just in case.”

Explorers Club 4Explorers Club 5Explorers Club 6Explorers Club 7Explorers Club 8Explorers Club 9A

Things to note in this section:

  • Browne asserts that Cook “went over the Eastern Ridge.” This is actually what Cook believed the route he described did, but it was not the ridge that Parker and Browne attempted in 1912. Both Cook and Parker-Browne later referred to their routes as along “the Northeast Ridge,” now known as Karsten’s Ridge. That would not be accurate for Cook. It seems that Cook always confused the two separate ridges and believed they were one and the same. That is the only way to explain his various descriptions of his own fantasy route.

  • Notice that here, Parker, who has previously said it was “perfectly understood” that Cook would make no further attempts on the summit that season, now says he was “under the impression, however, that he did say so, but I cannot say definitely.” Browne, however, testified that Cook said he would “absolutely do no climbing whatsoever.” In fact, Parker seemed aware that Cook fully intended to make a reconnaissance of the mountain before heading for home, and testifies that Cook “announced” such a plan if his financial sponsor, Henry Disston didn’t come up.

  • Parker makes a case against Cook using both his “summit” photo and his lack of other photos of his approach to the summit or surrounding peaks as evidence that he never made the climb. These are all valid points, but at that time didn’t prove the climb wasn’t made. Every one of Cook’s photos, both published and unpublished, alleged to have been made during his climb, can now be identified today as having been made within the confines defined by Barrill’s affidavit. At the time of Parker’s testimony, however, none of them had been so identified.

  • Parker argues that Cook’s estimate of the summit’s elevation of 20,390 feet is worthless because it was his “impression” that Cook had no equipment that could measure such a height. However, Cook’s estimate was more accurate than that published by Parker-Browne after the 1912 expedition on which they are credited with coming within 464 feet of the summit before turning back. They estimated the height at 20,450 feet. The actual height of Denali is 20,310 feet, only recently corrected from 20,320 feet.

  • Although there was not a “sea level station for barometer reading,” John Dokkin was charged with keeping a record of the barometer readings at a known height, where he returned after parting with Cook and Barrill on Ruth Glacier. This would act as the check on the accuracy of any readings Cook took on the mountain that Anthony Fiala was referring to.

  • Notice that Parker again is uncertain when asked directly if Cook’s barometers were adequate. When asked: “Do you know, as a matter of fact, that he did not have one that read to 20,000 feet”? His answer was “No.”

  • The discussion concerning a “South Ridge” is confusing. Cook’s climbing directions don’t mention such a ridge in his published account, To the Top of the Continent, though they are vague, indeed, and have led many to conclude that they are impossible to reconcile with actual terrain, though others believe they are.

At the end of his testimony, Belmore Browne makes an opening statement. This will be the subject of the next post.


The Cook-Peary files: October 15, 1909: The Parker-Browne testimony, part 1

October 28, 2017

This is the seventh in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

Parker began his testimony by recounting his 1906 Alaskan experiences (not reproduced here); the panel then asked him some questions.

Explorers Club 2Explorers Club 3

It should be noted that when Cook sent a telegram announcing his success on McKinley on October 2, 1906, Parker had openly doubted it could be true. After Cook returned to New York in November, and met with Cook personally, however, he dropped his doubts, but still maintained that Cook’s triumph was nothing but an admirable physical feat, he having made no reliable measurements that would be of interest to science. Parker belief eventually went so far as to allow him to stand in for Dr. Cook at several lectures on the conquest in 1907. Browne, for his part, openly praised Cook before the Mazama Club upon their return to Seattle in early November, and in 1907 published an article along the same lines, expressing his admiration for Cook’s feat and saying he and Barrill had proved themselves to “be of the stuff men are made of.”

Parker and Browne, however, as Parker admits here, had designs on another attempt to reach the summit, and Barrill’s affidavit reopened the door to their ambitions. If Cook could be disqualified, they might be able to claim the first conquest of the great mountain for themselves.

Things to note in this part of Parker’s testimony:

The prospector who accompanied Cook and Barrill part way up the Ruth Glacier was named John Dokkin, not “Duncan.” Also, throughout the transcript, Belmore Browne’s name is misspelled “Brown.”

  • Although he said he would not consider “for an instant the possibility of approaching the mountain from the South” on any future attempt, that is exactly what he and Belmore Browne did in 1910, on an expedition funded by General Thomas Hubbard. The main purpose of this expedition was not to climb Mt. McKinley, however, but to prove Cook hadn’t.

  • Although it was “perfectly understood” between himself and Cook that all further attempts “were abandoned for that season,” he was less certain of this later in his testimony.


The Cook-Peary files: October 15, 1909: The Explorers Club Investigates Cook’s Mt. McKinely climb

July 17, 2017

This is the sixth in a series examining significant unpublished documents associated with the Polar Controversy.

On October 14, 1909, an affidavit appeared in The New York Globe, sworn by Edward N. Barrill. Barrill had been Dr. Cook’s only witness and climbing partner on his last attempt to conquer Mt. McKinley, in which effort Cook claimed to have stood at “the top of the Continent” on September 16, 1906. Conflicting rumors about Barrill had appeared in the New York newspapers for days previous to the affidavit, some saying he would support Cook’s claim, others that he would deny it. Conflicting, too, were reports from witnesses that told of Barrill bragging of his share in the successful feat and those who had said, early-on, that he had told them it was a hoax. When it finally appeared, his affidavit emphatically labeled Cook’s climb a blatant fraud.

Barrill asserted Cook had been no nearer to the 20,000-foot summit of the mountain than 14 miles and no higher than 10,000 feet. After the affidavit appeared, although he had just been in New York City, where he met with two members of the Explorers Club, Barrill disappeared, his whereabouts unknown, but safely out of reach of the Press. The next day, the Explorers Club assembled a committee to investigate Cook’s claims in regard to Mt. McKinley. Cook had been its sitting president when he had departed in 1907 on what eventually resulted in his claim to have reached the North Pole in 1908. Robert E. Peary had been appointed to fill his place in his absence, and was now the sitting president of the Explorers Club. Although the newspapers reported that the club’s investigatory panel included “Cook’s friends,” in fact, though they expressed neutrality and impartiality in the raging dispute between the two explorers, they were largely Peary men.

The panel included Marshall Saville of the American Museum of Natural History, long an institutional ally and contributor it Peary’s expeditions, Charles H. Townsend, director of the New York Aquarium, who later spearheaded a dubious attempt to “prove” that Cook had tried to steal the life’s work of a aging South American missionary by publishing as his own a dictionary of the language of the Yaghan Indians of Patagonia, Walter C. Clark, who was the business partner in the Parker-Clark Electric Company with Hershel Parker, the chief witness against Cook, and Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, Secretary of American Geographical Society, who claimed to know where Barrill was but said he couldn’t disclose this information without “breaking a confidence.” Saville and Townsend were the two members who had interviewed Barrill before his “disappearance.” About the only members who could be remotely considered “Cook’s friends” would have been Caspar Whitney, editor of Outing Magazine, who had editorialized for fairness for Dr. Cook in its pages, Anthony Fiala, a fellow arctic explorer and long time associate of Cook’s, who ran a sporting goods store in New York, and Henry Walsh, who had been a co-founder with Cook of The Arctic Club of America.

That the mysterious disappearance of Barrill, the only eyewitness to Cook’s actual movements on his claimed climb, was blown off in so casual a way in the opening statement reproduced here, shows that, as a whole, the committee was clearly in Peary’s pocket. Basically, they said, Barrill’s published affidavit was to be accepted without any questioning of him by the panel. That was what General Thomas H. Hubbard, the president of the Peary Arctic Club wanted. He had paid for “expenses” connected with Barrill’s and others’ making affidavits against Cook, and the cost of bringing Barrill to New York and his accommodations while there. It was Hubbard who “spirited away” Barrill, ostensibly to visit relatives in Missouri instead of appearing before the committee to expand upon the eyewitness account of events he had sworn to in The Globe, a paper owned by General Hubbard.

Barrill’s absence left the committee with only two witnesses, Parker, and Belmore Browne, both of whom had been on Cook’s 1906 expedition. In this series, their testimony before the Explorers Club is published for the first time. The meeting began with a preliminary statement concerning the absence of Edward Barrill, after which Parker was called. Parker, unlike eyewitness Barrill, had already left Alaska before Dr. Cook made his attempt with Barrill to reach the mountain’s summit.

Explorers Club 1

A transcript of the Parker-Browne testimony, which will be published in the next few posts is among the Robert E. Peary Family Papers at National Archives II in College Park, MD.


The Cook-Peary files: July 31, 1914: “Case 2140″

May 20, 2017

Burns bill

This is the fifth in a series examining significant unpublished documents associated with the Polar Controversy.

During most of 1914, Frederick Cook was followed by detectives from the Edward J. Burns detective agency and became “Case 2140” on their books. The intent was to learn who he saw and what his future plans were so they could be anticipated. Screeds were then sent in advance to places he intended to lecture in an effort to undercut his credibility and reduce his earnings by discouraging those who might wish to hear him speak. Cook took the role of an ordinary man who had accomplished an extraordinary deed, and out of jealousy had been targeted for ruin by a black-handed conspiracy led by the rich and powerful “Arctic Trust,” The Peary Arctic Club, that backed Robert Peary. Cook was right as far as the efforts to discredit him. The Burns Agency bills were paid out of the account of General Thomas A. Hubbard, The Peary Arctic Club’s president. Illustrated is a typical bill for the last half of July, 1914, totaling $290.52. Similar amounts were paid month after month, and it should be remembered that $290 in 1914 was worth about 19 times that today, so it was no insignificant amount—equivalent to more than $5,000. Ultimately, the program of trailing Cook ended upon the death of General Hubbard in 1915. This bill and many others like it are among the Robert E. Peary Family Collection preserved at the National Archives II in College Park, MD.