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The Truth about the North Pole

Written on April 25, 2008

When Dr. Cook returned to the United States in late December 1910 after a year of self-imposed exile following the rejection of his “proofs” to have discovered the North Pole by the University of Copenhagen, he said he had no intention to give lectures or otherwise try to reestablish his claim. But in January 1911, Cook was reported in Chicago, then the movie capital of the country, to establish something called the North Pole Moving Picture Company.

On February 12, 1911, Cook appeared on the stage of Oscar Hammerstein’s Manhattan Opera House as an “added” feature to a six-part vaudeville card directly after the Panklebs, an act billed as “Comedy Clay Modelers.”

Cook said he was appearing gratis in exchange for the opportunity to place his story before the public. This statement was viewed with some skepticism by the audience, which greeted it, as they had his appearance on the stage of the crowded house, with a mixture of hisses and catcalls mingled with some cheers. The doctor then displayed the fruits of his recent Chicago venture, showing a set of “historically accurate” motion pictures dramatizing episodes of his polar experiences, entitled “The Truth About the North Pole.”

During the showing of the film, one loud protester had to be forcibly removed from the theater, and most of the audience seemed seized with an uncontrollable desire to snicker and laugh outright at Dr. Cook in the Arctic regions.

In his talk that followed, Cook denounced Peary and his backers in no uncertain terms: “Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have tried to maintain patience. I have tried to show the attitude of fairness and manliness. My faith in human nature was such that I counted on meeting gentlemen in a public question, but I find I am dealing with dogs. . . . Today I will throw off the mantle of diplomacy and seek with a knife the brutes who have assailed me. . . . For three months mud-charged guns from every point of the compass were directed at me, all the world blushed with shame. The ‘Arctic Trust’ in the meantime bribed men to sell their honor and mind. . . . Cook must be downed at all cost! . . . What chance for fair play have I, all alone, a mere man, against such a combination? It is all a shame-faced underhanded battle, and to meet it we have made the moving picture, and I am here to see that the picture is started around the world on its eye-opening mission.

At first, the audience listened patiently, but as he went on, they became restless, and their intermittent clapping and hissing seemed unrelated to the words heard from the stage. At one point an urchin in the highest balcony shrieked, “Git der Hook!” and sent the entire audience into convulsions of laughter, but the doctor only smiled and went on to the finish: “I have reached the pole. What is my reward? . . . I have simply sought to be credited with the fulfillment of a personal ambition. This the Arctic Trust refused. It is little enough to seekā€”an empty ambition perhaps, for I only ask that my footprints be left in the polar snows. . . . Will you deny me that? . . . I challenge each and all to answer. If this is not the underhanded effort of a lot of thieves, let them explain.”

Whether Cook ever showed this film again is doubtful. Totally forgotten until the publication of Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved, it was only known from a stenographic record of Cook’s appearance discovered by the author in Robert Peary’s personal papers at the National Archives in 1991. Supposed lost, a print of Cook’s film was later discovered in a footage archive in San Francisco.

Here you can view it in its entirety.

Filed in: News.