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Where’s Waldo?

Written on December 22, 2010

If you followed this blog last year during the centennial of the Polar Controversy, you may have wondered why there have been no recent posts. That long silence corresponds exactly to the period of time—more than a year—that Frederick A. Cook kept silence. It was on this day, 100 years ago that the world officially remade his acquaintance.

After Cook disappeared in late November 1909, his whereabouts became an enduring interest for the American press. A thousand dollars was offered simply for his address. Editorials wondered out loud how a man whose face was recognizable to millions internationally because it had appeared in the newspapers every day for months could have disappeared without a trace. Many reports of him were made from places as far flung as Peranmbuco or Jerusalem, but no proven sighting took place until October 1910, when Cook gave an exclusive interview to a reporter from the New York World in shabby hotel room near London’s theatre district. “My work is not dead nor, as some would wish, am I,” he declared.

In that interview the Doctor gave an outline of where he had been in the last year (mostly in Latin America) and openly doubted that Peary had reached the North Pole based on his incredible speeds after he left his last reliable witnesses.  He said he would soon make up for his long silence and give “a full answer to everything, and I will deliver it in my own time.”

“I shall be leaving London presently but only to perfect my plan to fight for my own at the proper time and place,” he warned.

And so he did. On December 22, 1910 in co-ordination with the first of a series of articles appearing in Hampton’s Magazine called “Dr. Cook’s Own Story,” he arrived in New York aboard the North German Loyd steamer George Washington. The scene that ensued “ was so promising of at least half a dozen fist fights that the oldest and most blasé ship news reporter hugged himself with delight a the prospect” as “men called each other liars to their faces . . . and women stood on chairs and joined vociferously in the arguments shouted by the men on both sides of the question of whether or not Dr. Cook had reached the pole, and whether or not he had been ostracized on his ‘return from Elba.’”

One of the horde of reporters that were on the dock to welcome the “Gumdrop Explorer” home noted, “He wore the same grin, the same sly twinkle in his eyes that he had when he fooled the public of New York and stood bowing to its cheers, his neck garlanded with a huge horseshoe of roses. Needless to say there were no garlands for the Doc last night; no shrieking whistles of acclaim; no frock-coated Aldermen; no big cheering crowds. The only thing that might be regarded as a decoration peculiarly applicable to the Doc’s vicinity were the Yuletide drapings of the George Washington’s main saloon, for these were of evergreen goods.”

The Doctor wouldn’t answer many questions, but he did respond when asked about his immediate plans. “I am through with exploration” he declared. “I have had enough. I am here to settle down as an American citizen.” Would he be challenging Peary to a debate over who first reached the Pole? “Certainly not. Impossible!” he protested. “Why impossible?” the reporter persisted. “Why, it is not my way,” Cook exclaimed.

But that was decidedly not the case. He had in mind already what he stated to the reporter in London, “I did not run away from my task, but from the intolerable conditions that were created to ruin it and to goad and harass me. What I so dearly earned may have been filched from me, but only temporarily. It will come to me just as I shall come back.”

Yes, Dr. Cook was now back, and his plan was soon set in motion.

Filed in: News.