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The John W. Goodsell Archive: Part 1 of 3

September 29, 2019

Dr. John W. Goodsell

Dr. John W. Goodsell was the surgeon to Robert E. Peary’s 1908-09 expedition aimed at the North Pole. Unlike Peary’s previous expedition physicians, Goodsell participated in the field in Peary’s attempt to reach it, but in the end, like all the others but one, Peary fell out with him after the expedition returned. The differences between the men arose over Peary’s restrictions on Goodsell’s ability to lecture and publish his own account of the expedition based on his diary, even after Peary had released all other members of the expedition from their contractual obligations to wait until Peary’s own account was in print.

During the course of my research for Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved, I did not visit the Goodsell collection in Mercer, PA, although I was aware of it. This was due to the fact that Goodsell was a peripheral figure in the controversy, and because the Peary Family Papers preserved at the National Archives had at least a partial copy of Goodsell’s diary that covered the incidents and dates it contained that were of most interest to me.

In 1981, the Mercer County Historical Society had published an edited version of On Polar Trails, which was an elaboration by Dr. Goodsell’s experiences with the Peary expedition, which he worked on actively until 1915 and revised several times long after that, at least into the mid-1930s. The book had never found a publisher in Goodsell’s lifetime.  Unfortunately, Mercer County did not publish the book as Goodsell had written it.

One might ask, why Mercer County? Mercer County, Pennsylvania, lies east of Cleveland. Goodsell’s hometown was New Kensington, just east of greater Pittsburgh, but some distance south of Mercer County. The reason for it being the repository of many of Goodsell’s papers is because Dr. Goodsell lived out the last years of his life there, and his widow, who lived to 104, resided there in her old age. She eventually, in exchange for an “honorarium,” deposited what papers she had not previously donated elsewhere at the Mercer County Historical Society. As such, they do not represent a complete set of Goodsell’s personal papers, but they do contain many important items, including the original manuscript of “On Polar Trails,” and his original Peary expedition diary and the revisions he made of it, along with a considerable number of photographs taken by Goodsell on the expedition.

On Polar Trails

To bring Goodsell’s manuscript to publication, the society hired Donald W. Whisenhunt, a college professor at Wayne State University in Nebraska, who had earlier examined it and pronounced its publication “impossible.” Would that Whisenhunt’s initial opinion had been taken as the final word, because the way he eventually found to do the impossible proved he was a most unfortunate choice. In his introduction Whisenhunt detailed his methods.

Goodsell’s original typed manuscript was more than 600 pages. Whisenhunt judged this to be far too long and uninteresting “to today’s reader.” So he jettisoned Goodsell’s historical accounts of earlier polar expeditions and all of the scientific and technical material it included. He then rearranged what was left so that all the subject matter on various topics would appear together, losing the context in which Goodsell presented them. By this process, whole chapters were discarded, and in Whisenhunt’s own word, others were “emasculated.” The original 34 chapters were reduced to 12, and the 600+ typed pages became 178 small printed ones.

But even this was not enough for Whisenhunt. He then reviewed what remained for style and decided that Goodsell’s prose had to be modified because it was too “stilted, flowery, Victorian” and verging on the romantic and so would be “unfamiliar and probably of little interest,” and that his sentence structure was not up to “contemporary rules of good usage,” and so he rewrote them to be so.

“The reader may well conclude that the manuscript is no longer Goodsell’s,” Whisenhunt tellingly wrote. “That is a perfectly reasonable conclusion. Another editor may well have chosen to do the job much differently than I have. Someone else may have done it better and made it a better story. I would like to believe, however naively, that if Goodsell were alive and writing his story today he would have done it much as I have. I think it is important to note that the manuscript couldn’t not have been published without major revisions. For better or worse, I am the one who was chosen for the task.”

That’s small comfort, especially after such frank acknowledgment of the abuse of the original material. And Whisenhunt was wrong on almost all counts to take such liberties. What he produced from Goodsell’s finished book is a disservice to the scholarly community, if not “to today’s reader.” Worst, this being so, there is no way from Whisenhunt’s version to tell what is Goodsell’s and what is his in any given passage. Scholars want to see the words of eyewitnesses unvarnished by niceties such as “contemporary rules of good usage.” That’s the very point of primary source material: it is the authentic thoughts of the person who witnessed the events being described in his own words.

Having read Whisenhunt’s frank confession of gross tampering, I was very cautious in using anything quoted from On Polar Trails in writing my own book. What material I used from Goodsell came almost exclusively from the Peary papers, although, when I had no alternative, I quoted some crucial passages from the published book, while always cautioning my readers that they might not have been an accurate portrayal of Goodsell’s own words.

When Mercer County announced the publication of the so-called Dr. John Goodsell Archives, published under the title There and Back Again, in 2009, I contemplated purchasing a copy. It was massive—1,622 pages in two large volumes—so perhaps it justified the cost of $140 postpaid. Still, having had the experience of what they allowed Whisenhunt to do to On Polar Trails, I hesitated. Years passed, and of the thousands of libraries that make up OCLC’s union catalog WorldCat, only five libraries ever acquired a copy, so there was little possibility of loaning it.

Finally, I decided to just take the plunge. After all, “There and Back Again” had been Goodsell’s original title for his book about the Peary Expedition, so at least, I imagined, 600 of those 1,620 pages would be the original typed manuscript of it as Goodsell had written it, finally making amends for Whisenhunt’s misguided editing. The check was written and the books duly arrived. Included at no charge was the second massive disappointment foisted on the world of polar history scholarship by Mercer County Historical Society.

As for the first, on one of the preliminary pages was an advertisement offering leftover copies of On Polar Trails at $5 a copy, “while supplies last.” So much for Goodsell’s story as retold by Donald W. Whisenhunt having appeal “to today’s reader,” or those of the last 38 years for that matter!

In my next two blog posts I will give an analysis of what this publication contains, the good, the bad and the ugly, but—spoiler alert—for those with $140 to spare, I’d say save your money.


The Cook-Peary Files: October 25, 1909: A lawyer informs Dr. Cook of Barrill’s payoff

July 25, 2019

Ed Barrill

Edward N. Barrill

This is the 14th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

In early October of 1909, rumors flew that Edward N. Barrill, who had been Dr. Cook’s only companion on his claimed climb of Mt. McKinley in 1906 was being solicited to swear an affidavit that not only had Cook and he never been to the top of the mountain, but also that the account of the climb was a premeditated fraud. This was important because, if true, it would set a precedent for what Robert E. Peary and his powerful backers had been saying for some time: That Cook’s claim to have reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908 was completely false.

In fact, an agent of General Thomas H. Hubbard, the President of the Peary Arctic Club, which had backed Peary’s attempts to reach the North Pole since 1898, had been seeking affidavits from various parties in relation to the 1906 climb with just that purpose in mind. Of course, chief among the affidavits sought was that of Ed Barrill, since he was Cook’s only witness to the events of the alleged climb. The newspapers varied in their estimates of what Barrill had been offered for his sworn testimony as between $5,000 and $10,000 (that amount in 1909 had the buying power of about $125,000-250,000 today).

On October 14, 1909, Barrill’s affidavit was published in Hubbard’s New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, and it swore that Cook’s account of the climb was indeed a hoax. In the wake of the publication a reporter asked Hubbard, “How about $5,000 being offered to Barrill for an affidavit attacking Dr. Cook?” Hubbard dismissed this as “all bosh.” “No money was given to him for his signature,” Hubbard said.

But Hubbard had indeed paid $5,000 to cover the “expenses” of his agent obtaining Barrill’s and other sworn statements. A check drawn on Hubbard’s account for that amount is among Peary’s papers now preserved at the National Archives II.

If not $5,000, what did Barrill himself actually receive? The answer may be found in a letter mailed from Kennewick, WA, on October 25, 1909, by O.C. Anderson, a lawyer residing there:Anderson 1

Anderson 2Anderson 3

The document was in an envelope marked “Mount McKinley Material,” forwarded to Cook by his lawyer, H. Wellington Wack. At the time the author saw it, it was in the possession of the Frederick A. Cook Society at the Sullivan County Historical Society in Hurleyville, NY. Presumably, the original of the letter is now among the papers of Frederick A. Cook now held at the Ohio State University Archives.


The Cook-Peary Files: June 28, 1937: Franke recounts “The Gumdrop Story”

May 17, 2019


John R. Bradley

This is the 13th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

It all began with an interview with John Bradley, Dr. Frederick Cook’s financial backer. Exasperated by endless and often ridiculous questioning, the gambler put his tongue in his cheek when asked by a New York Times reporter how Cook had persuaded the Eskimos to venture onto the dangerous sea ice. “An Eskimo will travel 30 miles for a gumdrop, for his is the sweetest tooth in the world,” Bradley replied, adding that his yacht had gone north with two barrels of them among her stores.  Instantly, there appeared bags of “Cook Gumdrops” in the windows of all the candy stores along with the slogan “A little gumdrop now and then is relished by the Eskimen.”

When Andrew Freeman was doing research in the 1930’s for his biography of Cook that only emerged in very truncated form as The Case for Dr. Cook in 1961, he sought information from many who were still living then, and who had first-hand knowledge of the events of the Polar Controversy. He was very thorough, even in seeking small details. One of them was Rudolph Franke, who had been Bradley’s chef on his yacht and who stayed with Cook at Annoatok the winter before his attempt to reach the North Pole in 1908.

Freeman asked about the “Gumdrop Story,” and received this reply from Franke. Gumdrops

After Cook’s After Cook’s downfall, some recalled the story and used it to ridicule him as “The Gumdrop Explorer.”gumdrops

As for Dr. Cook, he denied he had any gumdrops along on the trip.  He said that the only prepackaged sweets he took with him were boxes of Nabisco Wafers, which in those days were a plain shortbread cookie similar to those marketed today under the trade name of Lorna Doone.


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.

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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.

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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. Amazon has recently gone to a new online publishing platform.  As a result, a number of annoying computer generated errors that could not be edited out and that could not be edited out on the old platform, have now been eliminated.


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.”

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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.