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Inside the Peary Expedition: Part 4: At Sea, July 30. 1908

September 13, 2020

Ross Marvin

Ross Marvin

July 30 1July 30 2July 30 3

7 – 30 1908
at sea off the Greenland Coast
bound for Cape York, N. Greenland

Dear Mr. Bement: -
Well here we are in the land
of the midnight sun once more and everything
is going lovely. We have had fog and rain
most of the time and a good deal rougher
voyage than last time, but the Roosevelt
seems able to stand anything even
loaded down as she is.

This noon I had
an entirely new experience on board ship
one which I had often thought of and won-
dered what it would be like. We were
running along full speed just after
dinner. ( “When” crossed out) The Captain and I were
chatting together in our Cabin when the
cry came of “breakers ahead”. Of
course we both rushed on deck and
by turning the Roosevelt sharply
we ran between them and the coast
as they were some distance out and

We passed Disco1 night before last and
Upernivik this morning as you see
we did not stop at either place. The
Erik will stop there I believe going back.
We expect to reach the Duck Islands tonight
and Cape York tomorrow night if all goes

As before the Com. expects to transfer to
the Erik for a week or so and I shall prob-
ably go along with him although he has
said nothing as yet.

My work of the last trip
is divided among three this time and I seem
to be getting only the best of it. I am still
busy but am able to do my work much
more thoroughly than I could before.

We are all wondering
whether we will meet Dr. Cook here or not.
The Com. is perfectly willing for him to go
back on the Erik if he cares to. It will be
rather a poor ending for his trip if he does
go back that way. The Com. spent all of
one meal explaining to us just how he felt
about Dr. Cook and his coming up here.

I shall make this letter one of several
installments and if gets too long I may
make two of it. I am rooming with the Cap-
tain and we are the very best of room-mates.
The other two men have my little room for
the two of them. I didn’t lose anything
there by coming late.

We are much better
fitted out this time both in provision and in
equipment. Captain Sam is in charge of
the Erik so we feel sure of having lots of
coal.  I think it is about an even chance
whether we stay one year or two. Of course
that is all nonsense in the papers about
his intending to stay three years. We
have provisions on board for three years
however in case anything should happen.
The only thing that is going to happen is
is that we are going to reach the Pole
itself this time and get back safely
with the task finished. Goodbye for
Ross Marvin


1 Disco is a large island just off the coast and was the site of Upernavik.


Inside the Peary Expedition: Part 3: A brief stop in Labrador, July 23, 1908

August 20, 2020


Labrador 1Labrador 2

on board the Roosevelt,
off Turnavik, Labrador
July 23rd, 08.

Dear Mr Bement: -

Just a few lines

we we <sic> will land for a few minutes
at the fishing station of Captain
Bob’s father at Turnavik. He has
200 pair of skin boots here & so
we came up after them.

This note ought
to reach you at the same time
yesterdays letter did.*

I started in before
breakfast to rig up a box for
my instruments and have been
at it all day. I started to
write a note to Mother after
supper, when a squall struck
us and nearly carried away our
fore-top-sail. We have been
over half an hour in a blowing
rain getting in the canvas.

We are now running into
the station and will only
stay about half an hour.

The Erik is keeping
right along with us so we
ought to have company all
the way to Cape York.

I am going to have a
better trip this time than I
did last.

very sincerely,
Ross Marvin


* No such letter was included among the copies given to the author by Silas H. Ayer III.


Inside the Peary Expedition: Part 2: The Expedition arrives at Sydney, July 14, 1908

July 6, 2020


Sydney was the last calling place of most ships headed into the Arctic. It’s chief attraction was the abundant coal that could be had from the mines at North Sydney, which ran far out under the harbor.  It was also the last place where a wide variety of food and supplies could be obtained. But it also boasted the Sydney Hotel with hot baths and a formal dinning room.

Sydney hotel

Peary’s chief assistant on the 1908 expedition was Ross Marvin, who taught Civil Engineering at his alma mater, Cornell University, and also at Mercersburg Academy in PA.  Marvin had served in a similar capacity on Peary’s try for the pole in 1905. He wrote a running series of letters home as the opportunity presented itself. In the transcriptions of these letters, all the spelling and grammatical errors they contained have been reproduced.  For a biographical sketch of Marvin, see: https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/nny360.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/4/41/44143d20-9136-11ea-a45c-c70f891330ea/5eb5695471f6f.pdf.pdf

The letter head is of the Sydney Hotel, C.B., which stands for Cape Breton. Even though part of Nova Scotia since 1820, the island was always referred to this way during Peary’s time, when it had not been joined to the mainland by a causeway.

July 23 1July 23 2July 23 3

Sunday, July 23, 1908*

My dear Mr. Bement1,-
Well here we are
at Sydney2 and we expect to sail
some time Tuesday. The Eric3 has
already left.

I expected to have time
during our trip from N.Y. to write
you a long letter but I have still
been busy. I have been charged in
sorting and restoring most all of
the ship’s cargo and I tell you it
kept me busy with two or three men
to help me.

Charles Percy4 and I are
the best of friends and I know we
will get along fine. He often speaks
of you and Mr. Wychoff.5

I tried to see Mr Wychoff
to thank him before he sailed for
Europe but I was unable to do so.
I have written him a letter thanking
him and will write to him and to
yourself whenever I have an op-
portunity. Still I wish when you
see him that you would thank
him personally for me.

Captain Bartlett6,
a nephew of old Capt. Sam7, is in charge
of the Roosevelt and a fine young
fellow he is, I can see that already.
Captain Moses Bartlett8, a cousin
of Capt. Sam is 1st mate so we
seem to be well equiped for

The persenal part
consists of Com. Peary, Matt Henson9,
Dr. Wolfe10, and myself. He still
expects to leave me in charge of affairs
at Cape Sabine11 base of supplies but
I want to go on with him.12

I will have to
close this letter now but will hold
it and try to write a little more
before we sail from here. Thanking
you again for all yo u have done
for me I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Ross Marvin


*Evidently the date of this letter is incorrect.  According to Dr. John W. Goodsell’s carefully kept diary, the Roosevelt arrived at Sydney on July 14 and after coaling departed on July 17.

1 Louis C. Bement met Marvin when he attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where Bement ran a haberdashery.  It was he who introduced Marvin to Peary.

2 Sydney is on the eastern shore of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

3 The Erik was Peary’s auxiliary supply ship on several of his arctic expeditions.

4 Percy was the steward of the Roosevelt and also the caretaker of Peary’s summer home on Eagle Island in Maine.

5 Clarence Wychoff was the heir to the Remington Typewriter fortune and a mutual friend of both Bement and Marvin. In 1901 Wychoff paid for Bement’s passage aboard the Erik on the Peary Arctic Club’s expedition to relieve Peary, who was then in the midst of an unsucessful five-year “siege of the North Pole.” So Bement was familiar with the places Marvin referred to in his letters. Both Marvin and Wychoff were from Elmira, NY, and both were Cornellians, though not in the same class.

6 Robert A. Bartlett, Captain of the Roosevelt on Peary’s 1906 and 1908 expeditions.

7 Samuel Bartlett was captain of the Erik.

8 Moses Bartlett had been the captain of John R. Bradley’s yacht, which had deposited Dr. Cook in Annoatok in 1907.

9 Matthew A. Henson was Peary’s “man servant” and a fixture on Peary’s expeditions from his first to his last.

10 Marvin is confused here. Dr. Louis B. Wolf had been Peary’s surgeon in 1906. For this expedition he had been replaced by Dr. John Goodsell.

11 Cape Sabine had been a base for fall back in case of loss of his ship in 1906.  However, no base was established there in 1908.

12 That is, he would like to go with Peary to the North Pole.

Copies of Marvin’s handwritten letters were given to the author by Silas H. Ayer III, who was the grandson of Louis Bement. They have never before been reproduced in whole. The copy of this letter is cut off on the right margin. The incomplete or missing words have been supplied by the author.


Inside the Peary Polar Expedition: Part 1: A parting interview, July 2, 1908

June 8, 2020

This post initiates a series on original documents related to Peary’s last attempt to reach the North Pole, The Peary Arctic Club North Pole Expedition of 1908. In the coming months, through this series the participants will be allowed to speak in real time through letters, diaries, and other documents about the events of the expedition. These documents will be accompanied by commentary, and where necessary, explanatory notes will be appended to allow the reader to understand the events referenced in these documents.

This is the first in a series of posts in which readers will get their first look at a series of original documents that report the progress of Peary’s last attempt to reach the North Pole, which sailed from New York on July 6, 1908, after getting the personal blessings of President Theodore Roosevelt when he boarded Peary’s expedition ship named in his honor when she was launched in 1905. The President boarded her off his home near Oyster Bay and seemed well pleased with his namesake. “I believe in you, Peary,” he said, “and I believe in your success—if it is within the possibility of Man.”

Roosevelt and peary at Oyster Bay

Peary’s sailing came a year later than he had planned. The Roosevelt had been so battered on his 1905-06 attempt, she needed a near-complete rebuild. This could not be finished in time to get away as scheduled during the summer of 1907. In the meantime, Frederick Cook had slipped out of Gloucester, MA on July 3, 1907, on the private yacht, John R. Bradley, loaded with two years’ worth of supplies, all provided by the yacht’s namesake, his millionaire backer and gambler.

When Peary got word that fall, upon Bradley’s return from Greenland, that Cook had stayed north to essay the North Pole, he was livid. He dashed off numerous letters to the effect that Cook should be compelled to show proof should he dare return during his absence claiming the prize that had eluded his own grasp during 25 years of trying.

Before the Roosevelt sailed, their were endless details to attend to. One of them was to put Cook’s wife, Marie, whose surprise at her husband’s try for the pole was no less than Peary’s, under what Herbert L. Bridgman, the owner of the Brooklyn Standard Union, and Peary’s de facto press agent, liked to call “obligations,” by arranging to bring him home on Peary’s auxiliary ship, Erik, when Peary’s expedition called at the Inuit settlements. Mrs. Cook was naturally apprehensive about her husband’s safe return. Her own means to insure his safe return had diminished considerably after most of her personal fortune had been wiped out in the Panic of 1907; she had even lost the substantial house the couple owned on Bushwick, Ave. in Brooklyn.

Bridgman put in a visit to her and forwarded a memorandum of the meeting to Peary: Mrs. Cook Interview

$500 in 1908 would be equivalent to the buying power in today’s dollars to $10,000.

The original memorandum that bears Bridgman’s signature is among the Peary Family Papers, RG 101, at National Archives II in College Park, MD. The note at the bottom: “*recall my words in Washington in re gold in C—s possession” is written in Peary’s hand.


The Cook-Peary Files: August 25, 1909: Peary gets unwelcome news

April 17, 2020

This is the 16th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

When Peary returned from his winter quarters at Cape Sheridan in 1909 , he stopped at Cape York on August 25th to pick up his mail delivered by the Scottish whalers who fished the waters of Davis Strait in search of Right Whales. One of the Scots who plied the trade was William Adams, who knew both Peary and his rival, Dr. Cook personally.

Among the letters was this unexpected one from Captain Adams giving him some of the news Peary had missed since he sailed north in 1908:


Although Peary already had the news from Inuit along the coast, and had in fact interviewed the two Inuit Cook took with him on his attempt to reach the North Pole, native gossip or the unsupported word of “savages” was one thing. The fact that Cook had told Adams that he had reached the pole showed that Cook planned to make a public claim when he reached civilization again; that was quite another thing, indeed. Before receiving Adams’s letter, Peary, seemed almost reluctant to leave the Arctic. He had taken his time coming down the coast after lingering there to interview the two Inuit and others at Etah, then had taken a week hunting walrus to supply the natives for the coming winter. But once he read the Captain’s note, Peary dropped everything and put on full steam for the nearest telegraph station at Indian Harbour, Labrador. Perhaps it was not too late to make the first claim to the North Pole, which he knew would be psychologically important, even though he’d be claiming to have been there a year after Cook did.

An interesting feature of Adams’s letter is the fact that he gives the date Cook said he attained the North Pole as April 22, 1908. When Cook reached Denmark, he claimed his attainment was a day earlier. And all of the earliest accounts, including those in his own hand, also claim the later date. A discussion of this discrepancy is just one of the topics discussed and analyzed in the author’s second book on The Polar Controversy, The Lost Polar Notebook of Dr. Frederick A. Cook. The book is obtainable on eBay or Amazon.com.

This typed copy of Adams’s letter is among the Peary Family Papers, RG 401, at National Archives II in College Park, MD. The shadowy printing visible here and there on the copy is from a carbon copy of one of the letters Cook left at his winter base before his journey toward the pole, and is unrelated to the text of the Captain’s letter.


The Cook-Peary Files: March 20, 1894: Dr. Cook makes an odd invitation

February 17, 2020

This is the 15th in a series examining significant unpublished documents related to the Polar Controversy.

After returning from a privately financed excursion to the Arctic aboard the yacht Zeta in 1893, Dr. Frederick A. Cook conceived an American expedition to the Antarctic. At the time this was a novel idea, anticipating by four years an international push by European scientists to send out scientific expeditions to that practically unknown region.

To raise money to finance his scheme, Cook launched a series of lectures in which he exhibited two Labrador Inuit children, whom he had brought back to the United States with their parents permission, billing them as “wild Eskimos,” although their father lived in a log house and worked for Canada’s Hudson Bay Company.

When this effort fell short, he settled upon an arctic “tourist jaunt” to Greenland for the following summer. He sent out advertisements and broadsides to places likely to find takers, mostly Ivy League schools, where he succeeded in signing up a number of students and professors to see “Greenland’s Icy Mountains” at $500 a head. Five hundred dollars was no small amount in 1894; it was equivalent to about $10,000 in today’s dollar’s buying power.

He also sent invitations to individuals who he thought might have the money and incentive to go along. Probably his most unusual solicitee was Matty Verhoeff of Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1891-92 Cook had served as the surgeon on Robert E. Peary’s North Greenland Expedition. Matty’s brother, John, had answered an ad Peary had placed for volunteers to go with him, was rejected because of his diminutive size, but changed Peary’s mind with an offer of putting up $2,000 toward the cost of the expedition in return for being signed on as its “mineralogist.

Verhoeff proved to be a problematic character, who came to resent both Peary and his wife, Josephine, who went along with her husband. Just before the expedition was to return, he disappeared. After a thorough search, Peary concluded that Verhoeff had met with a fatal accident while crossing a glacier on his way back to Redcliff House, the expedition’s winter quarters. However, there were indications that Verhoeff had intentionally separated himself from the expedition, and might still be alive, and was hiding out somewhere until the rest of Peary’s party sailed home.

After Peary’s return to Philadelphia in 1892, Matty Verhoeff angrily confronted him about her brother’s loss, and accused him of abandoning him in the Arctic. Peary told her that John was most probably dead, but that he would look for him when he returned to Greenland the next year. His subsequent inquiries among the natives were negative as to his whereabouts; Verhoeff had never been seen again, and Peary sent word with his expedition’s returning ship to that effect. Peary named the glacier on which John met his fate the “Verhoeff Glacier.”

Cook knew of Verhoeff’s $2,000 payment to Peary and of his sister’s belief that her brother might still be alive somewhere in Greenland. On March 20, 1894, he sent this letter to her on the letter paper of his proposed “American Antarctic Expedition”:


My Dear Miss Verhoeff,

While I did not have the pleasure of meeting you on our return to Phila. yet I feel that I am acquainted with you and know you. During that long and seemingly endless night at Redcliff House, we all talked of our parents, our brothers, sisters, & friends. Your brother was no exception to this rule. As I sit here now writing to you, much of our conversation of that Arctic night comes vividly before me even the very words we used in our debates.

Indeed it all seems like a dream when I think of how we almost unconsciously emerged from a “night without a day into a day without a night.”

I have studiously avoided giving a public opinion on Mr. Verhoeff’s disappearance, because until I heard form the present Peary party, I thought there was a chance of his being alive.

This chance is of course lessened by the adverse reports of the second Peary party. Certainly if he remained anywhere within range of the most northern Eskimos his whereabouts would be known. He could of course have avoided them, but then his subsistence would be cut off. Without further discussing this question I herewith enclose you a circular of an “Arctic Excursion” We shall spend much of our time in the Whale Sound region, McCormick Bay, Verhoeff Glacier, and perhaps further north. This expedition is open to a few ladies and if you think the trip of sufficient interest, I should be glad to have you accompany us.

May I hear from you at an early date on this trip.

Yours very truly
F.A. Cook M.D.

Actually, there is no evidence that any other “ladies” were solicited. Everyone of his paying passengers was male, and it is curious that he made such an offer to a woman at all. He knew that she had gotten little satisfaction from Peary, who was sure her brother was dead, and when Peary’s ship in 1893 returned without finding him, this seemed to confirm it. But he also remembered Verhoeff’s $2,000.

The trip she missed aboard the steamer Miranda was a famous Arctic disaster. The ship first hit an iceberg and had to return to Newfoundland for repairs, then ultimately sunk in Davis Strait after ripping out her bottom on hidden rocks on the coast of Greenland. The party was carried home on a Gloucester fishing schooner in very tight quarters. However, there was no loss of life, and the “survivors” subsequently formed the Arctic Club of America, which eventually merged into The Explorers Club.

For details of this expedition and the convoluted reasons why John Verhoeff met his tragic fate, which are quite unexpected, see Cook and Peary, the Polar Controversy, Resolved, Chapters 8 and 27.

The original Cook letter is among the Verhoeff papers held at the Filson Club, in Louisville, KY.


There and Back Again: The Dr. John Goodsell Archives Volume II

December 8, 2019

This is the third of three posts covering There and Back Again; The Dr. John Goodsell Archives issued by the Mercer County Historical Society. For preliminary remarks, see the first published post.

The second volume of the Dr. John Goodsell Archives is, if anything, more disappointing than the first. It consists of “Supplementary Materials.” Despite its 780 pages, only a few of those which are not available elsewhere will be of any interest to scholars of polar history.

In the first section, there is a facsimile of a list of medical supplies taken on the expedition by Dr. Goodsell in 1908, a facsimile of a list of temperatures recorded at Cape Sheridan during the overwintering of the Roosevelt 1908-09, and antarctic temperatures compiled from secondary sources, apparently gathered secondhand to buttress an article Goodsell hoped to publish.

The next section consists of transcriptions of random newspaper clippings, which, of course, are available in their original sources. These are mostly from Pittsburgh and New Kensington, PA papers, but some are from New York and elsewhere. In one case, the exact same article that appeared in two different papers is transcribed twice.

The most important section for historians comes next. It is a transcript of Goodsell’s script for the illustrated lectures he gave after he finally got tired of waiting for Peary’s blessing. However, the value of this section is compromised by the illustrations scattered throughout the transcription. A casual reader might reasonably assume that they are the original illustrations that go with the text. However that is not the case. In a letter reproduced on p. 640 of Volume I, Goodsell says his lecture was illustrated with “150 beautifully colored, stereoopticon views.” If so, then none of the illustrations are those, as none of them are stereo views, unless only one half of the view is being reproduced. Stereo views were slides with two views of the same subject, slightly shifted, that when projected gave a 3-D effect. Without using a special camera, they had to be produced commercially, and then hand-colored from ordinary photographs at some expense.

An ominous editorial note at the head of this section states: “Some slides are the best guesses of the MCHS, staff, interns, and volunteers.” As it turns out, most turn out to be just that, and it appears that among the described guessers, often times they really had no clue. Some do appear to be correct, however.


For instance, “Slide 46” is adjacent to the text: “Nearing the Labrador Coast, the Erik smashed head first against an iceberg and Captain Sam Bartlett secured the split bow with coils of anchor chain.” The slide does indeed show the bow of the Erik smashed, with Sam Bartlett sitting in the foreground. This sort of pose would be ideal for stereo reproduction, having a subject posed as a distinct foreground. Others show people or scenes at least related to the text, but many others have absolutely no relationship to the text whatsoever. Here are some examples, but to list all of them would be prohibitive as to space.

“Slides” 94 and 115 are identical, and the same illustration appears again on p. 1056 unlabeled. This is a steel plate engraving of the rescue of G.W. Greely’s Lady Franklin Bay Expedition at Cape Sabine in 1884. It has no relevance whatever to any text near where it is printed three times. It would have been appropriate positioned next to the text at “Slide 155,” however, where Greely’s rescue is mentioned. Most of the “slides” used to illustrate the lecture notes already have appeared, sometimes multiple times, in the illustration sections of Volume I, and consist of illustrations from Peary’s Hampton’s Magazine series and from his book, The North Pole, among other published sources. Many of the illustrations in this section also appear multiple times, and many times they appear in proper registration and also in reversed image form, as they did in Volume I. One, “Slide 33,” even appears as a negative image! It appeared in Volume I in positive format.

It is probably safe to say that the only illustrations in this section that were part of the original lecture slides are those with rounded corners. That would be the usual format of non-stereoscopic glass slides used in projectors of that era. So most of the “slides” have nothing to do with the lecture presentation at all. In fact, most of them are not even the work of Dr. Goodsell in 1908-09. “Slides” 15 and 29 were taken by Dr. Frederick A. Cook, and date from 1901. The Inuit pictured in the latter is not the one described in the lecture notes’ text. Others are by Joe White and Donald MacMillan. And of course the many illustrations coming from print sources such as those already cited were not produced to accompany this lecture.

After the lecture notes there next follows a number of original writings of Dr. Goodsell. Several of the articles are on medical topics, but others are not. Some of the letters in Volume I deal with his attempts to have these published. One with the sober title, “The Arctic is very different from the Antarctic,” breaks into poetry. One rejection letter noted: “Regretfully we return your manuscript. . . The article as it is, is too purely lyrical for use in GLOBE.” [p. 732].

This was not the end of Goodsell’s poetical leanings, however. There follows the largest section of this volume called “Garden of the Gods.” One is perplexed as to what to make of this. Only by turning to Goodsell’s interspersed notes [p. 1099], evidently intended for a publisher, might we get some sense of it:

“In Venus and Adonis, the ordinary reader can easily distinguish between the fiction of Venus’ tasks and the authentic Polar or World War personal reminiscence inserted by the author. Should the publishers desire, the personal authentic reminiscences in each instance could be edited apart from any fiction. In fact the polar reminiscence of a notable expedition is extracted from my contemplated book, ‘On Polar Trails,’ which I am now revising for publication”

Goodsell’s own extended title reflects the character of this curious effort: “Garden of the Gods; Love’s Old Story; A Novel; Epic Tone Poem; Fiction, Myth, Humor, Fact.” It consists of 211 printed pages of, by Goodsell’s own estimate, 5920 “poem words” couched in the mythological doings of the Greek gods. And that’s not all. It also contains excerpts from his Arctic Diary, what appear to be fantasy passages mixing the two, with such accoutrements as giant polar dirigibles 1,500 feet long, and I don’t know what else. It would be kind to say that because it is dated 1935, and mentions later dates within the text, that this was a product of Goodsell’s dotage. The poetry is all in rhymed couplets and is uniformly quite awful in both sentiment and forced rhymes:

“When the priests wield cymbals,
Zeus, but a symbol,
There’s greater God on high,
His presence, ever nigh.”

The mixing in of his personal reminisces (which mercifully are not in rhyme) makes the quite sad impression that Goodsell, despite all his experiences, including service in World War I since, never got beyond that year he spent as Peary’s surgeon, or his bitter disillusionment in Peary’s treatment of him in its wake. If this epic piece of doggerel is anything similar to what Donald Wisenhunt described as Goodsell’s “flowery” Victorian prose in the original manuscript of On Polar Trails, then he was not altogether wrong in editing it the way he did. The less said about “The Garden of the Gods” the better. It should never have seen the light of day in print.

The next major section consists of a transcription of the original diary of Ross Marvin kept on the expedition of which Goodsell was the surgeon as well as that he kept on Peary’s previous expedition in 1905-06. Marvin was originally said to have drowned after he fell through the ice on his return to land with two Inuit after he left Peary’s party going north. But in 1926 it was disclosed that Marvin had actually been murdered by one of the Inuit. Some students of the subject have suggested that he was killed on the orders of Robert Peary. The Inuit in question had been taken in by the Pearys as an orphan at an early age to act as a playmate for their daughter Marie, was proficient in English, and had spent the night previous to Marvin’s return in the same igloo as Peary, a fact that Peary deliberately skipped over while reading from his diary in testimony before Congress in 1911. Several reasons why Peary would want to eliminate Marvin, who was Peary’s private secretary and privy to many confidences, have been advanced, but so far no proof has emerged as to Peary’s direct involvement in the killing.

Goodsell and Marvin were good friends, and Goodsell maintained a life-long interest in his fate. We learn in the letters section of Volume I that Marvin’s brothers loaned his diaries to Dr. Goodsell for the explicit purpose of copying them. [Letter dated April 16, 1938 p. 727] They also granted permission to quote from them to Dr. Goodsell, but reserved their rights. Whether Goodsell suspected foul play on Peary’s part, we see no evidence in this archive, but the timing of the grant of permission to copy the diaries raises that thought, as it came only after the actual circumstances of Marvin’s death were revealed.

Because the original Marvin diaries are available at the Chemung Historical Society in Elmira, NY, the Goodsell transcriptions don’t add anything to scholarly sources, but they might prove more convenient (assuming the transcription is accurate) than visiting Elmira, as they are not yet available online. Reading them, I found a few tidbits of interesting information, but they actually added little to my knowledge of the 1908-09 Peary expedition not to be found elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are no revelations about the “confidential” aspects concerning “The Cook affair” that Marvin hinted at, but could not disclose in letters sent from Greenland to a friend. [see Cook and Peary pp. 331-332]

The volume ends with a selection of newspaper clippings and articles about Marvin’s murder, and another section of like materials about Donald B. McMillan, another of Peary’s assistants, and the last of them to die. A reproduction of the article “A Clash of Egos,” by Wisenhunt and Anita Genger that appeared in The Historian in 1980 ends the volume.

The same errant Glossary and incomplete and inaccurate Index described in the last post conclude Volume II.

The biggest disappointment, in a myriad of disappointments in this work, is that it does not include either a transcript or a facsimile of the original 600+ page manuscript of On Polar Trails. That would have been a far greater service to polar scholars than anything else, save, perhaps a facsimile reproduction of Goodsell’s original handwritten diary. We get to see exactly one page of it, the title page, in facsimile. In this day and age of simple means to publish books at a very low cost, such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, the MCHS could scan the manuscript and publish it with scholarly introductory remarks and annotations at a very modest cost. Such a publication would be far more useful than anything in these two large, expensive, hardbound volumes.

Sad to say, for all the evident time and good intentions spent on this project, The Dr. John Goodsell Archives is largely worthless. Most of what it contains is available elsewhere. Confidence in the accuracy of the transcriptions it contains is compromised by the blatant mistakes, lacunae, inaccuracies, and the nearly complete lack of competent professional editing the original materials have received. Any serious polar scholar could only quote from it with cautionary notes to his reader. Despite its existence, anyone seriously interested in an accurate reading of Goodsell’s materials will still have to journey to Mercer County to access the originals in person.


There and Back Again: the Dr. John Goodsell Archives: Volume I

November 17, 2019

Goodsell Archive

This is the second of three posts covering There and Back Again; The Dr. John Goodsell Archives issued by the Mercer County Historical Society. For preliminary remarks, see the last published post.

Each of the volumes will be taken up in turn, this post being devoted to Volume I. But first some general remarks. As we have seen, it was the opinion of Donald Whisenhunt that the high probability of low interest by “today’s reader” in Goodsell’s “On Polar Trails” as written made it “impossible” to publish. This opinion was implicitly endorsed by Mercer County Historical Society by their publication of his “emasculation” of it. Now, the same organization publishes, verbatim, not only Goodsell’s original diary of his polar experiences, but two epic poems written in just the “stilted, flowery, Victorian” manner that Whisenhunt ruled out for publication as “unfamiliar and of little interest.” Not only that, but a number of other documents, letters and ephemera kept by Goodsell have been reproduced either in facsimile or transcribed from the originals.

The result is a hodge-podge that “today’s reader” will not only find uninteresting, but one that has been done in such a way as to be of little use to those scholars interested in Goodsell and his activities in connection to Peary’s polar expedition. Even for them, it is unlikely many will spend much time with these books, because there is little of any importance unavailable elsewhere in a more reliable form. What is unique to them has been rendered largely unusable by the books’ lack of competent editorial guidance or standards, and any meaningful documentation. That being the case, only a very few scholars will be well enough versed in the primary document resources that will enable them to understand and recognize those few parts that add to those resources in any significant way.

Much of the fault for this goes directly to the editor of the project, William C. Philson, Executive Director of the Mercer County Historical Society, who in his opening comments accepts full responsibility for its content, including any errors. According to his remarks, the contents were put together by various volunteers and interns working from the original Goodsell materials. Philson regrets that he did not have time to read the manuscript “through one more time” before it went to press, but even that would not have been enough to put it in what could be considered professional shape, as it scarcely appears to have been read even once. In its published form is comes off as a distinctly amateur effort, lacking any real scholarly rigor at all. It is, in short, a document dump, the wheat still mixed with the chaff, a ton of coal with a few small diamonds to be found by those few diligent enough and knowledgeable enough to recognize them.

These shortcomings go beyond the ordinary errors that creep into or fail to be eliminated from any printed work, even ones far less massive than this. This one has its share of those just in the few pages of original writing not part of the archival material. For instance, the book is dedicated to “The Explorer’s Club” when the proper name of the organization is “The Explorers Club.” And throughout the date of Peary’s purported arrival at the North Pole is given as April 7, 1909, rather than the correct April 6. The transcriptions the books contain have numerous typos and obvious mistranscriptions of words as well.

Volume I consists of three sections, with a short preliminary section which contains a record of Goodsell’s impressions of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. These are given some historical context by the transcribing intern, practically the only competent editorial note in the entire production, but Goodsell’s notes are probably little different than hundreds of such journals of visitors to Chicago to see the fair’s wonders and curiosities.

Next comes a few facsimiles of autographs of no relation to Peary’s expeditions including a post card signed by Jack London. Another is an “unknown and unreadable autograph” reproduced in facsimile, but it is noted as “important enough for Goodsell to keep it the rest of his life.” While the note gives the first two names of the autograph as“Newell Dwight,” the last, it says, can’t be made out. In the age of Google, this autograph is easily known and identified. “Newell Dwight” is a fairly uncommon pair of names, and if one merely “googles” the combination one finds that the autograph is that of Newell Dwight Hillis. Hillis has a Wikipedia article devoted to him. According to that, he was a Presbyterian minister who lectured widely against immorality. He was also a prominent eugenicist who helped organize two National Race Betterment Conferences in 1914-15. Ironically, his campaigns against “immorality” did not prevent him from calling for such measures as the sterilization of Germans because of atrocities committed by the German Army during World War I. Anyone with a computer could probably have found all this out. This does not give much confidence in the research abilities of anyone who was involved in assembling these volumes.

Next comes Section I, consisting of letters dealing with Goodsell’s selection as the physician on Peary’s 1908 Peary Arctic Club’s North Pole Expedition. These are of some interest, but probably most of them are duplicated in the voluminous papers of Robert E. Peary [RG 101] held at the National Archives II in College Park, Md.

Section II, which forms the bulk of the volume, is devoted to a transcription of Goodsell’s diary kept during that expedition. A typed copy of the diary is also among Peary’s papers in College Park. Philson remarks at length on the “versions” of this diary held in the Mercer County collection. He says, “there are at least three versions of this typewritten journal to the Pole, as well as the handwritten journal. . . each version slightly different from the others. I made an executive decision, and had the transcription compared to the original handwritten journals—twice. To the best of my ability, this archive is a copy of Goodsell’s handwritten journal.” This statement raises a red flag to the concerned scholar as to just what the printed text in Volume I truly represents. “Executive Decisions” are implicitly made by one individual, and are almost always inappropriate in scholarly matters, especially when the “executive” making them is clearly not an expert in the subject he is dealing with. Expert advice should have been sought as to the standards of handling primary documentation. No scholar would have advised relying on any transcript in the presence of the original. As an example, a recent examination of Donald B. MacMillan’s diaries from the Crocker Land Expedition revealed very significant “revisions” from his original entries. So, Philson’s procedures have clouded the reliability of Goodsell’s diary entries as printed, just as Whisenhunt’s editing made the quotation of the published On Polar Trails cautionary.

The diary as printed calls attention to the importance of exact reproduction of primary documents. For instance, in the published On Polar Trails Goodsell (or Whisenhunt) incorrectly quotes from his diary. And on one critical point Goodsell discusses how he was not allowed to interview the two Inuit who had accompanied Frederick Cook on his journey toward the North Pole in 1908, saying “Were the reader permitted to examine my original journal, he would see two blank pages between the records of August 17 and 18, 1909, which I left hoping that Peary would reconsider and permit me to question the two Eskimos. The two pages still remain blank—a mute white protest.” However there is no note from the editor of the “original journal” that there are indeed two blank pages at this point. With Goodsell on record as making a point of this, no editor should have failed to confirm or deny it who was in possession of Goodsell’s original. To scholars, even blank pages can be of critical interest, as they are in Peary’s 1909 diary of his attempt to reach the North Pole. So, the scholar is left to wonder just how accurate the transcription (or the transcription of one of the three typed transcriptions) is. It would have been far better to just have scanned the original journal and reproduced it as such.

Not many of “today’s readers” are going to read it as printed, and even if they do, nothing in the transcription is footnoted for explanation of the unfamiliar names, places or other obscure points it mentions, nor given the slightest annotation to guide them in understanding what is being reported beyond the obvious. While it is good to have a handy version of Goodsell’s diary to refer to, this transcription is compromised by all of these shortcomings and cannot be considered definitive.

Interspersed among the diary entries, which are sometimes mis-dated, are a number of photographs and illustrations. These are often reproduced with (presumably) Goodsell’s original typed captions. Between various “chapters” of the diary are several pages devoted to just photographs and illustrations. These pages have no captions or editorial comments to identify their diverse subjects. Not all of these are photographs, either, Goodsell’s or otherwise, but are illustrations previously published in various periodicals or books. To a student of the subject, many of these will be familiar, even as to the source. Others can be identified because they are identical to some of the photos scattered throughout the diary that bear Goodsell’s typed captions. In fact, there are many, many duplications of illustrations throughout this publication. Some are reproduced multiple times, and a number of them are reproduced more than once in reversed image. In many cases there is no way to distinguish which registration is correct and which is reversed. This situation makes these photographs’ value minimal, as they are given no identification or context. Many are photographs of just of things like random icebergs, and have no research value at all. Others peak the scholar’s curiosity as to just who is portrayed in the picture, where the photo was taken, and when. All of these questions go unanswered. Many of the illustrations clearly have nothing to do with the specific Peary expedition in which Goodsell participated, but for others this is not clear in the least, and for “today’s reader,” they would have no clue to any of this.

I could probably identify half the illustrations as to who, when and where, either through personal familiarity with the subject or from captions within this work itself. For instance, most of the illustrations that appeared in Peary’s serialized narrative that appeared in Hampton’s Magazine in 1910 are reproduced without any indication as to their source. The editor should have made an effort to do this by his own means of comparing the captioned pictures with the uncaptioned ones, or by asking for expert help, and he should have taken care to at least eliminate all of the useless duplication and determine the correct image registration. Even with glass slides, this is easy to do. In fact, this is just the kind of thing the numerous interns and volunteers listed as contributing to this publication should have been able to do, given proper instructions. However, looking at the acknowledgments, it is clear that this publication was put together “by committee,” and it looks like it.

The rest of the volume consists of mainly correspondence to and from Dr. Goodsell divided by years. The bulk of this is prior to 1917, when Goodsell volunteered for duty in WW I. Many of the letters up to that time deal with the aftermath of his service on Peary’s expedition, and include many letters detailing his unsatisfactory attempts to get Peary’s permission it lecture and publish, or his efforts to get Peary to return materials loaned to him to aid Peary in writing his own narrative. Undoubtedly, many of these letters were already available to scholars in RG 101, however. In fact, one of my previous blog posts is about one of the letters included here. [see January 24, 2016 below]

The letter section suffers from many of the same lapses of scholarly rigor that the rest of the volume does. None of the correspondents are identified beyond their name; none of the content of the letters are put into context for the reader to understand many things being mentioned or discussed. Reading them is equivalent to listening to one side of a telephone conversation between two people you know nothing about. That is not to say there is nothing here that is of no interest to scholars who are very familiar with the people involved and the incidents being discussed. For instance, there is an exchange of letters between Goodsell and Rudolph Franke, who was Cook’s sole civilized companion over the winter of 1907-1908. It reveals Peary’s underhanded dealings with Goodsell, including the non-return of his book manuscript and illustrations a year after he had promised to write an introduction to Goodsell’s prospective book so that he could get hold of them, and Goodsell’s resulting animosity toward him. Fortunately, Goodsell kept a copy of his manuscript, but never received all of his pictures back. He also tells about his desire to verify Cook’s sighting of Bradley Land, a mythical land Cook said he saw on the way to the Pole, and to interview the two Inuit who were with Cook, whom Peary forbid him to speak to when Peary’s expedition visited the Inuit settlement of Etah in August 1909. But Franke’s letters are compromised by the transcriber’s apparent difficulty with Franke’s lack of mastery of English (he was German), or with his handwriting, and there are many empty brackets, which one must assume represent illegible words or passages (the editor does not say what they mean) from the transcriptions—a nother case of something better reproduced in facsimile.

There is a short glossary of Inuit language-Engish terms. These are not in alphabetical order, nor are there cross-language references for each term. For instance, the “B” section runs: “Brother; Brown Bread; Bring; Because; Back to several days; Bun-Nali; Bowel Movement; Breathe; Back,” etc. etc. And there is the term “Ah-tingah: Name,” a term I’m familiar with from a passage in Dr. Cook’s writings, but no “Name: Ah-tingah.” Now that may be the way this section is entered by Goodsell, but it should have been alphabetized and crossed indexed by the editor.

The volume concludes with an index, which at first glance looks like the best thing in the book, but turns out to also be fatally compromised. Apparently the pagination was changed after the index was completed, shifting all the page references in it up to a point (or maybe at numerous points!). For instance, an attempt to look up the index’s listings for “Cook, Dr., Frederick A.” found that the first entry that correctly cited an item about Cook was page 675. All the other references had nothing about Dr. Cook on the pages cited, making it a chore to try to find how far and in which direction the pagination was shifted. A similar check of the entries for “Franke/Francke, Rudolph” showed the same situation. The index is also not in strict alphabetical order, nor is it complete, by any means. I found a number of references to Cook or Franke that are not cited at all, even as page shifts.

The next post will review the second volume and sum up the work’s overall value.


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.