Maligned hero or con-man? A century after Frederick Cook returned from the Arctic claiming to be first at the North Pole, tempers still flare over his rightful place in history. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be featuring Cook in a series of posts. Some of these will feature work I’ve already done about the North Pole controversy in The Coldest Crucible. But some of it is me thinking out loud, preparation for the talk I’ll be giving about him next week at the North By Degree conference in Philadelphia.
Where to begin? In 1907, Cook traveled sailed north into the Arctic with big game hunter John Bradley. He returned in 1909 with a story for the presses. According to Cook, he crossed Ellesmere Land in 1908, and sledged up the coast of Axel Heiberg Land. From there, he claimed that he crossed the Polar Sea with two Inuit men, Etukishuk and Ahwelah, reaching the North Pole on 22 April 1908. This was first-page news in the U.S. and Europe. But the story would get even better. Rival explorer Robert Peary returned from the Arctic in the fall of 1909 also claiming to have reached the North Pole. When he learned about Cook’s claim, he told the press that the public had been handed a “gold brick.”
So began the “North Pole Controversy,” a debate that, much like the Democratic nomination process, never seems to end. Tomorrow’s post: The North Pole Controversy.