Frederick Cook

From Academic Kids

Dr. Frederick Albert Cook (June 10, 1865August 5 1940) was an American explorer and physician, noted for his claim of having reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908, a year before Robert Peary claimed to, April 6, 1909.<ref>Henderson, B. 2009, pp. 58-69</ref>



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Frederick Cook on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago

Cook was born in Hortonville, New York. His parents were Dr. Theodore A. Koch and Magdalena Koch (nee Long), recent German immigrants to the USA.

Cook attended Columbia University and subsequently New York University, from which he received his M.D. in 1890. In 1889 he married Libby Forbes, who died in childbirth in 1890. On his 37th birthday he married Marie Fidele Hunt; they had one daughter, Helene. In 1923 they were divorced.

Early expeditions

Cook was the surgeon on Robert Peary's 1891-92 Arctic expedition, and on the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-99 led by Adrien de Gerlache. He contributed greatly to saving the lives of the crew when their ship (the Belgica) was ice-bound during the winter. A fellow crew-member was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, with whom he established a friendship and life-long relationship of mutual respect. In 1898, during this expedition, Cook visited Tierra del Fuego, where he met Thomas Bridges shortly before his death. As a result of that meeting, Cook brought back the manuscript of Bridges' Yamana dictionary, and several years later acquiesced in the attempted publication of the dictionary as his own work.

In 1903 Cook led an expedition to Mount McKinley, which resulted in his circumnavigation of the Denali range. He would subsequently make a second expedition in 1906, and claim to have made the first ascent of that mountain (this claim is discussed at length below).

The Arctic Club and The Explorers Club

Dr. Cook was a founding member of two New York-based clubs: the Arctic Club (1894-1913) and The Explorers Club (1904-present). In 1907-1908 Cook served as the second President of The Explorers Club.

The 1906 Mt. McKinley Climb

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Frederick Cook in arctic gear

Cook claimed to have achieved the first summit of Mount McKinley in September 1906, reaching the top with one other member of his expedition. Other members of the team (e. g., Belmore Browne), whom he had left lower on the mountain, expressed private doubts about this immediately. His claims were not publicly challenged however until the 1909 fight with Peary over which had first reached the North Pole, at which time it was publicly alleged by Peary's supporters that Cook's ascent of Mt. McKinley was fraudulent. Ed Barrill, Cook's sole companion during the 1906 climb, signed an affidavit in 1909 denying that they had reached the top. He was paid by Peary supporters to do so (Henderson, 2005) (a fact which Henderson claims was covered up and Bryce claims was never a secret), although Barrill had consistently until a month before asserted that he and Cook had reached the summit. Unlike Hudson Stuck in 1913 (Ascent of Denali, 1914, photograph opposite p.102) Cook took no photograph of the view from atop McKinley, and his photograph of what he claimed was the summit was found to have been taken of Fake Peak, a tiny peak 19 miles away. One expedition by the Mazama Club in 1910 reported that Cook's map departed abruptly from reality while the summit was still 10 miles distant, but another 1910 expedition allegedly verified much of Cook's account (Henderson, 2005).Template:Fact The validity of the latter claim may be weighed by comparing Cook's map of his alleged 1906 route versus reality, over the last 10 miles. Modern climber Bradford Washburn made it a personal mission to reveal the exact truth of Cook's 1906 claim. Washburn and Brian Okonek ultimately (1956-1995) were able to identify the location of every single photograph Cook took during his 1906 McKinley foray, including his "summit" photograph, and reproduce them. None were taken anywhere near the summit (and, as the thousands who have climbed McKinley subsequently can verify, Cook's descriptions of the summit ridge bear no resemblance to the actual mountain). Washburn showed that none of Cook's 1906 photos was taken past the "Gateway" (north end of the Great Gorge), 12 horizontal bee-line miles from McKinley and 3 miles below its top. Barrill's 1909 affidavit included a map correctly locating the Fake Peak of Cook's "summit" photo and showing that Cook and he had turned back at the Gateway. No evidence of Cook's presence between the Gateway and McKinley has ever been found: his photos' vistas, his two sketch maps' markers and peak-numberings for points attained, his compass bearings, his barometer readings, his route-map's accuracy, even his camp trash — though samples of all such evidences are found short of the Gateway.

North Pole

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A photo from Cook's 1909 arctic expedition, which he alleged was taken at or near the North Pole

After the Mount McKinley expedition, Cook returned to the Arctic in 1907. He planned to attempt to reach the North Pole, although his intention was not announced until August 1907, when he was already in the Arctic. He left Annoatok, a small settlement in the north of Greenland, in February 1908. Cook claimed that he reached the pole on April 22, 1908 after traveling north from Axel Heiberg Island, taking with him only two Inuit men, Ahwelah and Etukishook. On the journey south, he claimed to have been cut off from his intended route to Annoatok by open water. Living off local game, his party was forced to push south to Jones Sound, spending the open water season and part of the winter on Devon Island. From there they traveled north, eventually crossing Nares Strait to Annoatok on the Greenland side in the spring of 1909, allegedly almost dying of starvation during the journey.

Cook and his two companions were gone from Annoatok for 14 months, and their whereabouts in that period is a matter of intense controversy. In the view of Canadian historian Pierre Berton (Berton, 2001), Cook's story of his trek around the Arctic islands is probably legitimate; others put more faith in the story told by Cook's companions to later investigators. It has been suggested that Cook’s account actually describes his attainment of Jules Verne’s "Pole du Froid" (Pole of Cold), which was much easier to reach and to locate than the North Pole (See Fake Peak, below). If so, Cook might have altered the geographical details of his journey south through the islands to mislead investigators and cover up this fictional and largely forgotten pole. This would account for the discrepancy between his account and that of his companions. There are striking similarities between Ahpellah and Etukishook's sketched route of their journey south and the route taken by the fictional shipwrecked explorers in Jules Verne's novel "The English at the North Pole". For example, the route the two Inuit traced on a map goes right over both the Pole of Cold and the wintering site of the fictional expedition, and both expeditions went to the same area of Jones Sound in hope of finding a whaling ship to take them to civilization. For details, see Osczevski (2003) "Frederick Cook and the Forgotten Pole".

Cook's claim was initially widely believed. But it was disputed by Cook's now-rival polar explorer Robert Peary, who claimed to have reached the North Pole himself in April 1909. Cook initially congratulated Peary for his achievement, but Peary and his supporters launched a campaign to discredit Cook, even enlisting the aid of socially-prominent persons outside the field of science such as football coach Fielding Yost (as related in Fred Russell's 1943 book, I'll Go Quietly).

Cook never produced detailed original navigational records to substantiate his claim to have reached the North Pole. He claimed that his detailed records were part of his belongings contained in three boxes, which he left at Annoatok in April 1909 in the keeping of Harry Whitney, an American hunter who had travelled to Greenland with Peary the previous year. According to Cook's account, he was unable to bring back the boxes, because his two companions had returned to their village and there was insufficient manpower at Annoatok for a second sledge for the onward 700 mile journey south to Upernavik. When Whitney tried to bring Cook's belongings with him on his return to the USA on Peary's ship, Peary refused to allow them on board. So Whitney left Cook's boxes in a cache in Greenland. They were never found.

Cook intermittently claimed he had kept copies of his sextant navigational data and in 1911 published some which have the incorrect solar diameter. Ahwelah and Etukishook, Cook's Inuit companions, gave seemingly conflicting details about where they had gone with him. The major conflicts have been resolved in the light of improved geographical knowledge. Whitney was convinced that they had reached the North Pole with Cook, but hesitant to be drawn into the controversy. The Peary expedition's people (primarily Matthew Henson, who had a working knowledge of their language, and George Borup, who did not) claimed that Ahwelah and Etukishook told them that they had traveled only a few days journey from land. A map allegedly drawn by Ahwelaw and Etukishook correctly located and accurately depicted then-unknown Meighen Island, which strongly suggests that they visited it, as they claimed.

For more detail see Bryce, 1997 and Henderson, 2005. The conflicting, and possibly dual fraudulent claims, of Cook and Peary prompted Roald Amundsen to take particularly extensive precautions in navigation during his South Pole expedition to leave no room for doubt concerning attainment of the pole. See Polheim. (Amundsen also had the advantage of traveling over an actual continent and was able to leave unmistakable evidence of his presence at the South Pole, whereas any ice on which Cook might or might not have camped would have drifted many miles in the year between the competing claims.)

Failed reputation

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Frederick Cook's final resting place
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Frederick Cook's final resting place

Cook's reputation never recovered, while Peary's North Pole claim was widely accepted for most of the 20th century. Cook spent the next few years defending his claim and attempting to sue writers who claimed that he had faked the trip. In 1922 he became involved in the Texas oil business. In 1923 he was convicted of using the mails to defraud by signing mailers which overstated the oil discovery prospects of his company, and was imprisoned until 1930. (Roald Amundsen, who felt he owed his life to Cook's extrication of the Belgica, visited several times.) It has been claimed (Henderson, 2005) that the sentence was considered excessive even by the district attorney, and that the judge was a friend of the Peary family. More to the point, the actual oil finds eventually exceeded the expectations outlined by Cook. He was pardoned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940, shortly before his death on August 5 of that year.

Cook is a major character in a fiction book, The Navigator of New York, by Wayne Johnston, published in 2003. In recent years Peary's account has encountered renewed criticism and skepticism (Rawlins, 1973; Berton, 2001; Henderson, 2005). Which man, if either, was first to reach the North Pole continues to be a matter of considerable controversy in the arena of popular publications, though among professionals Peary's North Pole claim is now generally believed and both of Cook's claims have been almost unanimously rejected for nearly a century.

At the end of his 1911 book, Cook wrote: I have stated my case, presented my proofs. As to the relative merits of my claim, and Mr Peary's, place the two records side by side. Compare them. I shall be satisfied with your decision. Frederick Cook’s remains are at the Chapel of Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo.

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