Before 1908, other than Santa Claus, no human being had reached the North Pole, although many had tried and failed. Some had unfortunately died for their efforts.
In the year 1908, two serious contenders were preparing for victory over nature. One was a respected medical Doctor and explorer with very little financial support and no friends in Government: Dr. Frederick Albert Cook, author of our Listen To Read audiobook “My Attainment of the North Pole.”
The other was a Naval officer, with political support from the United States Government and financial backing by the National Geographic Society: Admiral Robert E. Peary.
Peary had made two previous attempts to reach the North Pole, in 1899-1902 and 1905-1906, each time reaching farther and farther North.
Peary and Cook knew each other, as Cook had been Robert Peary’s surgeon during Peary’s Arctic expedition of 1891-1892. In fact, Cook helped save the crew’s lives when their ship, the “Belgica,” became unexpectedly ice bound. Cook treated the men and hunted for fresh meat to feed them to help prevent starvation and scurvy.
In 1908, Peary was 53 years old. It was thought that a 1908 attempt would be Peary’s last because of his age. Cook, twenty-two years younger than Peary, might possibly make another attempt if his 1908 attempt failed.
PEARY AND COOK –TWO DIFFERENT KINDS OF EXPLORER
Peary and Cook took radically different approaches to reach the Pole. Extremely well funded, Peary spent whatever he needed to outfit the expedition.
Without funding, Cook thought that a small group, composed of him and several Inuit natives, accustomed to the punishing cold, might make it to the North Pole, traveling light.
When Peary began his final trip to the North Pole, it was on the comfortable US Navy Ship “Theodore Roosevelt.” When Cook launched his trip, he was lucky enough to catch a ride on a private ship owned by John R. Bradley, a sportsman and hunter, that happened to be going North, taking Bradley to hunting grounds.
DR. FREDERICK ALBERT COOK’S 1907 CHRISTMAS
Cook’s Christmas celebration was in 1907, six months before Peary set out for the Pole in August 1908. Cook was in Greenland, preparing for the long journey by foot and dog sled. When Christmas arrived, he was among Inuit people. Although Cook knew the Inuit people had no concept of Christmas, they did celebrate a Winter Feast, which coincided with Christmas.
Cook wrote, “ Early Christmas morning, men and women began working overtime on the festive meals which were to begin that day and continue daily. About this time our working force had begun to uncover piles of frozen meat and blubber.
The Inuits churned this into something that looked like ice cream, but had the taste of cod liver oil.”
Cook ate a western meal.
Cook wrote, “Wandering from igloo to igloo to extend greetings and thanks for their faithful work, I was often touched by the sounds of their voices in the darkness.”
On one special day, Cook reported that a “Boreal stork” had arrived in the community. One of the Inuit women had just given birth.
“One day during Christmas week there was a knock at our door. The proud Ac-po-di-soa walked in followed by his smiling wife with the sleeping ‘stork gift’ on her back. The child had been born less than 5 days before. We walked over and admired the little one. It suddenly opened its brown eyes, screwed up its little blubber nose, and wrinkled its chin for a cry.”
Cook was very much involved with the Native People. His choose two of these people as his companions from Greenland to the North Pole, E-tuk-i-shook and Ah-we-lah. He would trust his life to these Inuit men.
ADMIRAL ROBERT E. PEARY’S 1908 CHRISTMAS
December 1908, a year after Cook left Greenland, Admiral Peary arrived in Greenland.
Instead of living in the nearby igloo village, as Cook had done, Peary and his exploration party were comfortable aboard the “USS Roosevelt,” keeping separate from the Inuit people.
Peary wrote, “in the morning we greeted each other with the “Merry Christmas” of civilization. At Breakfast we all had letters from home and Christmas presents which had been kept to be opened that morning.”
The Peary party sponsored foot races for the Inuit people during the day. Later he handed out prizes to the various winners in a manner that demonstrated a condescending attitude toward the native people.
Peary wrote, “In order to afford a study in Eskimo psychology, there was in each case a choice among three prizes. Tookoomah, for instance who won in the women’s race, had a choice among three prizes; a box of three cakes of scented soap; a sewing outfit, containing a paper and needles, two or three thimbles and several spools of different size thread; and a round cake covered with sugar and candy.
The young woman did not hesitate. She had one eye, perhaps, on the sewing outfit but both hands and the other eye were directed toward the soap. She knew what it was meant for. The meaning of cleanliness had dawned on her and a sudden ambition to be attractive.”
A week later, Peary, like Cook a year before him, left Greenland for the journey to the North Pole. For both men, Christmas marked the end of preparation and the beginning of the long ordeal toward the North Pole. Although they didn’t know it at the time, this was also the end of any friendship they might have forged. After this, they became bitter enemies.
WHAT WE KNOW FOR CERTAIN
On Wednesday, February 19, 1908, Dr. Frederick Albert Cook left Greenland on his quest for the North Pole with two companions, and some sled dogs. He claimed to reach the North Pole on April 22, 1908 in about 2 months. But it took him almost a year to return to civilization. He reported his accomplishments in March, 1909, to the sportsman, Harry Whitney, who was hunting in Greenland.
On Monday, February 22, 1908, Robert E. Peary left Greenland, following many scouting parties with much equipment, to move on his quest for the North Pole. He claimed to reach the Pole on April 6, 1909 – a little over a year later. He was able to report his accomplishment to the New York Times on September 6, 1909.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Each of these men claimed to have reached the North Pole. Cook claimed that he was the first. Peary disputed Cook’s claim and set out to destroy Cook’s reputation.
Until this time, an explorer’s claim was accepted as fact. As Peary disputed Cook’s claim, he applied a new level of scrutiny – so severe that his own evidence of reaching the North Pole was placed in doubt. It is possible that neither of these explorers actually reached the North Pole.
There was a lot of money at stake. The first person to reach the North Pole would have lucrative speaking tours, publications and other financial opportunities.
Both of these men wrote books of their claimed accomplishments. The most interesting book to me is Cook’s “My Attainment of the Pole.”
Because no one had been to the Pole before, no one knew what to expect. What Cook discovered was that the North Pole and much of the Northern country is actually ice over a western flowing Ocean. There is no solid land at the North Pole.
Cook’s return to civilization was a long, dangerous and fascinating life or death journey. All the food Cook had cached for his return to civilization had moved West with the ocean, away from their return route to civilization.
None of the food could be reached. Cook and his two Inuit companions had to determine a new route back to civilization, hunting, as they traveled. Their hunting rivals were the Polar Bears. They discovered that man is only superior to wild animals as long as he has a bullet for his rifle.
Frederick Albert Cook’s tale of his “Attainment of the North Pole” is both high adventure, a man’s fight for survival against the wild and dangerous elements of the extreme North and an angry rant against his mistreatment by Peary when he returned to civilization. It is a tale worthy of a major motion picture. That’s why I recorded it for my Listen 2 Read American Adventure Library. Download it and listen and I’m sure you will agree. Preview it here: https://listen2read.com/attainment-north-pole
“My Attainment of the North Pole” is available for download into your computer, or smart phone here at Listen2Read.com, or at Audible.com, GooglePlay.com, Applebooks, the Barnes and Noble Audiobook App, Scribed.com,and in Canada at Tune-in.com. Some people are giving it as a Holiday gift. You can purchase a regular or Mp3 CD version right here on our Listen2Read website or on Amazon.com
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PS: This Holiday Season, I’d like to thank you for your interest and support in downloading or buying a CD of our American Adventure Library audiobooks. It is exciting to experience history, where through acting performances, sound effects and music, we can bring the past to life.
Happy New Year!