"...Dr. Cook in the January, 1911, ...Hampton's Magazine...
confession...it was a simple matter ... to examine the
newspaper file of that period—as I did—and to see that Dr.
Cook, in interviews, fathered the very statement which he was
attempting to repudiate; indeed, that he not only did not
repudiate it, but that he expressed himself as in accord
therewith." Fess, 1915
When did Cook go bad? Was it when he faked McKinley or was it
earlier? The seeds of deceit were in his character as
witnessed by his behavior after the first winter in the Arctic
with Peary. He tried to break his contract not to publish, and
then began imitating Peary with his lectures and attempts to
organize his own expeditions.
Amundsen Repudiates Dr. Cook. As to the position of Amundsen,
the discoverer of the South Pole, I quote as follows from the report
of an interview with him in the Detroit News: Capt. Amundsen, himself
unsuccessful in a search for the North Pole generously joined in the
acclaim that at first hailed Dr. Cook as the discoverer, and remained
firmly convinced that Cook was telling the truth until he (Amundsen)
was given an opportunity to examine the data and observations that Dr.
Cook laid before the University of Copenhagen. “There was absolutely
nothing in these alleged observations of Dr. Cook,” said Capt.
Amundsen. “It was all fake and could have deceived nobody. Thus, in
sorrow, was I forced to the conclusion that my old comrade was lying.”
General Greely Repudiates Dr. Cook. General Greely, on October
14, 1913, sent out the following letter for publication:
To the editor of the New York Times: Returning from Europe after 10
months' absence, my attention has been drawn to a recent editorial
article, in the Times stating that I am quoted by Dr. Cook as
indorsing his claim to have reached the Pole. When the North Polar
discussion was at its height I published in the fifth edition of my
Handbook of Polar Discoveries, under date of Florence, Italy, January,
1910, the following opinion: “The claims of Dr. Cook of reaching the
North Pole have been thoroughly discredited by his failure to furnish
to the University of Copenhagen his promised proofs of such journey."
That opinion has never been modified.
A. W. GREELY.
WASHINGTON, D. C.
And Gen. Greely, at page 269 of his book, “Handbook of Polar
The marvelous and detailed claims of Dr. F. A. Cook, regarding his
alleged attainment of the North Pole in 1908, are now generally and
And at page 265 of the same work Gen. Greely declares:
R. E. Peary, the discoverer of the deep sea at the pole, who has won
deserved fame by his attainment of the North Geographic Pole prior to
its being reached by any other explorer—to the ability, endurance, and
persistency of R. E. Peary the world owes the discovery of the pole.
Cook had first gone to Denmark to claim the North Pole, but when they
wanted proof he was branded as a fraud.
Because of these facts it was obvious to any expert that Cook was
a fraud. But the public knew only what was printed in the papers. This
was the era of "yellow journalism" and newspapers fanned the
controversy because it sold papers. They shamelessly printing
almost anything—regardless of the source or the accuracy.
Fred was born into poverty and met with early success as a
Brooklyn, New York, milkman. Then he became a social climber using
his dairy profits to pay for a 2-year doctor's degree. It did him
little good as his Brooklyn neighbors knew he was their milkman.
Without any patients he was unable to earn a living as a
physician. Seeing a story in the newspaper he volunteered to work
(for free) on Lt. Robert E. Peary's Greenland Expedition. Cook got
his big break and went north.
"...fantastic unrealities of the North began to manifest... Peaks of snow were transformed into volcanoes, belching
smoke; out of the pearly mist rose marvelous cities with fairy
castles; huge creatures, misshapen and grotesque, writher along the
horizon. These spectral denizens of the North accompanied us during
the entire journey and when fagged of brain and sapped of bodily
strength I felt my mind swimming in a sea of half consciousness, they
filled me almost with horror, impressing me as the monsters one sees
in a nightmare." page 60-61 Hampton's
Rasmussen, a noted Arctic explorer who has favored Dr.
Cook's claim, was called in as an expert by the university's
committee; he is reported as saying:
“When I saw the observations, I realized that it was a scandal. The
documents which Dr. Cook sent to the university are most impudent.
It is the most childish sort of attempt at cheating."
It will be remembered that Rasmussen was the Danish explorer whom
Cook declared, when he believed Rasmussen was in favor of his
claims, was better qualified than any other explorer to pass upon
the question then at issue.
How did Cook go bad?
After only 1-winter in the arctic Cook developed a lifelong case
of Peary envy. Peary was a college educated engineer and
commissioned Naval Officer. His tall, beautiful wife was similarly
well educated. She accompanied the expedition, learning a
remarkable amount of Eskimo language, proved herself to be an
enthusiastic hunter (with her own .32 pistol for a side arm),
directed the Eskimo seamstresses who made fur clothing for Peary's
dangerous Greenland trip, and then wrote a very successful book—My
Arctic Journal. Cook was only one of Josephine Peary's "boys"
as she called the men. Cook was stung with jealousy at everything
Peary had and commanded. Being the abnormal personality that he
proved to be, and "seeing how good Peary had things", Fred wanted
to be famous, too. The only problem was he was dreaming over his
head—a fact that Robert Dunn, in 1903, would so brilliantly
Fred begins to emulate Peary
In pathetic imitation of Robert Peary he "Cooked up" his own
little arctic lecture series, tried to break the standard
no-publishing contract (all volunteers gave up publication rights)
he had signed with Peary, and briefly exploited Eskimos in a
circus side show. For years thereafter he became a parasite of
other people's polar expeditions or tried to arrange tour groups
to Greenland. Once he brought back 2 Eskimo children and paraded
them around like freaks. As repulsive as this sounds, he actually
took the 12 year girl to the Brooklyn's Gynecologist's meeting to
let them examine her.
Cook's tour groups
Fred managed to use the funds and yacht of a wealthy man who had
an ill boy to go north on a short trip to lower Greenland, and had
a couple of tours (also to lower Greenland) that flopped.
He bummed a ride to Antarctic with some Belgians as their
volunteer doctor. They got their ship stuck in the ice for a
winter and Cook served as the morale booster. On the way home he
stole a missionary's life work—a dictionary of the Patagonian
native language. The man died and Fred published it under his own
name. The Belgian trip also allowed him to write an adventure book
with himself as hero, and with his photos Cook staged some
If You Need Money, Marry her
For money he married a wealthy widow. Cook raised money for a tour
group to Alaska's Mt. McKinley, North America's highest peak,
which had never been climbed. Taking along his wife, like Peary
had with Josephine, and using her funds they took their summer
tour group camping. Fred had no mountain climbing experience and
the group could not advance above 10,000 ft (1/2 McKinley's
height). His trip was a dismal failure. One of the group, Robert
Dunn, was a New York reporter who saw Cook as a leaderless fool.
His article about their adventure got him thrown out of an "Alpine
Club" he belonged to, but his book about Cook was a winner. Dunn
stands out in history as the man who first spotted Cook's
defective character and documented it so well that his book is
still in print.
Cook's second McKinley trip
Cook had to get away from Dunn if he was going to fake climbing
McKinley, so he went back in 1906 by again using other people's
money for a tour group. When they weren't looking he went off for
a few days with guide Ed Barrill and bribed Barrill to say Cook
Climbed McKinley. Everyone back at camp immediately knew it was a
lie, but the folks back in Brooklyn bought the story. Cook wrote a
book, starring himself as the hero who conquered Mt. McKinley. He
even had faked pictures.
People were talking in New York that Cook had not really climbed
McKinley. The "bribed guide" didn't care much for Cook and had
begun to talk. Cook was in trouble. To evade an investigation into
the authenticity of his McKinley claim, Cook conveniently sailed
on a millionaire gambling friend's yacht for big game hunting in
Greenland. After slaughtering herds of walrus and every living
polar bear in sight, Cook went ashore in the northernmost Eskimo
village with a few tons of supplies from his benefactor.
The North Pole hoax
The next spring Fred headed to the west of Ellesmere Island, then
disappeared with 2 Eskimo guides to fake his trip to the North
Pole. He knew Peary would be coming through the region where he
had been that summer, so he had to stay out of sight. The
following year he scrambled back through the same Eskimo village
before Peary came south again on his return trip.
The Eskimos talked
Peary knew all the natives in the region, they were like family
after 18 years of his expeditions, and soon his whole ship heard
about Cook's stunt. Henson spoke the Inuit language fluently and
got all the details about how Cook never went out of sight of
land, then headed south. Apparently Cook had tried to find the
land mirage known as "Crocker Land", made fake photos of it and
put it on his map as his discovery named for benefactor John
Bradley. Apparently Cook did not understand what a mirage is.
Cook goes to Europe
Fred raced by dog sledge over to a Danish settlement in Greenland.
He reached a wireless telegraph station only 5 days before Peary's
expedition returned to civilization. For $6,000 cash the New York
Herald newspaper bought rights to his story and through their
pages proclaimed, to an astonished world, that he had been to the
North Pole a year before Peary. Cook caught the next ship leaving
Greenland bound for Europe. When the vessel reached Denmark he was
welcomed as a hero. They had no idea he was a fraud. The European
news was telegraphed to America and newspapers there printed the
story, thinking it was all true. They didn't know Cook was a
fraud, either. Thus was born, by yellow journalism, the infamous
North Pole Hoax of Dr. Cook.
Blame it all on Peary—the "box hoax"
The most hilarious aspect of the Cook mess is how he tried to
blame all his problems on the real North Pole Discoverer Robert E.
Peary. Cook had no proof he had reached the North Pole because he
had never gone closer than 500 miles to it. So he "cooked" up a
scheme with the first white man he met, a fellow named Whitney who
was in the Eskimo regions of Greenland for big game hunting. Cook
gave Whitney a box, telling him that it contained all his highly
prized instruments, notebooks, the flag he flew at the North Pole,
etc. Cook told this complete stranger to take all this back to
America for him when Peary's ship came back that way. Why did Cook
How the "box hoax" worked
Cook was a crook, but he wasn't stupid. He had nothing to prove
his story and certainly had nothing of value in the box. But he
knew Peary would either: 1) Allow Whitney to take the box
back to America on his ship, or 2) Refuse to do so, or
3) The box would be lost. Are you catching on yet?
Cook never had any proof
1) If the box made it back to America on Peary's ship then
Cook could forever claim that his "proofs" were stolen or tampered
with by Peary. Peary, wisely, did not fall for this obvious
2) If Peary refused to transport the box on his ship (that
is what happened) then Cook could forever blame Peary if it became
lost (that is what happened). In any event, Cook realized he could
always claim others had tampered with it.
3) The box was, in fact, lost. Whitney, a complete stranger
to whom Cook supposedly entrusted his North Pole "proof", said he
buried the box in an Eskimo village. Buried it? Yes!
In characteristic "Cook style" he told newspaper reporters (who
wanted to know where his "proof" was) that he was dispatching a
ship (!) to Greenland to fetch this box that was now buried
somewhere by a total stranger (!?). In reality Greenland was so
remote in those days that no ship was sent. Instead, Cook simply
blamed Peary for not allowing Whitney to take the box on Peary's
ship. Peary had been very smart to avoid THAT hot potato by not
having anything to do with the alleged box.
Cook actually had nothing to prove he reached the Pole simply
because it was all a hoax anyway. His McKinley hoax had begun to
unravel before the North Pole hoax was announced, now the
reporters were all over him. Cook's credibility was sinking
rapidly. He never dispatched a ship to Greenland for obvious
reasons; the box was simply another hoax. Yet to this day Cook
descendents blame Peary for not letting Whitney bring that box on
his ship. See how clever Cook was? If Peary had taken the box,
then it would have been worse—to this day he would be blamed for
destroying or tampering with Cook's "North Pole proofs."
Peary, of course, caught on to this trick and ridiculed
Cook in newspaper interviews for such a pathetic tactic in
September of 1909 (see: New York Times). Peary pointed out that he
himself sewed his own notebook into his jacket pocket so that even
if he fell though the ice it would not be lost. He wrapped his
North Pole flag around his body—he literally wore it. Peary noted
that these items are precious to any real explorer and should
never be out of his hands. For Cook to claim he gave them to a
stranger is too absurd to believe, and Peary explained that these
items are so small and take up so little space that Cook had to be
lying. Peary, we now know, was absolutely correct.
|Cook goes into hiding; later
It is almost unbelievable that
Cook perpetrated this hoax. This aspect is rarely elaborated upon as
persons unfamiliar with this event struggle just to understand what
happened. Cook tried to steal a great historical achievement from the
legitimate North Pole expedition by simply concocting
a childish lie.
The North Pole in that era was as remote as the Moon; no one had
ever been able to reach it. Whomever did so would be a world famous,
celebrated hero. Cook wanted that fame and the riches that would be
the reward of the first man to reach the Pole. The New York Herald
printed his story resulting in acceptance of it as fact by a naive
world. Cook immediately promoted himself to the public who were unable
to tell Arctic fact from Cook's fiction.
Cook accepted money, gold medals, etc. honoring his
"achievement", gave lectures, attended dinners in his honor, parades,
waved to cheering crowds, etc., etc. Yet he was nothing more that a
cunning criminal. The real heroes, who had risked their lives to reach
the Pole, were virtually ignored by the public. Pole discoverer Peary
was understandably angry at "claim jumper" Cook,
yet the press called him a "bad loser" while criticizing his
The Cook North Pole fraud has to stand out as one of the
most brazen attempts at cheating in history. The hardship and dangers
endured by the rightful discoverers were pushed aside as being in
"second place" by a man who had only gone hunting, then hid in a cave
until the following year while he hatched his plan. Cook had done
nothing of merit, yet tried to place himself in front of those who had
accomplished a goal that had eluded all previous explorers for
Cook had to hide from the public
By November of 1909 the press and public were openly attacking Fred's
honestly as his previous fraud (climbing Mt McKinley) was
exposed in the newspapers. A disgraced, ridiculed, and hated Fred Cook
changed his appearance and went into hiding. When he emerged in 1911
he sold his famous "Confessions" story to Hampton's magazine.
His story was pathetic. It detailed his hallucinations as an
excuse for not really knowing if he even went in the right direction
of the North Pole or not. He claimed he was starving, tired, and, well—hallucinating: