||Blame the Newspapers:
In those days of "yellow journalism" they didn't care about proof.
A wireless telegram was all it took and the public simply believed what they read.
September 1909: Cook's North Pole story made the front page.
However, this apparent "claim
jumping" attempt on Peary's North Pole expedition,
soon proved utterly false; Frederick never came within
of the Pole. His unverified adventure was immediately challenged by arctic
experts as unbelievable. In fact, his
Eskimo guides testified they went south,
not north and never traveled out of sight
of land. Read their testimony.
Cook had rushed to announce his story only days before
Naval Commander Peary returned with his
successful North Pole
expedition. This aspect of the "Polar Controversy"—two identical claims within 5 days of each other—falsely created the impression that
Cook was a rival in some "Race to the Pole". Nothing, in
fact, could be further from the truth.
Peary was a legitimate explorer sent to the Arctic under orders
from his Commander in Chief; President Roosevelt. On the other hand,
Cook was merely a criminal who had
previously committed fraud
(sold magazine rights, lectures, a book, etc.) falsely asserting
he was the first person to climb the highest mountain in North
the North Pole was simply his next attempt to steal fame & fortune he
could never achieve through
his own deeds. In this case he again had no proof,
so he made up the infamous "lost box" ploy
to put blame on Peary.
View this complete 50 card set
of "polar controversy"
postcards from 1909.
Peary's expedition was
comprised of capable, experienced men. Their elaborate
preparations created a virtual
support personnel who build a route over the Arctic Ocean for an elite team
to dash the final distance. Cook had never
even seen the Arctic Ocean.
Irresponsible newspapers popularized Cook's claim because sensational news sold
newspapers. Peary immediately called Cook a liar,
which was absolutely true. The public knew little about the arctic and
some thought Peary was not being a gentleman. However, many experts
openly stated their disbelief that Cook was telling the truth. To its
credit The New York Times balanced what The Herald
was printing with factual information from responsible sources.
||By November Cook was forced to hide from an angry
and suspicious public disgusted with his evasive responses to
their demands for proof. On December 22, 1909 his North Pole claim
was headlined a complete fraud by scientists who examined his
"records." It was over.
Cook disappeared and hid for a year
before attempting his come-back.
He returned to America in disguise
and, needing some cash, sold his
confession to a magazine. Cook had
supporters who believed Fred was a victim of a conspiracy comprised of
Peary's friends. The truth was that the general public, the press, and
all scientific institutions had turned their backs on Cook. With
encouragement from his supporters Fred published a
preposterous "North Pole" book (1911). Behind the phony
story was a vindictive tirade
against Robert Peary.
Cook's My Attainment of The Pole accuses the true
North Pole explorer of fraud, slander, calumny, adultery, and
With a supply of these books he joined the vaudeville
and Chautauqua (lecture) circuits to sell copies while attempting to
win back the hearts and minds of the public in his favor.
For 5 or 6 years Cook toured the country spreading his
anti-Peary conspiracy theories this way. Cook even enlisted school children to write essays
about "Who discovered the North Pole first—Cook or Peary?"
The winner received a copy of Cook's absurd, vitriolic book plus
tickets to his vaudeville show.
By 1915 Cook's attempts to manipulate the public and even
the US Congress became the subject of a famous
26-page speech by the famous orator S. D. Fess. Read for yourself the almost
unbelievable lengths Cook would go in his attempt to "pervert American
history", as Fess so aptly labeled this propaganda game that
|Cook's daughter Helene Vetters made the Peary vendetta her lifetime
troublemaking pastime until she died in 1979 (see:
collection of correspondence). Her equally vindictive daughter,
Janet Vetters, ensured that anti-Peary efforts would still be
smoldering today—financed from
a trust fund she set up for that very purpose (she died 1989).