Index Previous Next
Some people have said that they would consider our theory triumphantly demonstrated if it were not for the fact that the North Pole had actually been discovered. What we have already said about the difficulty of finding one's way about in the Arctic--and the same applies to the Antarctic--would suffice to cast some doubt upon the feat, but as the point is such an important one we will consider it in further detail, and show that neither Peary nor Cook was able to prove that he had reached the pole and that the scientific societies which considered their claims especially the committee of his fellow countrymen who examined Peary's proofs--agreed that in neither case could it be said authoritatively that the explorer had reached the pole.
The first claim, of course, was made by Dr. Frederick A. Cook, who announced that he had reached the North Pole on April 21, 1908. Then, within a few days of this announcement and the general acceptance of Cook's claim by the world although there were a few dissenting voices there came a despatch from Peary to the effect that he had discovered
the Pole, reaching it, as he claimed, on April 6, 1909, nearly a year after Cook's alleged discovery.
As Cook was the first to make the claim we will consider his claim first, noting, however that the difficulties of making proper observations, owing to the fact that in April the sun was only a few degrees above the horizon, applied to Peary as well as to Cook. Both were in a position where it was impossible to make very accurate observations.
The general acceptance of Cook's claim was based on his prediction that he could establish by field notes and mathematical observations the truth of his claim. But on one excuse or another he never did produce all the notes he said he would. He claimed that Peary caused some of this data to be buried, which may be true. But at any rate it was not long before the first faith in Cook was succeeded by a very general skepticism. This skepticism may have been started by Peary's denial of Cook's claim, a denial which was made promptly and vigorously in no uncertain or diplomatic language. But it was undoubtedly fed by Cook's own policy of not giving the world proper scientific data. In fact Peary's sharp way of criticising Cook and the facts which soon after came out tending to show that Peary thought he owned both the polar regions and the Eskimos, and that he had taken some of the stores
which Cook had cached pending his return from the north--all that created a great prejudice against Peary, and Cook seemed to have things all his own way. But he never submitted real proofs.
And his despatches about the pole did not sound convincing to men who knew of conditions in the north. Rear-Admiral Melville, of the United States Navy, himself an old time arctic explorer said in an interview:
"It was the crazy despatches purporting to have come from Dr. Cook about the conditions he found there, and other things, that caused a doubt in my mind about Cook's having found the pole."
The London Daily Mail said:
"The long message in which Cook recounted his journey was by general consent pronounced unconvincing, and the further particulars which he communicated since landing at Copenhagen have not removed all ground for doubt. . . . . . A large section of the public still entertains doubts and asks why it is he has not brought with him his journal and detailed observations to establish the truth of his statements."
Dr. George Tittman, head of the coast and geodetic survey at Washington was asked if Cook's claim
to have been at the pole could be checked up by comparing it with what scientists knew would be the conditions at that spot. His answer was in itself almost an admission that the time was ripe for our own theory to be given to the world. For what he did was to acknowledge the bankruptcy of science when it came to having knowledge of that region. He said:
"There are really no scientific theories as to what is immediately around the pole. There are some theorists who think that there is an open sea and some who think that a fertile spot is there. Scientific men are inclined to think that there may be little difference in immediate conditions close to the pole from those in the Arctic regions miles from there."
That is really a remarkable admission from a scientist. For, if the orthodox scientific idea about the polar regions is right, it ought to be colder there than anywhere else. And yet Dr. Tittman admits that practically all scientists agree that this is not the fact. Some, he says, think there is an open sea there and others say there is fertile land. We can see why some of them think there is open sea there because, as we have already seen, all explorers who have gone far enough north have found an open sea. But why should any scientists think there is fertile land at the pole? It seems impossible on their own theories of a solid earth with increasing cold as you
go north. Even if the cold at the poles was not enough to freeze the sea up, how could it be warm enough to produce fertility? The answer is, that the scientists who say that are simply men who are honest enough to follow all the evidence. They have seen the evidence already cited in this book of animal life and vegetation in the north, but they had no idea of our theory which alone explains that life. But they went as far as they could. It is the scientists who have gone that far already, who try to find room in the north for fertile land as the only explanation of the facts which we have already cited--it is these scientists, we say, who will be the first to give their adherence to our theory. For it alone gives a logical explanation of the facts which they admit but cannot explain.
But at any rate, Dr. Tittman had no light to throw on Cook's claim except insofar as Cook reported neither open water nor fertile land, and in view of the unanimous discovery by explorers of open water in the regions of the polar orifice, it is very clear that Cook did not go as far north as he thought he went.
And as a matter of fact when the Swedish Academy of Sciences and University of Copenhagen went over his alleged proofs they decided that he had not proved that he reached the pole. Of course, they were not in a position to state positively that he had
not reached the pole, and Cook made much of the fact that their verdict was what he called "neutral". But the fact remains that they did not support him.
And finally, we may note that in the book which Cook wrote to substantiate his claims, the book which he said would contain his case for the public's judgment, his final word, he himself admitted that he did not actually reach what is usually called the pole, but only approximated it. He says:
"Did I actually reach the North Pole? When I returned to civilization and reported that the boreal center had been attained, I believed that I had reached the spot toward which valiant men had strained for more than three hundred years. . . . . If I was mistaken in approximately placing my feet upon the pin-point about which this controversy has raged, I maintain that it is the inevitable mistake any man must make. To touch that spot would be an accident. . . . . . . . Mr. Peary's case rests upon three observations of sun altitude so low that, as proof of a position, they are worthless."
We may now glance at the sort of proof that Peary brought forward to substantiate his claim. In the first place, it is notable that he did not lose a minute in trying to discredit Cook. He had no sooner
reached Labrador than he telegraphed home as follows:
"Cook was not at the North Pole on April 21, 1908, or at any other time. This statement is made advisedly."
"Delayed by gale. Don't worry about Cook. Eskimos say Cook never left sight of land. Tribe confirms."
And to the Associated Press he wired:
"Cook's story should not be taken too seriously. The two Eskimos who accompanied him say he went no distance north, and not out of sight of land. Other members of the tribe commemorate their story."
"Do not trouble about Cook's story or attempt to explain any discrepancies in his statements. The affair will settle itself.
"He has not been at the pole on April 21st or any other time. He has simply handed the public a gold brick.
"These statements are made advisedly and I have proof of them. When he makes a full statement of his journey over his signature to some geographical society or other reputable body, if that statement contains the claim that he has reached the pole, I shall be in a position to furnish material that may prove distinctly interesting reading for the public.
"ROBERT E. PEARY."
Of course one trouble with Cook's claim was that he had no witnesses of his deeds. The testimony of the Eskimos was worthless for they knew nothing about making observations. But what was the surprise of the public to learn soon after this that Peary had no witnesses either.
In that interesting and very fair book on the subject of the polar controversy, "The Discovery of the North Pole," being both Cook's and Peary's stories with an introduction by General Greely, edited by the Honorable J. Martin Miller, the editor says:
"Like Cook, Peary stood practically alone amid the desolation of 'farthest north'. Cook had with him two Eskimos who, as described by him, were panic-stricken and prayed to their deity. They were in no sense sharers of the emotion of their white master. And so it was with Peary, with the difference that his colored personal attendant was there to witness the triumph. One Eskimo--who was there--Egingwah by name--no doubt, looked on rather cynically at Peary's deeds . . . . . .
"That Peary sent back all his white companions and pushed on alone to the pole caused a little surprise when first it became known. Yet it was recognized as just that the leader and inspirer of it should have all the glory. His were the risks; then why not his the honor? So, with bitter disappointment, perhaps, yet with unquestioning obedience to orders,
the faithful companions of Peary stopped, one by one, within a few days' march of the pole and let him go ahead with his one swarthy companion."
Now we cannot share the editor's sympathy with Peary in this matter. Not only had his companions shared his risks and thereby earned a part in the glory, but if Peary were not generous enough to acknowledge that, he ought to have seen the value of their corroborative evidence of his achievement. If Cook merely camped around for a few days barely out of reach of land, and then came back with a big claim, what was to prevent Peary simply going on a few miles ahead of his companions and then making a few observations, with nobody to verify them or check them up, and then come back and make any announcement he pleased?
Then Peary came back to civilization and it was found that several things about Cook's story which made it sound dubious were equally characteristic of Peary's story. He had taken even fewer observations of his alleged position at the Pole than Cook had done. Where Cook was doubted when he said he made fifteen miles a day in sledge traveling, Peary claimed to have made over twenty. As the Honorable Mr. Miller says:
"Peary was the only white man in his party to reach the pole He alone made observations and reckonings at the pole. None of the men with him knew anything about determining latitudes or longitudes.
[paragraph continues] They could not have known they had reached the pole unless Peary told them. Like Cook, Peary brought back practically his own word alone to support his claim that he had attained the earth's apex.
"When we come to rate of travel, Cook's fifteen miles a day seems modest in comparison with the distance Peary covered. When near the eighty-eighth parallel, Peary decided to attempt to reach the pole in five days' marches. According to his story, he made twenty-five miles on the first day, twenty on the second, twenty on the third, twenty-five on the fourth and forty yes, forty on the fifth. On these last five days he traveled at an average rate of twenty-six miles a day.
"And on the return trip from the pole to Cape Columbia he made even better time. He tried, he says, on the return trip, to make double the distance he covered on his dash to the pole. 'As a matter of fact,' he declares, 'we nearly did this, covering regularly on our return journey five outward marches in three return marches.'
"It is easy to figure out the average rate of speed he made on his return trip. He started back from the pole, he says, on April 7th and reached Cape Columbia on April 23, covering the 450 miles in sixteen days. This is a daily rate of 28.12 miles a day.
"Will the Arctic experts who declared it impossible for Cook to make fifteen miles a day charge Peary with falsehood when he says he made forty?"
One day, it will be remembered Peary actually claims to have made forty miles. Any reader who has been on a walking tour and knows what it is to walk forty miles a day on good roads with an inn to rest in at times, can tell what that would mean. Here was Peary, with his dogs to look after, his camp to make at night, his observations to make, his cooking to do, and certainly some repair work occasionally, making from twenty to forty miles a day. Oh but, the reader may exclaim, the dogs carried him along much faster than walking. But as a matter of fact they did not. Peary admitted that his pace was slower than walking--only he admitted it when he was not thinking of the bearing of the admission. It was when the newspaper men were interviewing him in Labrador. One of them, who did not know much about Arctic traveling asked:
"Did you ride?"
"Ride?" inquired the undaunted Peary, astonished. "Sir, in Arctic expeditions a man is lucky if he is able to walk without pushing his sledge. Usually he may grip the rear and thrust it ahead. It is like guiding a breaking plow drawn by oxen. You must also expect at any moment that the sledge may strike some pressure ridge that will wrench you off your feet."
So it comes to this: that in order to reach the so: called north pole a man must be able to do something as arduous as--and quite similar to--pushing a breaking plow drawn by oxen through arctic ice at speeds varying from twenty to forty miles a day, and keep it up for eight days, after doing almost equally arduous work for months.
Is it any wonder that the Honorable Mr. Miller, after giving all this data sadly concludes that:
"The question whether Cook or Peary discovered the North Pole may never be solved. It bids fair to become one of history's conundrums, and to remain a matter of one man's word against another."
But after all, Mr. Miller, if there is no pole to be discovered it is obvious that neither of your two heroes discovered it. The question will become relatively unimportant when we state it in its real form: Which of these men got furthest north? Surely that will not matter so much when we really explore the polar regions and find that what each man was after was simply a myth.
Now any doubt that we have thrown upon Peary's achievements by our words above is not a doubt raised by us alone. When Peary came to submit his proofs to investigation, the committee that went into the matter, afterwards acknowledged in congress that Peary had not, any more than Cook, proved his point.
How far he was from being able to prove it we may see by comparing some of his own statements. The following quotations were taken from Mr. Peary's own book, "The North Pole: Its Discovery, 1909". We reproduce both the quotations and some comments that were made on them at the time the book was published:
"'We turned our backs upon the pole at about four o'clock of the afternoon of April 7th.'
"According to a statement made on page 304, Mr. Peary took time on his return trip to make a sounding of the sea five miles from the pole.
"On page 305 Mr. Peary says: 'Friday, April 9th, was a mild day. All day long the wind blew strong from the north-northeast, increasing finally to a gale.' And on page 306, 'We camped that night at eighty-seven degrees, forty-seven minutes.'
"Mr. Peary thus claims to have traveled from the pole to this point, a distance of 133 nautical miles, or 153 statute miles, in a little over two days. This would average 76.5 statute miles a day. Could a pedestrian make such speed? During this time Mr. Peary camped twice, to make tea, eat lunch, feed the dogs, and rest--several hours in each camp.
"On page 310 Mr. Peary says: 'We were coming down from the North Pole hill in fine shape now, and another double march, April 16-17, brought us
to our eleventh upward camp at eighty-five degrees, eight minutes, one hundred and twenty miles from Cape Columbia.'
"According to this, Mr. Peary covered the distance from eighty-seven degrees, forty-seven minutes, on April 9th, to eighty-five degrees, eight minutes, on April 17 a distance of 149 nautical miles in eight days. This averaged twenty miles a day.
"On page 316 he says: 'It was almost exactly six o'clock on the morning of April 23rd when we reached the igloo of Crane City at Cape Columbia and the work was done'.
"Mr. Peary left eighty-five degrees, eight minutes, on April 17th, according to his statement, and travelled 120 miles to Cape Columbia in six days, arriving on April 23rd. This last stretch was at the rate of twenty miles a day. To sum up he traveled from the North Pole according to his statements, to land, as follows:
"The first 133 nautical miles southward in two days, at the rate of 66 nautical miles, or 76.5 statute miles, a day; the last 279 nautical miles in fourteen days, an average of twenty miles a day.
"According to Peary's book, Bartlett left him at eighty-seven degrees, forty-six minutes, and Mr. Peary started on his final spurt to the pole, a little after midnight on the morning of April 2nd. By arriving at the point where he left Bartlett on the evening of April 9th, he would have made the distance
of 270 miles to the pole from this point and back, in a little over seven days."
"In the New York World, of October 3rd, 1910, page 3, column 6, Mathew Henson makes the following statement: 'On the way up we had to break a trail, and averaged only eighteen to twenty miles a day. On the way back we had our own trail to within one hundred miles of land, and then Captain Bartlett's trail. We made from twenty to forty miles a day.'
"At the rate of twenty miles a day on the way up, which Henson claims was made, it would have taken six days of twenty-four and eighteen hours to cover the distance of 13S miles from eighty-seven degrees, forty-seven minutes, to the pole. Adding the thirty hours Mr. Peary claims he spent at the pole for observations, eight days would have elapsed before they started back. Peary says the round trip of 270 miles from eighty-seven degrees, forty-seven minutes North to the pole, and the return to the same latitude, was done in seven days and a few hours.
"Why has Mr. Peary never been asked to explain his miraculous speed, and the discrepancy between his statement and Henson's?"
Well one may answer that by saying that as the Cook business had created one great international
scandal, neither the authorities at Washington nor the American press were anxious to have another. One American had claimed that he had reached the pole. Foreign kings and princes had congratulated him, foreign universities had showered honors on him, only to find out afterward that there was a great probability that they had been duped. If, following that, another American, an officer in the navy, had made a similar claim and that claim had been proved fraudulent, this country would not only have been the laughing-stock of the world but our national honor had been tarnished. Every American after that would have been regarded with suspicion. American scientists would be distressed. The United States would have been placed in an intolerable situation. Other nations would have pointed the finger of scorn at us, and our prestige would have been lowered all over the world.
No, Congress could not afford to make any public statement that Peary had played false or that he had even been honestly mistaken in his claim, for even a "mistake" would have been made a matter of ridicule in the foreign press. So what was actually done? First a committee of the National Geographical Society was formed which rendered a favorable verdict after a cursory examination of Peary's
field notes, and it was hoped that nothing more would happen. But something did happen. That verdict was challenged on the floor of Congress. A congressional investigation was held a year later--when the clamor had died down--and its verdict was that Peary's proofs did not prove; that his achievement rested wholly upon his assertion--an assertion not backed up by a single white witness.
And the end of the story is just as significant. Great efforts were made by various parties to have the whole matter threshed out, following the verdict of "not proven" by the Congressional committee. But Congress and the government were afraid to act. Peary, significantly enough, never asked for an investigation and never replied to some very damaging charges brought against him not only by Cook but by independent societies. It was known that he wished to end his career after the polar exploit by retiring with the rank of Rear-Admiral--which carried a pension with it of $6,000. Friends of Peary brought into Congress, a bill so retiring him. One would think that before such a reward was granted the charges would be pressed and Peary's claimed finding of the pole confirmed. But such was not to be. No inquiry was ordered. It is interesting to note that Professor Moore, president of the National Geographical society which was financially interested in Peary's exploits, was one of the most active
men in lobbying for this bill, and that he has since been dismissed from his position in the government service.
And what is the significant end to this story? It is that although the bill was signed it was changed before the signing took place, and the false assumption of Peary's "Discovery of the Pole" was stricken out. That means that the government officially re-fused to endorse Peary although it could not afford to accuse him of anything that would lower us in the eyes of the world.
And there the matter rests. Neither Peary nor Cook has been able to prove that he reached the pole. Owing to the notorious difficulty of finding one's way around in a neighborhood where observations from the sun are not possible in winter--and the sun was barely above the horizon when both explorers were there--where distances are deceptive, where the compass is useless, where even Nansen admits he was absolutely lost--owing to all these difficulties we must not be astonished at the failure of these two men to find out where they really were. We need not even impute to them bad faith; both may have been honest in their claims although Peary's attacks on Cook and his failure to answer Cook's charges do reflect on him. But we cannot help noticing the
difference in the reports of Arctic conditions which these two men make and those made by all previous explorers. Every previous investigator, who got really far north, found out the truth about the open polar sea and the rise of temperature as he neared the pole. The case for those two truths is bullet proof. Only Peary and Cook failed to see those two great facts, and in that failure we read the truth of their journeys--that they were not in the neighbor-hood of the polar orifice but at points further south than that. Had they gone further they would have found open water and increasing temperatures. Had they then possessed boats they could have launched on that sea and the way to the goal and to the truth would have been clear. They would have seen the earth's central sun shining even in the winter, shining all of the twenty-four hours and all of the year, and they would have discovered new continents and oceans, a new world of land and water and of forms of life some of which have vanished from the outside of the globe.
But it was not to be. The discovery of that new land was left to those who, following the theory out-lined in this book, and using such safe means of Arctic traveling as the aeroplane or dirigible, will fly over the eternal barrier of ice to the warmer sea beyond and over that until they come into the realm of perpetual sunlight.
Since the above was written there have appeared despatches in the newspapers from Nome and Copenhagen to the effect that Captain Roald Amundsen is making an attempt to reach what is generally known as the North Pole. As Amundsen thinks he discovered the "South Pole" it will be very interesting to watch his progress in the north. Quite probable he may discover the polar opening and thereby prove that he did not discover the South Pole.
According to these despatches, Captain Amundsen was on the shore of the Bering Sea, at a Russian trading post called Anadir, late in April. Details were not forthcoming. Captain Bartlett, who commanded the Roosevelt on Peary's expedition, thinks the fact that Amundsen has come to that point means that something has gone wrong with his plans. Meanwhile Captain Ejnar, an Arctic explorer, takes issue with what Nansen has said about Amundsen's expedition, namely, that it is possible for him to reach his objective--the so-called pole--by drifting with the ice from Point Barrow. Captain Nikkelson thinks that Amundsen has either given up his attempt or has come to this trading post to get new supplies in order that he may make another attempt. The latter would seem to us to be the true explanation, as Amundsen is a persevering explorer, and after his experiences in the Antarctic, it is not likely that he would fail in his northern explorations. So
the polar opening may be discovered sooner that most people expect.
To Amundsen may go the credit of being the first man to verify our theory--supposing that he has the proper equipment which certainly ought to include some form of aeroplane.
Next: Chapter X. Two Congressional Opinions on Peary and Cook