Friday, April 24, 2009

Our hero surfaces in Up Here magazine

You've got to love a shout line on the front of the magazine: "Author Ken McGoogan on Cook, Peary & the Polar Centennial." And the article takes a position. I'm sorry to report that it's not accessible online. Guess Up Here wants you to subscribe. Anyway, the piece beings like so:


One hundred years ago this month one of the worst injustices in Arctic exploration history began unfolding on the northwest coast of Greenland. On April 18, 1909 an American doctor and two Inuit hunters struggled to the top of an icy ridge and looked out over a familiar scattering of igloos. Below, less than a mile away, lay the settlement of Anoatok, which they had left 14 months previously. Exhausted from an unprecedented ordeal, the three rose to their feet and waved, then huddled together and waited while old friends hitched up dog teams and drove out to collect them.

On reaching the bedraggled trio, the rescuers could only gape in disbelief. Emaciated and filthy, with wild, unkempt hair falling to their shoulders, the three looked half-human. But then came recognition, and everybody talking at once, and one of the rescuers, a tall, blond white American, stepped forward from one of the sledges. “Doctor Frederick Cook?” He held out his hand: “Harry Whitney. We are honoured to greet you.”

The doctor and his friends, Etuk and Wela, “had been so long in the chill of impending death,” Cook wrote later, “that compared to Whitney and to the Eskimos about, we were but half-alive.”

Back at the village, speaking English for the first time in more than a year, a dazed Cook learned that Whitney was a sportsman hunting polar bear, and that he had arrived here on a ship with Cook’s old mentor, the explorer Robert E. Peary. While bathing and eating, the exhausted doctor asked about his steward, Rudolph Franke, whom he had left here guarding a shack filled with fox furs and narwhal horns worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Franke had taken sick, he was told. Peary had allowed him to sail home on his second ship on condition that he hand over the doctor’s goods – “like ransom,” Cook wrote later, “sought from an enemy.” Not only that, but Cook learned that Peary had declared him dead, and had installed two crewmen in his shack, where even now they were gorging on the stores he had stowed for his own return.

Despite this unsettling news, Cook remained unflappable. When Whitney remarked on his calm, the doctor told him: “If you keep this quiet for the present, I will tell you some great news. I have reached the Pole.”

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