Scandal: Cook, Cook, He’s Our Man…

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Outside magazine, October 1995

Scandal: Cook, Cook, He’s Our Man…
By Laura Billings

Fifty-five years have passed since Frederick Cook–polar explorer, former Leavenworth inmate–stepped onto that great ice floe in the sky, but a steadfast brotherhood is still working to thaw his reputation. This month, members of the Dr. Frederick A. Cook Society will gather in Sullivan County, New York, for an annual celebration of the man whom one biographer called “the most
discredited humbug in our history.”

A 150-member cluster of distant relations, historians, and exploration buffs, the society champions Cook’s claim that he reached the North Pole in 1908–almost a year before rival Admiral Robert Peary clocked in–and was the first to summit Mount McKinley. This year’s conclave expects good news from historian Sheldon Cook-Dorough, who aims to prove that Cook’s Texas oil-field
dealings, which landed him in prison for mail fraud, were legitimate.

Still, no one expects household-name status for Cook anytime soon. Warren Cook Sr., his 65-year-old grandnephew and the society’s president, says he was recently reminded of Cook’s debased obscurity while watching the TV game show Jeopardy.

“They wanted to know which polar explorer was imprisoned in 1926 for mail fraud. Two of the players didn’t get it at all, and the other guy said Peary!” says Cook, in a forehead-smacking tone. “I just couldn’t believe it.”

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