Saturday, June 10, 2006

If an Explorer Falls Down in the Forest . . .

Frederick A. Cook -- explorer, oil promoter and convicted fraud -- was born on this day in 1865 in Calicoon Depot, New York.

Trained as a physician, Cook served as surgeon on three expeditions to Greenland led by Robert Peary (1891, 1893, 1894) and a Belgian Arctic expedition (1897). In 1906 he led his own expedition to Mt. McKinley, and claimed to be the first to successfully ascend the peak, although the Explorers Club of New York and the American Alpine Club refused to acknowledge Cook's claim after reviewing the evidence. Next Cook claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole on April 21, 1908 and was greeted as a hero on his return, but Peary publicly questioned his claim, and a report by Copenhagen University discredited Cook's story, paving the way for Peary to claim to be the first to reach the Pole the following year.

Cook enjoyed popularity on the lecture circuit for a time, but drifted into oil well promotion, eventually starting the Petroleum Producers Association in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1922 and raising funds through the sale of stock. A year later, however, he was indicted and convicted for fraudulently disbursing stock-sale proceeds as dividends to early investors, claiming revenue from non-producing wells and misrepresenting the company's financials. He was sentenced to 14 years, 9 months in prison, but was paroled after 7 years in Leavenworth.

Cook was pardoned by President Roosevelt shortly before his death on August 5, 1940 in New Rochelle, New York. The Frederick A. Cook Society continues to advocate on behalf of Cook's claims of priority on Mt. McKinley and at the North Pole.

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