|After 18 years of Arctic
experience, skill & accumulated knowledge, Henson & Peary
made a successful expedition to reach the Pole
by employing teams of men, supplies, trail breaking Inuit sledge drivers
and the best dogs hand picked for their strength and endurance. One
man died and others almost drown, yet they finally reached the North Pole.
Only today can we appreciate how difficult and truly dangerous this
journey was. After the 1909 expedition no one went back to the Pole
until an airplane flew over it in 1926. The Henson & Peary
1909 North Pole expedition
is still a legendary achievement of strategy, extraordinary skill
and great determination. Their round trip to the Pole and back to
land with dog sledges has never been duplicated(1).
Henson & Peary traveled in the Arctic 100 years ago;
before there were airplanes, Global Positioning
Satellites or Gore-Tex parkas. Expedition team member Matthew Alexander Henson,
Navy Commander Robert Edwin Peary,
with four Inuit reached the North Pole
on April 6, 1909.
They had prepared for many years by making expeditions over the
arctic sea ice to gain the
experience required for the dangerous, 826 nautical mile (approximate round trip
distance) journey over the frozen Arctic Ocean.
During expeditions from 1891 until 1909 they had journeyed
across the northern tip of Greenland and Ellesmere Island - hoping
to find a land bridge or island reaching northward. They
learned to travel over the shifting sea ice while
looking for a route to the Pole.
They retrieved meteorites, one of which weighed over 70,000
pounds, now displayed at the Museum of Natural History. They
proved that the North Pole is over a deep
but partially frozen ocean. They lowered measuring
instruments to record the oceans depth where
no scientist had done so before. They brought back animal specimens,
photographs and written accounts of the native Inuit's ways of survival
in such an extreme climate. Matthew Henson worked with the Natural
History Museum in New York to create accurate exhibits depicting the
people and animals of the North. The public was fascinated to learn
about the Arctic from them. They wrote books & scientific papers,
gave public lectures, but best of all they explored and they discovered
the most remote place on Earth.
|April 6, 1909 at the North Pole
|From Humbug to Convict -
the Cook hoax
what should have been a glorious public reception was turned into
a controversy when hoaxer, con artist, and later
Federal Prisoner # 23118, Dr. Frederick Cook,
claimed he reached the Pole a year before Peary's team -
apparently without any proof other than his "cooked up"
story. The public was divided
and polarized by Cook for about 3 months, until his lies became his downfall
to total disgrace.
Cook's fraud caused only temporary damage to the honor of
the 1909 expedition team. Later, Cook's daughter would make her
criminal father's antics a sort of family crusade by
creating & maintaining a bizarre cult following of
believed it was all a conspiracy. Family money
funded the "Cook Society" that pays authors to write
anti-Peary and pro-Cook material for encyclopedias,
popular books, novels, and the Internet. Interestingly,
there are numerous anti-Cook books
solidly documenting his frauds yet media people
still sometimes dig up Cook like some lost "Big foot" or
"Loch Ness monster."
The public, by 1910, was tired of the Cook-Peary affair.
In that day African Americans had no place in society.
Thus Henson was not given the recognition he
deserved through 18 years and 7 highly dangerous, difficult Arctic
journeys he endured. But America was inspired for generations by the
Peary achievement of the North Pole until the Cook
Society made headway with the shameful Wally Herbert
Noose of Laurels.
life achievements reflect his noble character, making him a perennial role
model to young persons. Everyone who wrote about Matt used enthusiastic phrases.
They describe a gentleman of remarkable poise and emotional stability;
always cheerful, never bitter, a courageous hero whose determination
and inner strength allowed him to live without fear but with compassion
and humility. While Matt accomplished much, he received few rewards
in his lifetime.
is honored today by a monument at Arlington National Cemetery, a US Postal stamp, books and a US Naval Ship bearing his name. Matt's Inuit descendants
have been united with their American relatives. Delroy Lindo has portrayed
Matt in a TNT original movie for TBS broadcast on cable TV in 1999.
Allen Counter of Harvard has made wonderful
contributions to the legacy of Henson with many
|1) It is too dangerous - all dog sledge or snowmobile teams attempting it have been air-rescued
at the Pole. Except for one team of
handling experts who made everyone else look like bozos!