Cook, Peary, and Byrd -- the first, the second, the third. As each man announced that he had reached his goal (journey by land or plane to the North Pole), we all took them at their word: Cook, Peary, and Byrd.
Frederick Cook was a doctor from Brooklyn who pretended he’d climbed Mt. McKinley. Later, he claimed to be first to the pole, but his story was spread much too thinly: Cook’s only evidence was that Cook said he did, and eventually he was discredited once everyone got a look at the incomplete journals of Cook.
Robert Peary hired experts with sextants, but as they neared their destination he sent them all packing so that he could make up his numbers without moderation. To get to the pole and back, Peary would need to have broken all previous records in speed; though his stories were so grandiose, more likely he never got close.
Richard Byrd had a plane, Josephine Ford, and a pilot to fly her about. They noticed an oil leak in mid-flight and decided the full jaunt was out, so they went just one hundred miles away and flew in a circle the rest of the day and returned. The pilot averred he’d keep secret the short flight of Byrd.
Cook, Peary, and Byrd -- the first, the second, the third. Roald Amundsen thought that he was the fourth, but he was the first man to reach that far north, never mind what you may have heard about Cook, Peary, and Byrd.
Everyone who wrote a history book, scientists, journalists, and the public got took by a liar, a fraud, and a crook: Byrd, Peary, and Cook.
released November 1, 2012
Schroeder, Andreas. Cheats, Charlatans, and Chicanery. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1997.
Tierney, John. "Who Was First at the North Pole?" New York Times 7 September 2009.
Tierney, John. "A Clash of Popular Frauds and Those Who Believe." New York Times 8 September 2009.