Cook's 1909 return to New York found in painting


The Oscar II, one of the finest of the passenger liners of the Danish-American Steamship Company, arrived off Fire Island near New York Harbor on the afternoon of September 21,1909 after a nine-day voyage from Copenhagen. A salute of guns from the fort at Christianland, by order of King Haakon, highlighted the transfer of what was then the world's foremost explorer to the great liner at the start of the journey.

After a week of collecting the highest awards and tributes of the Danes, Frederick A. Cook was now coming home. The reception would rival that of his European hosts, who had a special interest in his achievement as Greenland was a part of Denmark and its most northwesterly shores had been the base camp for Cook's historic expedition to the North Pole and his dramatic return in the Spring of 1909, after most had considered him lost in the Arctic wastes.

The Arctic Club of America, anticipating Cook's arrival, had chartered a three-deck side wheeler, the Grand Republic, to greet the Danish liner and transfer Cook to the welcoming committee. The harbor was already in a festive mood: a joint celebration was scheduled for both the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the Hudson River and the centennial of the steamboat by Robert Fulton.

The actual arrival of the explorer to the shores of his own country-a separation of 27 months since he departed on the John R. Bradley on his Polar expedition from Glouster, Mass. in July 1907-would take three involved ship transfers, all during what one observer said was the commencement "...of every ship's whistle in the harbor let loose until all.. .were merged into one ear-splitting shriek." The first was his descent on a rope ladder off the liner to the deck of the John J. Gilkison, on which Marie Cook had embarked with Ruth, 10, and four-year-old Helene.

'Every ship's whistle in the harbor let loose until all...were merged into one ear-splitting shriek.'

Previously, a fleet of tugs had embarked upon the Oscar II, most with journalists and photographers. All were turned away with the exception of the tug commissioned by the New York American, the Hearst newspaper which carried explorer Anthony Fiala, who was allowed abroad for the first stateside interview with Cook and information about his family. The Owlet, a dispatch boat for the New York Herald, was flying flags spelling out "Welcome Dr. Cook."

By this time the Oscar II was dressed in flags to receive the Arctic Club committee aboard the Grand Republic and Cook then transferred to the sidewheeler where Capt. T. F. Osbon led the welcoming activities. Previous to this he was reunited not only with his wife and daughters, but his brother William and sister Lillian Murphy. Four-year-old Helene held up one of the small flags that had accompanied the party and yelled, "Hurrah for my papa and the Pole!"

'Hurrah for my papa and the Pole!' shouted Helene. 

After a river tour of the borough bridges, including the majestic Brooklyn Bridge, the ship docked to the thunderous applause and competing bands at the wharves at Williamsburg. Then the Cook party departed on a motorcade through triumphal arches erected just two days previous. New York and Brooklyn newspapers estimated that more than 100,000 people welcomed Cook along the parade route. Two nights later more than a thousand attended a black-tie dinner at the Waldorf Astoria sponsored by the Arctic Club, at which he received the keys to the city of New York and a gold medal from the Club.

Arch over Bushwick Avenue greeted Cook's motorcade after they left the harbor in a motorcade seen by 100,000.

Thus did Frederick A. Cook return to his homeland, an event that was captured within a matter of months by a painter described as "America's leading folk artist of maritime scenes." The painting, an oil that is reproduced on the cover of Polar Priorities this issue shows the dramatic entrance of the Oscar II with the Grand Republic at the left and the cutter chartered by the Danish-American Societies and the newspaper tugs to its left. At the right is the John R. Gilkinson and Staten Island ferries. Ellis Island is seen behind the ships.

The painting was done by Antonio Jacobsen, one of America's best known and most prolific painters of maritime subjects. Born in Denmark, he studied at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen and emigrated to New York in 1871, where he began painting portraits of steamships.

He lived in New York City as a safe decorator and within a few years he began painting portraits of ships that were in the Old Dominion Steamship Line. Between 1876-1919 the prolific painter executed more than 5900 portraits of vessels ranging from freighters, steamships, sailing vessels, schooners and yachts.

Jacobsen's work was sought after in his day, and if he was short of funds, he had no trouble finding commissions. At a time when a certified public accountant was earning forty or fifty dollars a week, Jacobsen earned $150 to $200 with little effort. When lithographs became popular, however, orders for Jacobsen's paintings dwindled and he refused any attempt to commercialize his work.

As the years passed, Jacobsen's style became more progressive; he depended less on commissions and more on his own creativity. His rigid style softened and he painted imaginative marine works including racing scenes, shipwrecks and some ocean views.

In 1880, Jacobsen moved to West Hoboken, New Jersey, where he remained for the rest of his life. A majority of his canvases are signed A. Jacobsen or Antonio Jacobsen with one of his West Hoboken addresses below the signature. He died in West Hoboken in 1921.

Jacobsen's work is in many museums throughout the U.S. including the Mariner's Museum, Newport News, VA; Mystic Seaport Museum (CT); Peabody Museum, Salem (MA); New York Historical Society (NY); Fall River Marine Museum (MA); Louisiana State Museum (LA) and the Shelburne Museum (VA),

The Jacobsen painting of Cook's arrival in New York was completed sometime in late 1909 and early 1910. While the original owner is unknown, it has been in the family of an American maritime author and collector, Nicholas T. Cairis, for more than 70 years. Mr. Cairis, of Copenhagen and Cambridge, Ma. is the author of Passenger Liners of the World Since 1893, Era of the Passenger Liner, North American Passenger Liners Since 1900 and Cruise Ships of the World. Mr. Cairis contacted the Society about the painting in September and granted reproduction rights for this years' cover.

A sequel to the Oscar II story of Cook's return to his home occurred on the 90th anniversary year, when the British Broadcasting Company ran a series of children's factual programs retelling points of history through the voices of young people who were a part of that history.

The New York Public Ledger had these pictures of 
the arrival party at the Brooklyn dock.

Ruth Cook's account of her experience on Sept. 21, 1909 was chosen as one of the BBC selections, along with her sister Helene. Both were shown with their father as they reunited in New York Harbor and later together in Europe with their mother. They were also shown as adult women, in the sequence of all of the eyewitnesses in the series.

In 1998 BBC had contacted the Society for background information on the principles in the story, as well as the photographs. The "Rewind" series included Helene's "Hurrah for my papa and the Pole," who in the narrative tells of the care with which she, her mother Marie and sister dressed for the trip on the chartered boat that met the Oscar II and the explorer. A young actress portrayed Helene and old film footage of Cook arriving in Copenhagen, arctic scenes and individual photos of the explorer and his family were used.

Two nights later, more than 1,000 attended a banquet honoring Cook at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he was presented a Gold Medal from the Arctic Club of America for the discovery of the North Pole.

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