A crucial moment in Cook’s journal proves him passing 850 30’ North

by Wayne Davidson

An Inversion caused what appears to be land afar on a western Arctic coastal horizon, really consisting of open water, thin ice and warmer air aloft. There are a few clues which gives away the mirage: note the land profile mimics the apparent distant double ‘landscape’. This is due to an inversion hugging the land horizon at about the same height throughout. Unless a map is available or one goes strait into the direction of the mirage, one can easily assume that there is a big island about 50 to 100 miles away, with also clouds on top. 

This is not the first time when Dr Cook’s diary gets dissected, but it will be a first literally showing that he couldn’t have made up his journal on Arctic Ocean ice without actually being there. Astronomers like Denis Rawlins, and Stockwell in 1910, rightfully questioned the veracity of Dr Cook’s claims, as another astronomer correctly stated: extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence. 

In this case proof comes along as repetition, a key component of applied science. Claims given by Cook must be repeated, otherwise they remain without justification, a tenuous place to be. This essay merely complements my previous verifications on Doctor Cook’s North Pole journey. Sheldon Cook’s conclusion that there was nothing but ice at the Pole as reported by Dr Cook in 1908, is complemented by actual strange sun disk observations that turn out to be equally true, but not only that, true at the location reported. 

In 1908, Dr Cook was no stranger to Polar nights, astronomy nor sextant usage, but he was ingrained, along with every other explorer of the day, with sextant knowledge still unfamiliar with certain precepts of sunset science discovered not long ago. It is informative, and essential to understand that while on the Belgica in Antarctica in 1898, Dr. Cook and all the ships crew, were on deck waiting for a sign of the sun after surviving nearly three months without it. 

They did not know that it was already up several days before. All were expecting the sun at a normal almanac time, when the sun center is –0.8 degrees below the horizon. Navigation education was so authoritative that it forced them to wait for that date. Unbeknownst to them, perhaps except a lone crew hand, the sun much likely showed up, not exactly round, a couple of days before. So for Dr. Cook’s future, imbued with experience and certainly many conversations with Belgica’s navigator, Dr. Cook’s knowledge of astronomy was still strongly influenced by contemporaneous 19th century science, not quite at par with reality.

For a North Pole trekker, what better moment when the first midnight sun appears, a time when there is no sunset possible. While Dr Cook was really heading North, or some may say while fabricating that he was heading North, lies a trap for fiction tellers, inconceivable to scrutiny in the earlier part of the 20th century, but now understood at a much higher level of science. 

Dr. Cook’s biggest flaw, in my opinion, is the lack of precision in specific details, which has supplied fodder a plenty for his past and present enemies. On previous issues of this journal, I have proven that Cook had certainly passed 84o North, not because I confirmed his official observations, but rather by analyzing apparently innocent comments. Those very same words can easily sink a person committing exploration fraud. Fortunately, I started commenting on Dr Cook’s diaries while doing Polar research in some ways related, while this work is still currently in progress, I found another piece or so of the missing puzzle. 

It is very easy to miss a point raised by Dr. Cook as his easy prose makes one forget some details. Those details, very few words, can in fact vindicate him without doubt or castigate him at the same level as Peary, a fraud that need not be. Alas these words, treasure for debunkers and verifiers, are not so common. 

“Midnight; north cloudy, but ice bright; many hummocks…” March 28, 1908

This was written in Dr. Cook’s diary when he was about 84 35 N 95 36 W . The sun was -2.2 degrees true below the ice horizon. But it was bright outside? That is perfectly what a faking explorer would not write. Despite clouds, in the North, the ice was bright, not so ancient science would have scoffed at this statement. 

March 29: “Start early PM. A little blue in the west; sun bursts pack disturbed; hard traveling, due to fresh crevasses. Camp midnight; only 9 miles.”

Sun Bursts? Those words, may mean sun breaking through clouds, or partially seen behind clouds. “Blue in the west” would be a fantastic word sequence, only if he gave an exact time, or words, blue is a key sky colour which stays even when the sun is very low. It would in fact be a positional statement. But since “Early PM” means perhaps 7 pm, blue skies were possible at that time. 

On March 30 1908. Dr. Cook reports seeing “Bradley Land”, which of course, does not exist. A prerequisite for seeing a massive mirage is the requirement of some clear skies, which happened that day. Again “Bradley Land”, many times irrationally laughed at as a claim, sticks out as a reason for a traveler actually being there. Why would a fraudulent explorer claim such a landmass knowing full well that it will be disproved in the future? Some country would certainly have been keen to claim it? A fictitious ‘Bradley land’, is not an ideal fraud spin, it was rather a mirage, which of course is not provable. 

84 50 N 95 36 W : “A low fog persistent; cannot see shore; for days we have expected to see something W, but never a clear horizon. Probably two islands like Heiberg, 1800 feet high, valleys, mountains, snow N, table 1000, thin ice sheet, bright nights.” 

Further reading Dr Cook’s journal reveals that on the next day, March 31, he detected several mirages, but as they went straight North towards them, they of course disappeared. Those western Islands once called “Bradley land”, estimated to be 50 miles away were not in the path to the pole, they were not really explored. Furthermore, massive thin ice sheet or shallow but trapped warmer air are required to have such an illusion. 

Dr Cook reported thin ice in the direction of ‘Bradley Land’. Closing the case once and for all about a ‘Bradley Land’ fraud attempt would require further research into who was responsible for including that ’ Bradley land’ picture in the first versions of Cook’s My Attainment of the Pole, which may not have necessarily been under full control of its author. 

March 30 was the day when the midnight sun was supposed to rise according to old ways of navigation. It seems strange, Dr Cook did not write about this day in the same terms as on the Belgica 10 years before. There is no anticipation, just a few scant notes. It is the way of the old polar explorer, devoid of the luxury of time, not really calculating position every day, eager to reach his destination, foregoing such apparent trivial things, exhaustion exceeds curiosity, the only goal is the pole… 

Another big moment in Cook’s diary, which falls flat on account of clouds, is April 1, 1908: There is no more darkness at night.

At this point on, it can be said that the midnight sun has started, but in fact, it likely has on March 28, from that date on, Dr Cook has reported bright nights , suggesting very much so that he was at the latitude he claimed, but on the 28th the sun was likely a very thin line, deplete of great luminescence. Clouds negated such a sighting at midnight, until the sun was really seen at midnight on April 7 above the ever so present low layer of ice crystals, fog and clouds. However, prior to April 1, the question of darkness, interested me a great deal, but clouds in the various opacities and coverage, distort the darkness factor greatly. 

This is the sun, yes the sun.  Appearing at sunrise after the long night, as seen through low clouds.  With eyes only, the most remarkable feature is the top sliver, which constantly changed size while flashing in blue-green bursts lasting a few seconds.  The digital camera couldn't pick up this colour. Sometimes the great luminary was drawn out into an egg-shaped elongation with horizontal lines of color drawn through it.

The most crucial dates on Cook’s journey to the Pole were said to be marred by clouds, so it would have been extremely easy to pick up fraudulent writing only if he declared exactly when the sun rose above a clear horizon. For a verifier this is frustrating. But the said brightness at the latitudes coincide very well with present knowledge about Polar brightness during twilight. But it is not enough to declare Cook being at the locations he claims to be. His book, following some chronology gives more details about sun shapes and colors: 

The night of April 7 was made notable by the swing of the sun at midnight, above the usual obscuring mist, behind which it had, during previous days, sunk with its night dip of splendor. For a number of nights it made grim faces at us in its setting. A tantalizing mist, drawn as a curtain over the northern sea at midnight, had afforded curious advantages for celestial staging. We were unable to determine sharply the advent of the midnight sun, but the colored cloud and haze into which it nightly sank produced a spectacular play which interested us immensely. Sometimes the great luminary was drawn out into an egg-shaped elongation with horizontal lines of color drawn through it.

Cook wrote, “I pictured it as some splendid fire colored lantern flung from the window of Heaven. Again, it was pressed into a basin flaming with magical fires, burning behind a mystic curtain of opalescent frosts. Blue at other times, it appeared like a huge vase of luminous crystal, such as might be evoked by the weird genii of the Orient, from which it required very little imagination to see purple, violet, crimson and multi-colored flowers springing beauteously into the sky. These changes took place quickly, as by magic.”

The descriptions given by Dr. Cook are easily repeatable with respect to cloud effects. The blue sun, must be the green flash, a low, very distorted blue green sun, which can happen in spontaneous bursts. 

Further breakdown of this paragraph is not so difficult, of course since exact notations were swapped for the need to preserve heat, and surviving on meager rations, relegating writing in sub-freezing conditions not essential. This paragraph was not necessarily a piece of poetry about sun disks shaped like pottery. One can match some of these words with his diary. Of particular interest is April 3:

“Night bright; sun at midnight under cloud and haze”

The sun going down in clouds can be seen as the following, taken in the Polar region 96 years and 13 days later:
On the night of April 3, the sun elevation at midnight as seen by Cook’s expedition was about the same as the picture at left. The description given by Cook is a perfect match. The odds in making up this sun lantern story is extremely remote. A flat bottom sun at such precise and relatively high elevation was totally unknown then. 

A good work of fiction cannot really match reality, as reality is most times weirder than fiction. To make up such a story, would mean a thorough understanding of sun disk transformations beyond all that was known at that time. This sun lantern is a piece of a puzzle which fits with a grander image of the truth. He had to be there to have seen it. On Midnight April 3,1908 Dr Cook was at 85 30 North.

Cook, Frederick A. Through the First Antarctic Night. Reprint edition 1998, pp 283-284; 187-188

Cook, Frederick A. My Attainment of the Pole. Reprint edition 2001, Appendix, field notes pp 574-578

Hall, Thomas F. Has the North Pole Been Discovered? Boston: Badger Co, 1919, pp 249-255; 411-433; 479-489; 517-529

Foundation for the Promotion of the Art of Navigation, Robert E. Peary at the Pole, 1989, pp 24-25

Pictures: Wayne Davidson, Resolute Bay, Nunavut

Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society