What happened to the original Andrew Freeman manuscript in 1937?

The son of Cook's biographer says that 'powerful forces' stopped its publication

Editor's Note: Roger Freeman of Scottsdale, Arizona is an engineer who spent several years in both the Arctic and Antarctic, as a U.S. Navy officer and as a civilian communications specialist with the Department of the Navy. In both capacities he served as part of the fourth Byrd Antarctic Expedition in 1947-48 and the International Geophysical Year in 1956-­57 "Operation Deep Freeze" with both Admiral Byrd and Admiral Charles W. Thomas. Earlier, as the eight-year-old son of writer Andrew A. Freeman, Cook's only biographer, he was "bounced on the knee of the old explorer" when he was living with his parents in Brewster, New York during 1936. This is his account:

The perspective of a youngster not quite nine years old is different from that of an adult, so my reflections on the summer of 1936 in the Hudson River community of Brewster would be far different from those of my parents. They were literary people, well traveled and sophisticated about the world which judged the lives and deeds of their contemporaries in harsh standards.

My father had obtained the notes of a previous manuscript on Dr. Frederick A. Cook by a contemporary of Cook, Felix Riesenberg, who had served as the navigator with Walter Wellman in his famous but abortive airship expedition to the North Pole. This took place in the same year that Cook departed for his expedition to the Pole in 1907. Riesenberg had tried to write about the Cook­Peary controversy, but all his sources were secondary, and he found that there was an extreme reluctance by those who knew both explorers to provide their conclusions or even recollections.

About the same time, Cook was circulating an autobiographical manuscript with some New York publishers, and one of them had asked Freeman to make an assessment. He met the doctor and as with so many journalists and authors who had become familiar with the controversy, he was initially incredulous that Cook actually maintained his attainment of the North Pole as fact. In the Introduction to his book in 1961, my father set those impressions down:

"He left behind a pleasant but puzzling impression. At first I could not believe this mild-mannered man was the notorious Dr. Cook. When he spoke of Peary, his North Pole rival, it was without bitterness or envy....  Of the people I met during the years I worked on this case, the least partisan and calmest was Cook." (The Case for Doctor Cook, pp. 9­10)

Four years after this initial meeting, my father had fleshed out his own manuscript enough to have an agent secure an acceptance by Doubleday, one of the industry's largest and most respected houses. So my father wrote Cook, who by then was splitting his time in upstate New York with his two daughters and his sister in Toms River, New Jersey. Cook, of course, was pleased that an established writer would want to write his story. Soon they agreed that the interviewing process would be best served if Cook spent some time at our home, which my father had moved to precisely because he wanted to get out of the city and devote all of his research and writing for the project.

My mother was an accomplished editor, typist and proofreader as well as a good researcher and she joined in the work. They realized that they were looking at a monumental task—not only the first person interviews with the only living non-Inuit who claimed to have been at the North Pole, but his first revelations in over two decades of all of the intrigue and character assassination that became a part of the controversy. 

Other than having met Dr. Cook on several occasions, and being enthralled, as would any young boy, by his accounts of the Eskimos, the seven-foot Indians of Patagonia, the experiences of being ice-bound in both polar regions, I claim no first-hand knowledge of these interviews. However, when my own career and work would take me into both the farthest north and farthest south latitudes, I gained a particular affinity and respect for his pioneering efforts.

As a radio communications specialist, I was awed by the knowledge that Cook and his contemporaries had literally been out of touch with civilization in those years before the wireless opened up those desolate ice-sheeted regions. So I naturally sought to reconstruct the Cook experience with my father, and in the process, his account of the original manuscript and its 24-year odyssey to final publication.

The final manuscript was, he said, more than 250,000 words with another 30,000 words in notes. These were delivered after an extension to Doubleday in December 1937, untitled. Then, he said, the publishers "sat on it" and his agent reported in the spring of 1938 that they considered the references to Peary as potentially "libelous." Father was angry, feeling that they had backed out of the original contract on editorial issues in a matter of the geographic controversy.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the son of the President, told Andrew Freeman in 1937 while he could not identify the 'potentially libelous' remarks about Peary, publishing the book would 'embarrass myself and my friends.'  TR, of course, was famous for his 'Bully for Peary' quote.

He called on Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the former President and an editor for Doubleday who had acquired the book from Freeman. He declined to identify the offending "libel" but did offer that by publishing the book, he would embarrass "myself and my friends" (TR was, we may recall, "Bully for Peary").

Then an impasse began. Doubleday would not release my father from his contract unless the advance was returned; he maintained that the publishers had broken the contract. Little Brown was interested, he said, but only if the contract was intact. I am not sure how Doubleday agreed to return the manuscript and release him, but he did tell me that the advance was never returned.  "Some powerful people did not want this book published," he said.  It was not until 1960 that the manuscript was updated and accepted by a smaller publisher, Coward-McCann.  It was published in 1961 as The Case for Doctor Cook.  There was virtually no promotion or advertising, yet there were many positive reviews.

Four years before the book came out, Cook's daughter Helene asked my father to accompany the Gonnason expedition that was to follow Cook's east ridge route to the top of McKinley.  While bad weather forced their return, Gonnason—who had scaled Mount McKinley a decade earlier—asserted that the route was "doable."  I do recall my father relating the verbal and near-physical confrontation he had at that time when Cook's McKinley nemesis Bradford Washburn appeared on the scene.

The story was related in "The Tale of a Wayside Inn" in Sports Illustrated (August 20, 1956) and convinced him all the more that the same "powerful forces" were still out to discredit Cook.  Washburn had high-tailed it from Boston when he received reports of the Gonnason expedition.  It was a fitting sequel to the earlier experience of the apparent suppression of a book favorable to the explorer.

Copyright 2005 - The Frederick A. Cook Society