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Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?

Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?
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When I asked Stafford if he regretted pushing to unseal the Peary records, he was quiet for a long moment.”I guess I do,” he finally said. ”I’m torn between my loyalty to my grandfather, which has been a central part of my life since I was born, and my mature status as a naval historian. I’m torn between having my grandfather’s accomplishments doubted and having the truth on the record, no matter what it is. So it’s a hard call. If I had to do it over again, I might not.”

Robert Peary, Jr., says he isn’t sorry the papers were opened. “It would have happened sooner or later,” he pointed out. “And whenever it happened, somebody would be ready to pounce. No, I don’t feel any remorse about that. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out, there is nothing there that gives absolute proof. These observations could be faked, they could be juggled. It doesn’t mean anything. You have to interpret them by the man who wrote them. And as far as I’m concerned, my father was impeccable.”

The son of the explorer sat in the parlor of his Victorian house in Maine, surrounded by mementos of his father’s career. Six-foot-long narwhal horns leaned casually against a wall near a pair of walrus tusks, and chunks of rock from Cape Columbia, Peary’s jumping-off point for the dash across the Arctic Sea ice, lay on a side table. The explorer’s pianola, along with its original paper music rolls (an eclectic collection, ranging from Gounod’s “Faust” to Peary’s personal favorite, the “Smoky Mokes Cakewalk”) sat in one corner.

Bob, as he chooses to be called, was not quite five years old in July of 1908, when his father sailed away on the specially constructed exploration ship Theodore Roosevelt. “Come back soon, Dad,” the little boy said, a heart-tugging detail that was widely reported at the time and shows up in most of the explorer’s biographies.

“I don’t remember much about the departure,” Bob says now. “The ship’s mascot was a cat, and I was much more interested in that.”

He’s not much interested in the Peary Cook controversy, or any other controversy, and has steadfastly refused to be drawn into it. Partly that’s because few know he is still alive — “Sometimes I wonder myself,” he chuckled — but mostly it is because he has made his own life, outside of his father’s giant shadow.

“I don’t recall that it had any influence on me,” he says of his father’s fame. “I just took it as it came. I didn’t capitalize on it. I didn’t denigrate it.” Like his father, he was a civil engineer. Unlike his father, he has stayed close to home and his wife Inez, and his own son, Robert Peary III. “I never was one to push out in public,” says Bob. “I live a quiet life. I have a loving wife and a happy home, and I don’t know how anybody can be more successful than that.”

The Pearys have many anecdotes that show a gentle, loving side to the great explorer — how he helped young Bob build a pier at Eagle Island and patiently sewed live roses onto a white dress that Jo was to wear to a White House reception. “He was a rare combination of a doer and a dreamer,” Bob said.

I asked him what was the most important lesson his father taught him, and he answered: “Straight, strong, and honest! He used to din that into me. Morally straight, physically strong, and honest!”

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Tim Clark

Author:

Tim Clark

Biography:

Tim Clark has been writing for Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac since 1975. Subjects of his many Yankee profiles have included filmmaker Ken Burns, historian Barbara Tuchman, pediatrician and political activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, and World War II General James Gavin. Tim left his job as Managing Editor in 1999 to teach English at ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. for 13 years, but since retiring from that demanding and rewarding profession in 2012, he has continued to contribute articles and book reviews. Tim lives in Dublin, N.H., two miles from the offices of Yankee Publishing, and serves as Town Moderator, a post previously occupied by Rob Sagendorph, the founder of Yankee Magazine.
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One Response to Did Peary Reach North Pole April 6, 1909?

  1. Katherine Carrigan April 9, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    From the age of 12, I summered on Chebeague Island, where I went to
    sailing camp, and later operated a sailing school. Many times I encircled Eagle Island,
    wishing to learn more about Admiral Peary’s adventures.

    Your fascinating story was most interesting, not that I wanted to dismantle the heroism
    we all felt about him, but to unveil the speculations that have followed his story.

    Well done. Thank you!

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