In 1906, renowned American researcher Robert Peary came back from an unsuccessful endeavor to get to the North Pole with a surprising discovery: He had come across another mainland, an enormous island amidst the Polar Sea, which he called Crocker Land after the supporter of his undertaking. There was just one thing: It was not there.
In his book A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier, historian David Welky reveals the unusual story of one of the world’s biggest discoveries which did not exist—and wonders if the pioneer of American Arctic exploration investigation was responsible of one of world’s greatest lies.
Welky clarifies why indirect proofs made people to think there was another continent, how afterwards one of the travellers on another trip to Crocker Land killed an Eskimo and passed on as an addict, and why Peary’s anecdote about Crocker Land was not discredited until 30 years afterwards.
Crocker Land would be located in the west of Greenland and north of Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. In 1906, Robert Peary made an unsuccessful endeavor to get to the North Pole. He was desperate, so he chose sail toward the west. There was a small piece of unfamiliar land there and he believed, he can travel there and come back with a new revelation. He went west through Ellesmere Island, saw the polar sea and tells what he saw: highlands and valleys, immense scenery stretching through a great part of the view. He returned to America and describes this new discovery in his book on his journey, Nearest the Pole. He called this place Crocker Land after his sponsor in San Francisco, George Crocker, who had donated around $50,000 to collect the crew for the journey from 1905 to 1906. In this manner it was placed on the map. That’s why the maps of the Arctic from 1910-1913 have a small, moon-formed island.
Peary claimed he reached the North Pole in 1909 and afterwards the South Pole was conquered. Crocker Land stayed the last great unexplored place in the world. Scientists searched for other proof from the Arctic, and decided that there was this enormous continent there.
Very little of the world was left undiscovered vy 1910 to 1912 and it became a patriotic mission to conquer Crocker Land for the U.S. Explorer Donald MacMillan continued the work of Peary. He became an explorer in memory of his early deceased father, who was a ship captain.
In the interview for National Geographic, Welky talks about a member of MacMillan’s crew, Fitzhugh Green who was a drug addict and killed an Inuit named Piugaattoq, but was never persecuted for that, because at that time there was no much respect for the natives.
He claims that the discovery of Crocker Land is made up by Peary because he didn’t say anything about it for months after his return, but wrote about it afterwards in his book. He adds that the great explorer couldn’t have mistaken an ice island for a continent and couldn’t have seen a fata morgana. His notes, as well as the notes of his crew also don’t include anything on discovering a new continent.
According to Welky, the people believed this story because it came from an authority on the Artic. In 1938, pilot Isaac Schlossbach flew across the area where Crocker Land was thought to be and found nothing there. On that place is Beaufort Gyre, a huge, spinning current which is separating the currents there.