Bushwick’s Lipsius Cook House holds the strange story of an Arctic explorer, an untiring rival, and the fantastical (and fallacious) tales of their journeys to previously unreached parts of the globe.
In 1889, Catharina Lipsius, the widow of one of Brooklyn’s earliest beer brewers, commissioned Theobald Engelhart, a revered German architect at the time, to design the red brick American Round-Arched house at 670-674 Bushwick Avenue.
Though the home has had a myriad of owners since its completion in the late 19th century, its most interesting character was its second owner, physician and explorer Frederick Cook, who purchased the house from the Lipsius family in 1902. Cook became known for his claims that he was the first one to reach the peak of Alaska’s Mount McKinley and the first person to reach the North Pole. Both his expedition team and fellow explorer Robert Peary challenged the truth of his stories. Peary–who claimed that he was the first one to reach the North Pole–devoted most of his life to discrediting Cook’s allegations, which resulted in the financial and social ruin of both men.
Cook tried to defend himself against Peary’s claims, producing photographs and maps from his expeditions. His famous photograph which was allegedly taken from the summit of Mt. McKinley was found to have been taken on a tiny peak–which is now called Fake Peak after Cook’s fallacious claims–about 20 miles away from McKinley. Cook’s maps were also subject to doubt, showing paths matching those of science fiction writer Jules Verne’s fictional Arctic expeditions. Peary and the public continued doubting Cook after it was found that all of Cook’s travelling companions gave different accounts of their trips with him.
Though Peary claimed that he was in fact the first person to reach the North Pole, there was not much proof supporting his story either. Historians continue to debate whether either of them ever actually made it there. Despite Peary’s equally doubtful expedition tales, he successfully discredited Cook and soiled his reputation as an explorer.
As if he wasn’t already surrounded by enough controversy, Cook was found guilty of mail fraud in 1922 and was imprisoned until 1930, which resulted in the loss of his Bushwick home. The property changed hands several times since the 1920s, and has been a multiple resident private property since 2000.