The Explorers Club


By Trevor Hale

I’m looking at a giant elephant phallus (I say “giant” but, for all I know, it could be average-sized, or small as far as elephant phalluses go…). It looks like a long, thin wasp nest, or an inappropriate paper mache prop for a Birmingham Zoo fundraiser.

Just below in a glass case is a scalp of a Yeti, the Sherpa name for an abominable snowman (an “alternative fact” Yeti scalp it turns out, debunked by Edmund Hillary).

I’m in the Trophy Room on the 4th floor of the world-famous Explorers Club on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. A tusk of a giant wholly mammoth hangs above, a walrus head is staring at me from a wall mount, and various animal skins are on display. Very Hemingway, in a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen way. Whiskey, straight up, please.

I never made it to The Explorers Club when living in Manhattan, and upon applying to join the Hong Kong chapter, I finally made it during a recent trip. And what a trip it is!

The club was started by like-minded explorers in 1904, the same year Vulcan made his debut at the St. Louis World’s Fair. More than simply a place that smells of mahogany and is filled with leather-bound books, The Explorers Club is dedicated to science and exploration and honors the unquenchable curiosity and sense of adventure epitomized by some of its prominent members, including: Neil Armstrong, Sir Edmund Hillary and John Glenn.

The list of famous firsts of its members is mind-boggling. First to reach the North Pole? Members Robert Peary, Matthew Henson, and Inuit guide Ootah did it in 1909. The South Pole? Robert Amundsen in 1911, of course. The tallest summit on the planet? You’ve heard of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay and their Everest summit in 1953. The list is as long as it is impressive.

I’m treated to a private tour of the archives where I see a frame with a photo of an astronaut and a tiny red and blue flag. This is the Explorers Club flag, and versions of it have been carried on many legendary expeditions. There are 202 active flags which accompany expeditions, adding to their history with every trip. A handful of the more famous flags are retired. The frame holds a miniature flag that was carried by Neil Armstrong, together with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins when they landed on the moon July 20, 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 flight.

There is a letter mounted on the wall from astronaut Jim Lovell, apologizing for not making it to the moon during the Apollo 13 flight, along with the flag still wrapped in plastic for the space voyage. I pose with a flag on the wall which was carried to the top of Mount Everest, and subsequently taken to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench by member James Cameron.

Back in the archives, we’re looking at the compass and seal skin gloves used by Henry Shackleton, who, after having to abandon ship in the Antarctic in 1914, kept his crew alive for almost three years before they made their way to safety on lifeboats. There is a wax cylinder played on an old phonograph of Shackleton’s voice as he describes the expedition.

There are artifacts from Roy Chapman Andrews, the archaeologist said to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones. He led a famous expedition in the Gobi desert discovering the first fossilized dinosaur eggs, before becoming a curator for the Museum of Natural History.

Cool level = Monster Badassery!

Who among us hasn’t yearned to be such to join the ranks of these explorers? Talk about #squadgoals!

Turns out, membership doesn’t require that you’ve scaled Everest or been to the moon. You simply need to have a sense of curiosity and some history (or willingness) to explore for science and discovery. Doing some environmental research on the Cahaba River may qualify, I don’t know.

I’ve applied based on some of the trips I’ve taken and many I’ve written about in B-Metro. I’ll let you know if I’m accepted. And if so, the first round is on me in the Members Lounge

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