The Explorers Club, located in New York City, was founded in New York City in 1904 and held its first regular meeting on October 25, 1905. The club’s first location was at 23 West 97th Street in the Studio Building which still stands today and is noted for its style and architect Charles Platt. At present, the club resides at 46 East 70th Street. In 1981, membership rules were changed to allow the general public to participate as members. But in 1936, when Lester Dent became a member, The Explorers Club was an exclusive enterprise of select individuals who walked the danger trail. Membership was relatively small and restricted. Noteworthy members include Admiral Perry, Roald Amundsen, Sir Edmond Hilary, and Neil Armstrong. Of note to Doc Savage fans, the list includes Sir George Hubert Wilkins whose submarine expedition to the North Pole in the submarine Nautilus was a basis in part for the Doc Savage story, The Polar Treasure.
The October 24, 1936 edition of The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune Publication carried an article, Lester Dent Gives Story of his Travels, in which Dent describes his travels across North America and the Caribbean. The timing was nice, for less than three weeks later Lester Dent was elected to The Explorers Club on November 9, 1936. Its address at the time was 10 West 72nd Street. Dent’s home address at this time is shown as 393 West End Avenue, New York, New York, a scant six blocks away from the Club’s offices.
Lester Dent’s application form is an interesting document. Travels listed include the Painted Desert and cliff dwellings in 1932. The next year, 1933, he lists the Yucatan in Mexico where he was collecting Mayan lore and Columbia, South America, the Caribbean Islands, and San Salvador where he was gathering information on pirates and local history. Dent states that in 1936 he was searching for a 14th century Spanish galleon that was associated with Christopher Columbus.
The American Fiction Guild is listed under clubs. There are two entries under education. The first is high school in La Plata, Missouri. The next entry lists Tulsa University Law School in Oklahoma. Lester Dent’s experiment with law school is mentioned in Bigger Than Life by Marilyn Cannady. Dent attended night class but soon dropped out.
The application form contains three signatures of club members. The first is under “proposed by” and George Pond. The next two are under the heading of “seconded by.” One of these persons is J. Allen Dunn. The other is signed Chief of Clannfhearghuis, of Stra-chur and ClannAilpein. The file includes recommendation letters from George Pond and J. Allen Dunn. These are the only two recommendation letters.
George Pond, or perhaps we should use his full name and title, Commander George Richardson Pond cut his teeth on naval aviation. Pond was born in 1897 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1927, Pond was one of the crew involved with experimental flights out to the incoming ocean liner S. S. Leviathan. George Pond and Ceasare Sabelli set off on May 14, 1934 from New York City on a non-stop transatlantic flight to Rome, Italy. They landed early in Ireland due to mechanical problems. Both fliers reported the trip to be their “worst experience” in flying. At one point, Sabelli had to climb out of the cockpit and pump oil into the craft’s engine (The Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 16, 1934). By 1940, Pond was living in Long Beach, California where he was working as a consulting engineer in the aviation industry. Pond died at Long Beach in 1969. Pond’s recommendation letter has an interesting remark where he states Dent is “worthy and well qualified.” The expression is well known in Freemasonry and one of the first requirements of an applicant for acceptance into a lodge. Pond’s obituary states he was a member of the Scottish Rites.
Chief of Clannfhearghuis, of Stra-chur and ClannAilpein is quiet a mouthful. It turns out this fellow was a Scottish chieftain whose name was Seamus Ferguson who was born in 1879 in Poland. Amongst his friends at the Club he was commonly referred to as “The Chief.” According to an article in the January 28, 1936 edition of the Eugene Register-Guard, The Chief wore his hair long and uncut while he attired himself in the traditional highland kilt complete with sporran. The Chief remained associated with The Explorers Club for many more years. He figures prominently in an article about The Club published in The Kansas City Star (June 5, 1955). The March 1983 issue of Explorer’s Journal included an article on The Chief who died in 1931.
Allan Dunn is known as the author of many pulp stories. He was born in England in 1872. His rise in New York society is a little surprising given his past history on the west coast. The San Francisco Call published an article on J. Allan Dunn on June 26, 1913. The articles title does a succinct job of explaining the situation, ALLAN DUNN FLEES FROM OLD HAUNTS Author, After Confessing to Robbing Homes of His Friends Leaves City. Dunn had stolen from his friends and had been caught. Prior to this event, Dunn had been serious player in high society and well respected. He left San Francisco under a cloud and surfaced in New York in 1914. In 1918 he was involved in a greater tragedy when his wife shot and killed their young son during a domestic dispute. The San Francisco Chronicle carried an article (July 29, 1919) with details, the most salacious being that the wife, Gladys Courvoiser-Madden-Lafier-Dunn had been married three times. By 1937, his reputation was so well repaired that he was elected to the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club. This tenure was a short four years as Dunn passed away in 1941.
A membership committee is also listed on the application. Both J. Allan Dunn and Commander Pond were on this committee. But a new name also appears with the appearance of Harrison Forman who was world traveler. Harrison returned from a year-long exploration trip in Tibet in 1933. One of the curiosities mentioned by Forman is his believe in a mountain peak that exceeds Mount Everest in height according to an article in the Tipton Tribute dated June 23, 1933. Forman’s name appeared across newspapers in November 1936 with an article detailing plans for his second expedition into Tibet (Lincoln Evening Journal, November 18, 1936). Harrison Forman went to meet and interview many notable people in the world such as Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai. Forman died in 1979 at age 74. He left behind an impressive collection of papers which are housed in two different collections. One is the Northwest Digital Archive and the other is the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
Dent was elected to membership in The Explorers Club on November 9, 1936. By the time World War II started in earnest for the United States, Dent has sold his schooner, the Albatross, and had returned to Missouri where he was busy building a new home. He became more of a business man and less an adventurer and explorer. The Explorers Club purged Dent from the roll in 1948 for nonpayment of annual dues. One cannot help but wonder if Lester Dent saw the 1955 Explorers Club article in The Kansas City Star and if so, what thoughts and emotions it would have evoked.
Ms. Mary French serves as Curator of Archives, Collections and Books for The Explorers Club. This article would not have been possible without her help and assistance.