Here’s A Peek Inside The Super-Elite Club That Counts Elon Musk, James Cameron, And Buzz Aldrin As Members

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A lion shot by Teddy Roosevelt at the Explorers Club’s Manhattan headquarters.

 

World history is full of secret clubs with elite members, like Skull and Bones, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati. Shrouded in mystery, these clubs become the stuff of legend. In a lavish Upper Manhattan townhouse lies the headquarters of similarly legendary, though far less secretive society — The Explorers Club.

Founded in 1904, The Explorers Club is a professional society that serves as a meeting place for explorers, scientists, and just about anyone with an interest in scientific exploration. The Explorers Club funds, promotes, and assists in expeditions around the world, often bringing together business bigwigs like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos with enterprising explorers hell-bent on doing things that no one else has done. Among the club’s current and historical members are astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, film director James Cameron, Space-X founder Elon Musk, President Teddy Roosevelt, and aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Located on the Upper East Side, the Explorers Club operates in a Jacobean townhouse that, in style and extravagance, recalls a miniaturized version of the mansions of old-time robber barons.

Recently, New York City-based Business Insider headed uptown to take a look at the priceless historical artifacts and beautiful architecture the Club has been storing there all these years.

The Explorers Club is located on East 70th Street in Manhattan near Central Park. The house’s Jacobean facade makes it instantly recognizable.

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The Explorers Club headquarters was originally the home of Stephen C. Clark, the heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and founder of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Club member and famous writer Lowell Thomas later bought the house and gifted the property to the club.

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The front sitting room is suffused with history, including many 15th- and 16th-century fixtures from Europe. The wood coffee table was originally a hatch cover on the USC & GS Explorer, a survey ship and research vessel that was one of the few ships to survive the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

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This is the Empress Dowager chair, which belonged to Empress Wanrong, the wife of Puyi, the last emperor of China and the final ruler of the Qing Dynasty.

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The club has numerous artifacts from Robert Peary’s landmark expedition to the North Pole in 1909, including the sealskin mittens of Matthew Henson, Peary’s first mate and the first African-American admitted to the Club in 1937. This is canned malted milk from the expedition.

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Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl used this globe to plan his expedition to sail an indigenous balsa-wood raft from Peru to Polynesia. Heyerdahl received invaluable financial support from club members. While the club has a paltry $125,000 fund for actual expeditions, its real purpose lies in connecting those with means with explorers.

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Heyerdahl wanted his expedition to prove indigenous peoples could have crossed the Pacific before the arrival of Europeans and settled on Polynesian islands. The team landed after a 101-day journey that crossed 4,300 miles. This is a page from Heyerdahl’s diary on the day they found land.

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The townhouse has an ancient elevator. We headed in to check out where the club’s 3,000 members usually meet.

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This is one of two main event rooms in the building. It was once Clarke’s library and has retained that character. The ceiling comes from an Italian monastery.

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This is a painting of Adolphus W. Greely, The Explorers Club’s first president. It depicts Greely’s 1881 expedition to the Arctic, during which ice stranded the explorers for several years (18 of the 24 crew members had died of various causes by the time they were rescued in 1884). Rumors that some crew members engaged in cannibalism haunted Greely.

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This taxidermy polar bear is a favorite attraction. It was a gift from actor Rudolph Valentino, who hunted the animal on the Chukchi Sea in 1969. Press a button and the bear roars.

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This porch on the side of the main event space is stunning. The balustrade on the side was imported from a 15th-century French monastery in the Pyrenees.

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Stones on the patio are dedicated to members. The average age of the club’s 3,000 members is 65, according to Outside Magazine. Not all are scientists, mountaineers, and astronauts; many are simply wealthy travelers.

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The Clark Room is the main meeting room of the club. The Explorers Club maintains 26 chapters (19 in the US, 7 abroad). To become a member, you have to have been involved in field scientific research and have the recommendation of a current member.

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These flags are extremely important to the club’s tradition. Club members who go on expedition apply to carry an Explorers Club flag with them to their destination. In order to do so, they must submit a mini-thesis with the goal of their expedition. The flag on the left is the first draft of the flag. On the right is the second draft, which Roy Chapman Andrews (the model for Indiana Jones) carried across the Gobi Desert in 1925.

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Explorers on the world’s major expeditions have carried these flags: to the top of Mount Everest, the North and South Poles, and the moon. The club has a high-profile relationship with NASA. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin carried this miniature flag of The Explorers Club with them to the moon, and it’s been carried on many Apollo missions.

There are relics of past expeditions everywhere. Robert Peary and Matthew Henson carried this massive sleigh during their expedition to the North Pole.

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The Club also maintains a full archive of every member as well as every flag expedition undertaken by a club member.

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Each member has a file in the archives containing their application, flag reports, news clips, photos, and artifacts they brought back. Club curator Lacey Flint likes to say, “When members are living, they are in the membership office. When they die, they come up here to live with me in the archives.

This is Teddy Roosevelt’s application. By the time the Explorers Club was founded in 1904, Roosevelt was already president.

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The Club’s archives contain a massive collection of photographs from expeditions. In the early 1900s, slide photographs were used to present expeditions back home. There is a photograph of Teddy Roosevelt shows him and his son Kermit (also a Club member; standing on the elephant) during one a hunting expedition in Africa.

The Explorers Club is also home to an extensive collection of rare books, many of which date to the early 1800s.

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The Hall of Fame upstairs is filled with the club’s most notable members.

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In recent years, they’ve welcomed a handful of new high profile members with big ambitions, including Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos and real-life-Tony Stark Elon Musk, whose galactic travel company SpaceX recently hosted an event at the Club. Naturally, one of their full-time employees is a final candidate for the Mars One mission, a select group of volunteers who will make a one-way trek to the Red Planet to live out the rest of their lives. If she makes the cut, here’s betting she’ll be carrying one of their flags there with her.

But while many of the framed faces on the wall are responsible for some truly groundbreaking discoveries and scientific advancements, you might be wondering, what else is there to, well, explore?

 Ted Siouris, seen here above. Inducted as a member in 1995, Siouris is a hunter and an expert in taxidermy who led Supercompressor through the Club’s storied and controversial trophy room.

A successful investment banker in a former life—his early career wins afforded him an early retirement at age 42—Siouris practices ethology (the study of animal behavior) and travels the world on exotic hunting expeditions. Now, at a sprightly 81, he exhibits the energy and enthusiasm of a man 25 years his junior.

The trophy room is a vaulted, stately space on the sixth floor. It resembles a more extravagant, glass-free version of the American Museum of Natural History’s hall of dioramas—one you could have a Scotch and a cigar in without being tasered. It’s covered floor-to-ceiling with a collection of the conquests donated by members over the course of the Club’s history. As a benefactor and instrumental member of the restoration process that the room recently underwent, Siouris shared the stories he knew.

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The Hall of Fame leads to the trophy room, which is filled with artifacts taken while on expedition — including many exotic taxidermy animals.

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“The lion skin comes from Colonel Theodore Roosevelt,” Siouris explained. (Imagine the stir it’d cause today if President Obama brought one of these back from his father’s homeland.)

Because the Club and its artifacts have moved locations a few times over the last 110 years, many of the trophies’ provenances remain a mystery. For instance, the cheetah (pictured below) is of unknown origins. “But it certainly is an iconic thing to have,” says Siouris.

“There’s also a cape buffalo, which is what they call one of the African Big five. It’s unbelievable to hunt, because when they start charging, nothing will stop them. You either kill it, or it will kill you.” When asked what it takes to take down the big guys, he said simply, “You gotta have a big rifle.”

Next to the door you can see the long front tooth of a narwhal, which looks like a tusk.

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These are from a rare four-tusked elephant, the result of a genetic mutation. Armand Denis, a Belgian-born documentary filmmaker and club member, collected the tusks.

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Maintaining a private showcase to animals that been “honored” or “murdered,” depending on your point of view, is a contentious issue in this age of preservation. But Siouris has long defended its legacy, spearheading its restoration and even campaigning to keep it from being removed when an outspoken group of members threatened to put its dissolution to a vote.
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Here’s the tusk of a 250,000-year-old woolly mammoth the club served at its annual dinner in 1951. Reverend Bernard Hubbard, a reputed explorer but not a club member, provided the meat.

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“And the penguin, can’t forget this guy,” continued Siouris, who told us he was “taken” by Edward Sweeney, a three-term president of the club. Not a dangerous beast, per se, but majestic in its newfound empire nonetheless.
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Adorning one of the room’s larger windows is a wooly mammoth tusk. “Obviously, nobody shot that,” Siouris said. But members did dine on mammoth in 1951 when it was served as an appetizer at the storied annual dinner, famous for its unusual cuisine.
In 2013, they had a full 235-pound ostrich that took 6.5 hours to cook—more than your fancy bird burger—along with Madagascar hissing cockroaches that were raised on a farm in New Jersey. Also on a recent menu was martinis with goats’ eyes, a steamed and dried goat penis with honey, and a dessert of strawberries dipped in white chocolates with maggot-sprinkles as garnish. After those choice items, roasted gator complete with teeth, muskrat, and beaver, don’t seem so crazy.
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Teddy Roosevelt shot this lion on one of his many expeditions to Africa. While the club used to have a reputation as big-game hunters (note all the taxidermy in the house), it has since aimed to distance itself from that part of its past. The club has moved towards championing environmentalism and conservation.
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Another highlight is a set of four elephant tusks, tucked away in the right hand corner of the photo above, circa 1936. The tusks came from a single elephant in Africa. “They’re really extraordinary. It’s a real weird thing to develop in nature,” Siouris told us. There were rumors that such an anomaly existed, but it wasn’t confirmed until a local man in Congo came upon the decomposing elephant attached to them. They were, naturally, a hot commodity, and changed hands quite a bit—including those of a Greek ivory trader who wanted them turned into carved totems—before finding a safe home here.
Despite the Club’s long history, traditions, rigorous criteria, and artifact-riddled HQ, it’s definitely not a stuffy exclusive place where dinosaurs gab about the golden days of colonialism. In fact, there’re plenty of ways for the public to get involved. The club hosts events open to the public including a semi-regular dinner and speaker series, featuring guests like Apollo astronauts and photographer and mountaineer Jimmy Chin. This fits with the Club’s agenda to “help clarify the discourse of exploration in the age of advertising and 24/7 media, as the word ‘explore’ has become so saturated,” says Murphy.

The Club has taken measures to increase its outreach in some interesting ways. “We just had a Skype session with students and Fabien Cousteau’s Mission 31 at the bottom of the ocean,” says Murphy. “There’s all sorts of engagement at work on individual and institutional levels to keep membership fresh and current.”

Source:
businessinsider.com

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