CLOSE
Original image
U.S. Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
American myths
arrow

Matthew Henson, the Arctic Explorer Who Stood on Top of the World

August 8, 2016
Original image
U.S. Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The year was 1909—roughly three centuries after the Age of Discovery ended and five decades prior to the Space Race. For explorers of the period, the North Pole represented one of the last untrodden frontiers still up for grabs. Robert Peary ventured into the tundra in February of that year, hoping to beat his competitors to the spot. Upon returning to the U.S., Peary was celebrated as the first man to reach world’s northernmost point, but it was his assistant, an African-American man named Matthew Henson, who many experts now believe deserves the distinction.

Henson was born in Charles County, Maryland on August 8, 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War. His parents—both freeborn sharecroppers—died before they had a chance to see him grow up. Henson found himself orphaned at age 11 and under the care of relatives. With nothing tying him to his home in Washington D.C., at age 13 he set out on his own, trekking 40 miles to Baltimore mostly on foot.

He got his first taste of life on the open ocean as a cabin boy on the Baltimore-based vessel the Katie Hines. The work he did onboard consisted of humble tasks like peeling potatoes, but the ship’s skipper, Captain Childs, saw to it he received a first-class schooling in seamanship. At sea Henson was mentored in math, history, literature, and geography, and at port he was introduced to the cultures of places like Spain, France, North Africa, and China.

Following his voyages on the Katie Hines, Henson eventually returned to Washington D.C., where he accepted a job as a clerk at a hat shop. It was there that he crossed paths with the man who would shape his destiny. Robert Peary met Henson in 1887 as a U.S. Naval officer with fresh dreams of reaching the North Pole. When he entered the shop where Henson worked, looking to sell seal and walrus pelts from a recent expedition to Greenland, it immediately became clear the two were kindred spirits. Peary admired Henson’s experience and enthusiasm, so he hired him to join an upcoming surveying expedition to Nicaragua. Eager to see more of the world, the starry-eyed 21-year-old accepted.

On this trip Henson proved himself an invaluable aide. He used the skills he picked up at sea, like map-making, to help Peary and the crew navigate the Central American jungle over the next two years. At the end of their mission, Henson was among the first men Peary had in mind to accompany him on his next adventure.

After returning to the East Coast—specifically, Philadelphia—just long enough to start a new job as a Navy Yard messenger and marry his first wife, Eva Flint, Henson was preparing to set sail once again. This time the destination was the iced-over tip of Greenland. Robert Peary had grown obsessed with the idea of being the first person to reach the North Pole, and he wasn’t alone. Explorers from the U.S., Italy, and Norway were all clamoring to beat each other in the race to the top of the world.

The team’s initial trip to Greenland was the first of many expeditions into the unforgiving Arctic. With Henson at his side, Peary had a key advantage over his adversaries. Aside from serving as a blacksmith, carpenter, hunter, and dog trainer, Henson was one of the few Arctic explorers and the only member of Peary’s party who took the time to learn the Inuit language. He had a knack for building trust with the local people and quickly adapted to their ways of life. Robert Peary once said of his comrade: "He is a better dog driver and can handle a sledge better than any man living, except some of the best Esquimo [sic] hunters themselves."

It was this rapport with the Inuit and the habits borrowed from their lifestyle that helped Peary and Henson survive in the Arctic for so many years. During that time they seized tons of iron-rich meteorite (not without controversy), mapped Greenland’s ice cap in its entirety, and traveled deeper into the Arctic than any explorer had before them. Unfortunately, Henson’s success up north resulted in the failure of his marriage back home. He married his second wife, Lucy Ross, during a return visit in 1906, but his only son, Anauakaq, was born of an Inuit woman he met during his travels.

After 17 years spent intermittently in the Arctic, there was one goal Peary and Henson had yet to accomplish: setting foot on the North Pole. They launched what would be their eighth and final effort to reach the frozen finish line in the summer of 1908. With the icebreaking vessel the Roosevelt in their command, the crew reached Ellesmere Island at Canada’s northern edge in February 1909. It was the job of 20-odd men to station food and supplies along the route before returning to camp while a smaller group made the full trek to the Pole. That core team included Robert Peary, four Inuits named Ooqueah, Ootah, Egingwah, and Seegloo, and Matthew Henson. "Henson must go all the way," Peary reportedly said while planning the expedition. "I can’t make it there without him."

Matthew Henson (center) and four Inuit guides. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the end, it fell on Henson to lead the party to their target. Peary was incapacitated with frostbitten feet for the final leg of the journey, and Henson filled in for him as he was towed along in a sled. The plan was to let Peary take over at the last minute so he could be the first man to stand at the spot that had occupied his dreams for decades. Unfortunately for him, the team overshot their journey. Not realizing their mistake until it was too late, Henson and two of the Inuit guides arrived at the Pole on April 6, 1909 with Peary still 45 minutes behind them.

When Peary finally caught up, Henson greeted him saying, "I think I'm the first man to sit on top of the world." This did not sit well with Peary. The two remained on strained terms for the duration of their trip. Henson later wrote: "From the time we knew we were at the Pole, Commander Peary scarcely spoke to me [...] It nearly broke my heart that he would rise in the morning and slip away on the homeward trail without rapping on the ice for me, as was the established custom." By the time the two of them made it back home, one of the most successful partnerships in the history of exploration had disintegrated.

The controversy over who deserved of title of first person to reach the North Pole wasn’t limited to the two men. After returning to the States, they learned that another American, Frederick Cook, claimed to have beat them to the pole a year earlier. The photographic evidence Cook used to back up his assertion was eventually discredited, and in 1911 a Congressional Inquiry led to the official recognition of Peary’s achievement. (Today, Peary's claim to have reached the North Pole is still disputed.)

Robert Peary’s legacy would be cemented in history books from that point forward, but due to his skin color, Matthew Henson’s contributions were largely written out of the story. For a time, he struggled to find enough work to support his family. But though he may not have received all the credit he deserved during his lifetime, his feats didn’t go unrecognized. In 1937, he was made an honorary member of the prestigious Explorers Club in New York City. In 1944, he was awarded a Congressional medal, and he was honored by Presidents Truman and Eisenhower during the 1950s. Henson spent the last chapters of his life working at the U.S. Customs Bureau in New York City.

Matthew Henson died on March 9, 1955 at 88 years old. His remains were initially buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, but he's since been laid to rest alongside Robert Peary in Arlington National Cemetery.

Original image
Smart Shopping
arrow
This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
April 30, 2017
Original image

As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers (including Amazon) and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

GADGETS, TOYS, AND MEDIA

Bluetooth Headphones, Hussar Magicbuds Best Wireless Sports Earphones with Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Sound with Bass, Noise Cancelling, Secure Fit, Up to 9 Hours of Play for iPhone Android (Upgraded) for $29.99 (list price $169.99)

Portable Chargers RAVPower 16750mAh External Battery Pack 4.5A Dual USB Output External Phone Charger Battery Bank Power Bank (iSmart 2.0 Technology) for Nintendo Switch, iPhone 7, Galaxy S8 - Black for $27.99 (list price $99.99)

WizGear Universal Air Vent Magnetic Car Mount Holder with Fast Swift-Snap Technology for Smartphones and Mini Tablets, Black for $7.99 (list price $19.99)

Firstbuy Multi Device Bamboo Charging Station Original Electronics Charging Station & Organizer for iPad, iPhone,Tablets, Smartphones &Cords Organizer Stand&Other Gadgets,Strong Build of Eco Bamboo for $23.99 (list price $69.99)

Apple Watch Band, 42mm iWatch Band Strap Premium Vintage Genuine Leather Replacement Watchband with Secure Metal Clasp Buckle for Apple Watch Sport Edition (Black) for $20.99 (list price $28.99)

Syncwire iPhone Charger Lightning Cable 3.3ft -[Apple MFi Certified] Series - Sync & Charging Cord for iPhone 7 Plus 6S Plus 6 Plus SE 5S 5C 5, iPad 2 3 4 Mini Air Pro, iPod -White for $8.99 (list price $20.00)

VicTsing Shower Speaker, Wireless Waterproof Speaker with 5W Drive, Suction Cup, Buit-in Mic, Hands-Free Speakerphone - Army Green for $18.99 (list price $24.99)

LilGadgets CarBuddy Universal Headrest Tablet Mount (For 7"-11" devices such as iPad, Galaxy, Note, Fire, Nook, and Surface tablets) for $15.95 (list price $27.95)

Portable Chargers Intocircuit 11200mAh Power Banks 4.8A Dual USB Output Battery Pack External Battery Bank for Smartphones Tablets - iPhone 7 Plus / 7 / 6s / iPad, Bluetooh Speakers and more, Gray for $15.99 (list price $22.99)

iClever BoostCube 4.8A 24W Dual USB Travel Wall Charger with SmartID Technology, Foldable Plug, White for $10.99 (list price $29.99)

SoundBot SB510 HD Water Proof Bluetooth 3.0 Speaker, Mini Water Resistant Wireless Shower Speaker, Handsfree Portable Speakerphone with Built-in Mic for $14.95 (list price $20.16)

Anker PowerLine+ USB-C to USB 3.0 cable (6ft), High Durability, for USB Type-C Devices Including the new MacBook, ChromeBook Pixel, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nokia N1 Tablet, OnePlus 2 and More for $15.99 (list price $25.99)

Anker PowerCore+ mini, 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger (3rd Generation, Premium Aluminum Power Bank), One of the Most Compact External Batteries for $13.99 (list price $39.99)

Bluetooth Headphones, Hussar Magicbuds Best Wireless Sports Earphones with Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Sound for $26.99 (list price $169.99)

iMuto 20000mAh Portable Charger Compact External Battery Power Pack Power Bank with Smart LED Digital Display and Smart Charge (Black) for $23.99 (list price $29.99)

Trianium Armband For iPhone 7/6/6S Plus, LG G6 G5, Galaxy s8 s7 s6 Edge, Note 5 (fits Otterbox Defender / Lifeproof case) ArmTrek Pro Sport Exercise Running Pouch Key Holder for $12.99 (list price $20.97)

SENSO Bluetooth Headphones Wireless Sports Earphones - w/ Mic, IPX7 Waterproof, HD Stereo Sweatproof Earbuds, for Gym Running Workout, 8 Hour Battery, Noise Cancelling Headsets for $37.97 (list price $169.99)

Anker PowerCore 10400 Portable Charger with PowerIQ for iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy and More (Black) for $29.99 (list price $49.99)

Oliasports Fidget Cube Relieves Stress & Anxiety, Black for $2.50 (list price $29.00)

LEGO Classic Creative Supplement 10693 for $13.99 (list price $19.99)

CardNinja Ultra-slim Self Adhesive Credit Card Wallet for Smartphones, Black for $7.44 (list price $12.99)

KITCHEN

Sandwich Cutter Taidea Best Adorable Animals Pocket Bread Cutter, Hand Tools Sandwich Kit for $9.99 (list price $39.99)

Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill for $34.99 (list price $44.99)

Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $99.99 

Plater Fast Defrosting Tray - Defrost Meat or Frozen Food Quickly Without Electricity, Microwave, Hot Water or Any Other Tools for $18.90 (list price $32.90)

Lodge L9OG3 Cast Iron Round Griddle, Pre-Seasoned, 10.5-inch for $14.29 (list price $24.00)

Lifewit Height Adjustable Pan Pot Organizer Rack, 5-Tier Kitchenware Cookware Holder for $24.99 (list price $49.99)

Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid Food Storage Container, BPA-Free Plastic, 6-Piece Set for $6.18

BlenderBottle Classic Loop Top Shaker Bottle, Clear/Green, 28-Ounce Loop Top for $6.99 (list price $7.99)

Modern Innovations 16 Inch Stainless Steel Magnetic Knife Bar for $16.95 (list price $29.99)

Yummy Sam Lid and Spoon Rest, Utensils Lid Holder in Silver for $8.99 (list price $10.19)

6 Reusable K-Cups - Refillable Stainless Mesh Coffee Filter Pod for Keurig 2.0 and 1.0 Machines by STYDDI for $9.99 (list price $16.99)

Meat Tenderizer By Checkered Chef. Best Hammer/Mallet Tool/Pounder For Tenderizing Steak,Beef And Poultry. Solid Metal Construction With Rubber Comfort Grip Handle. 100% Dishwasher Safe. for $10.87 (list price $19.95)

Fat Ninja Extra Large Roll Up Dish Drying Rack (19.8 x 14in) Over the Sink Stainless Steel Tier Drainer including Set of 2 Microfiber Kitchen Towels for $16.77 (list price $28.99)

Rubbermaid 17.3 Cup FreshWorks Produce Saver Food Storage Container, Large, Green for $11.24 (list price $16.99)

ISSIKI JAPAN Professional 8 Inch Chef's Knife, High Carbon Stainless Steel, Sharp Cutlery, Ergonomic Handlefor $29.99 (list price $125.00)

OXO Good Grips Nylon Potato Masher for Non-Stick Cookware for $6.99 (list price $9.59)

Norpro Honey/Syrup Dispenser for $15.99 (list price $34.35)

Corelle Livingware 12-1/4-Inch Serving Platter, Winter Frost White for $7.97 (list price $13.01)

Bellemain Stainless Steel Measuring Cup Set, 6 Piece for $18.95 (list price $24.95)

Cuisinart CIL22-30HR CastLite Non-Stick Cast Iron Fry Pan with Helper, 12-Inch, Red for $49.95 (list price $62.29)

Culina Fine Mesh Stainless Steel Strainers, Silver, Set of 3 for $7.99 (list price $12.99)

Top Rated Bellemain Cooling Rack - Baking Rack , Chef Quality 12 inch x 17 inch - Tight-Grid Design, Oven Safe, Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan for $11.95 (list price $18.95)

Baker's Secret 1061483 10-by-16-Inch Nonstick Cooling Rack, Set of 2 for $6.00 (list price $19.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Berry Keeper for $7.99 (list price $9.49)

Prepworks by Progressive Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Keeper - 1.9 Quart for $9.96 (list price $11.99)

Oster TSSTTRJBG1 Jelly Bean 2-Slice Toaster, Grey for $29.99 (list price $34.99)

Prepworks by Progressive Lettuce Keeper - 4.7 Quart for $11.99 (list price $12.99)

Norpro Stainless Steel Commercial Potato Ricer for $27.84 (list price $43.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Funnel with Removable Strainer/Filter for Essential/Cooking Oils, Flask Funnel for Transferring of Liquid, Fluid, Dry Ingredients & Powder, 5- Inch,Silver - HOXHA for $9.98 (list price $23.68)

POPCO Silicone Microwave Popcorn Popper with Handles for $9.99 (list price $34.99)

VonShef 7- Egg Electric Cooker Stainless Steel with Poacher & Steamer Attachment for $19.94 (list price $34.99)

ChefLand 3-Compartment Microwave Safe Food Container with Lid/Divided Plate/Bento Box/Lunch Tray with Cover, Black, 10-Pack for $6.78 (list price $19.95)

DRAGONN Zester Grater Sharp Stainless Steel Blade with Black Handle, Safety Cover and Rubber Footings for $9.95 (list price $19.95)

Accuweight Digital Multifunction Food Meat Scale with LCD Display Perfect for Baking Kitchen Cooking, 11lb Capacity by 0.1oz, Tempered Glass surface, Black for $9.49 (list price $49.99)

Best Ice Cube Trays - 2 Large Silicone Pack - 16 Giant 2 Inch Ice Cubes Molds for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

Banana Hook - Ripen Bananas Naturally with Under Cabinet Banana Hanger / Banana Holder. Self-stick and Adheres Under Cabinets. for $6.00 (list price $11.99)

HOME

The Original Hayden Autosoap - Premium Automatic Touchless Soap Dispenser - Fingerprint Resistant Brushed Stainless Steel - Hand Sanitiser compatible - (NEW Waterproof Base!) for $29.00 (list price $69.95)

Organize It All 2-Tier Shelf with Towel Bars (1753W-1) for $14.25 (list price $30.02)

Pregnancy Pillow, Full Body Maternity Pillow w/ Contoured U-Shape by Lavish Home, Back Support for $33.49 (list price $99.99)

AmazonBasics Wood Suit Hangers - 30 Pack, Natural for $20.82 (list price $23.99)

InnoGear IG-100ml-OD Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser for $29.28 (list price $35.43)

VonShef 8 Piece Set 4 x Placemats, 4 x Coasters, Natural Slate for $17.95 (list price $49.99)

Adjustable Heavy Duty Bed Sheet Grippers Holders Cover Suspenders (Set of 4) for $8.99 (list price $11.99)

Mellanni Bed Sheet Set - Brushed Microfiber 1800 Bedding - Wrinkle, Fade, Stain Resistant - Hypoallergenic - 4 Piece (Cal King, White) for $32.70 (list price $59.99)

VonHaus 600W 2-in-1 Corded Upright Stick & Handheld Vacuum Cleaner with HEPA Filtration - Includes Crevice Tool & Brush Accessories for $44.95 (list price $79.99)

AmazonBasics Microfiber Sheet Set - Queen, Dark Grey for $16.98 (list price $19.99)

GORILLA GRIP Rectangle (35-Inch-by-16-Inch) Non-Slip Machine Washable Bath Mat, Blue for $12.99 (list price $29.99)

AcuRite 02081M Weather Station with Jumbo Display & Atomic Clock for $40.01 (list price $49.99)

Ziraki Memory Foam Lumbar Cushion - Premium Lumbar Lower Back Pain Lumbar Pillow, Protect and Soothe Your Back - Improve Your Posture - Soft & Firm Balanced Lumbar Support Pillow for $15.95 (list price $29.99)

Equinox International Queen/Standard Size 17 X 25-Inches Shredded Memory Foam Pillow with Removable Bamboo Soft Pillow Case for $15.95 (list price $39.99)

Royal Classic Kitchen Towels, 15-Pack, 100% Natural Cotton, 14 x 25 inches (15 Pack) for $13.97 (list price $29.99)

HOPDAY Wash Bags, Delicates Mesh laundry Bags, Super Premium Quality Bra lingerie Protection Washing Drying Bag with Rust Proof Flow Zipper, Set of 6 (3 Medium & 3 Large)-Black & White for $9.89 (list price $19.99)

LiBa Mildew Resistant Anti-Bacterial PEVA 8G Shower Curtain Liner, 72x72 Clear - Non Toxic, Eco-Friendly, No Chemical Odor, Rust Proof Grommets for $10.99 (list price $29.99)

Habor Digital Hygrometer Thermometer Indoor Humidity Monitor with Temperature Gauge Humidity Meter for $10.99 (list price $17.99)

Whitmor 6779-3044 Double Rod Freestanding Closet with Steel and Resin Frame, 45.2 by 68-Inch, Silver for $40.16 (list price $47.99)

Lysol Disinfecting Wipes Value Pack, Lemon & Lime Blossom, 240 Wipes (3 Packs of 80 Wipes) for $8.97 (list price $13.99)

NMR 9087 Pink Floyd Dark Side Decorative Poster for $5.37 (list price $8.95)

HEALTH AND BEAUTY

Nerdwax Stop Slipping Glasses as Seen on Shark Tank for $10.99 (list price $14.99)

Doctor's Best High Absorption Magnesium Dietary Supplement, 200 mg per 2 tablets, 240 Tablets for $15.37 (list price $29.99)

Bvlgari By Bvlgari For Men Eau-de-toilette Spray, 3.4 Ounce for $38.77 (list price $88.00)

Colgate Wisp Portable Mini-Brush Max Fresh, Peppermint, 24 Count for $3.41 (list price $7.99)

NIVEA Smooth Daily Moisture Body Lotion 16.9 Fluid Ounce for $4.99 (list price $7.99)

Gardinesca Beard Oil for $12.99 (list price $31.99)

Foot Soak with Tea Tree Oil and Epsom Salt - 20 oz - Tea Tree Essential Oils Foot Bath for $14.95 (list price $21.95)

"Touch Me" Dry Skin Body Brush - Natural Bristle for $6.99 (list price $14.99)

ArtNaturals Aromatherapy Top 8 Essential Oils, 100% Pure of The Highest Quality, Therapeutic Grade for $16.95 (list price $20.00)

Daily Power Scrub Facial Cleanser For Men - 8 OZ - Face Wash + Energizing Toner + Exfoliating Scrub All-In-One - Natural & Certified Organic Ingredients for $24.95 (list price $39.00)

Arabica Coffee Scrub 15 oz, Anjou Body Scrub with Honey, Sea Salt, VB, VE for $8.99 (list price $35.99)

Gillette Fusion5 ProGlide Men’s Razor Blades 8 Refills - Packaging May Vary, Mens Razors / Blades for $29.97 (list price $35.71)

Active Wow Teeth Whitening Charcoal Powder Natural for $24.99 (list price $29.99)

Bed Head Deep Waver for $19.90 (list price $27.99)

Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm, Cherry Me, 0.15 Ounce for $2.79 (list price $4.49)

Gillette Series 3X Action Shave Gel, Sensitive, 7 Ounce (Pack of 6) for $12.48 (list price $23.94)

Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrip Teeth Whitening Kit, Glamorous White, 14 Treatments - Packaging May Vary for $34.40 (list price $44.99)

Philips Norelco Bodygroom Series 7100, BG2040 for $59.95 (list price $69.99)

Tweezerman LTD Stainless Steel Mini Slant Tweezer (Colors May Vary) for $9.19 (list price $14.00)

Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Scrub, 5 Oz for $4.78 (list price $7.69)

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge (2 sponges in each pack) for $8.24 (list price $10.99)

GNC Mega Men Energy & Metabolism Tablets, 90 Count for $9.99 (list price $22.99)

Dial Antibacterial Deodorant Bar Soap, White, 4 Ounce Bars, 10 Count (Pack of 3) for $14.64 (list price $18.93)

Nexcare Absolute Waterproof First Aid Tape, 1-Inch x 5-Yard Roll (Pack of 6) for $20.28 (list price $28.54)

BESTOPE Blackhead Remover Pimple Comedone Extractor Tool Best Acne Removal Kit for $9.99 (list price $19.99)

OFFICE, SCHOOL, AND CRAFTS

Honey-Can-Do TBL-03539 Portable Laptop Lap Desk with Handle, Blue, 23 L x 16 W x 2.5 H for $16.24 (list price $26.99)

MagniViz Magnifying Glass with Light and Stand - Handheld or Hands Free LED Lighted Magnifier (3x) - Bonus Cloth for $8.99 (list price $19.99)

Kate Spade New York "Let's Do Lunch" Business Card Holder for $19.00 (list price $20.00)

SUDEE STILE Colored Pencils 120 Unique Colors (No Duplicates) Art Drawing Colored Pencils Set with Case with Sharpener for $23.99 (list price $95.96)

ALEX Toys Little Hands Ready Set Paste for $6.49 (list price $12.00)

Officemate Designer Paper Clip Dispenser with Heavy Duty Magnet, Clear (93695) for $9.45 (list price $12.18)

ALEX Toys DIY Wear So Many Headbands, 10 headbands for $13.54 (list price $29.50)

Original image
Warner Bros., IStock
History
arrow
When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
April 29, 2017
Original image
Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS