I came across mention of THE EXPLORERS’ CLUB while reading Lives in Ruins by Marilyn Johnson. Don’t be put off by the title. It’s a great book about the culture and psyche of archaeology, and its pun-o-zonian title (made that word up, by the way) is right on the mark for a great commentary on the lives of archeologists and what drives them.
I admit the whole idea of an explorers club draws up images of Phileas Fogg and the Reform Club as he is about to start his journey to circumvent the globe in 80 days (check out Jules Verne).
For others it may be Indiana Jones. Note. Ms. Johnson in her book comments on the Indiana Jones’s effect and a generation that went into the field fully understanding they wouldn’t be dodging NAZIs but “…crouching in a fetid hole and teasing out bits of ancient garbage had nowhere near the enchantment of snatching glittering artifacts…” She makes it abundantly clear that no one deluded themselves.
However, as much as I love the allure of fiction THE EXPLORERS’S CLUB is based on fact. This Upper East Side town house hosted generations of mountain climbers, divers, astronauts, and explorers.
It has just what you expect: archives, map rooms, and trophy rooms with photographs of such people as Thor Heyerdahl, Buss Aldrin, and Ernest Shackleton. Yes, there is a bar.
It is a snapshot in time…maybe a bit dated, and certainly not very politically correct with the stuffed animals on the wall, but considering it is a snapshot to the founders and particularly Teddy Roosevelt it should not be a surprise.
Wait…wait..of course…how could I forget the Narwhale tusk over the bar.
Not many cities in the U.S. have places like this (in Europe I imagine the numbers to be higher). In Chicago, I would volunteer THE ORIENTAL MUSEUM at the University of Chicago. The stones are cut with Art Deco images of past civilizations, motifs and nods to the past that say: “There be ‘history’ here!” The marbled interior, cool in summer and echo ridden, is a snapshot as well. You could imagine a bespectacled Indiana Jones leading a group of undergrads from room to room. Oh, and by the way…the only thing ‘stuffed’ is the mummies.