Exploring The Explorers Club

On October 4th, the Pratt Chapter of The American Library Association organized a tour of The Explorers Club, as well as a discussion with their Archivist and Curator of Research Collections, Lacey Flint. Headquartered at 46 East 70th Street since 1964, the Club occupies the former residence of Stephen C. Clark, an interesting figure among New York museums and history in his own right, and founder of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. While Clark did not have a direct affiliation with The Explorers Club, his tastes in architecture and interior design have certainly shaped its surroundings.

Welcome to the Club

As we ascended a hundred year old staircase and made our way past the mounted Polar Bear, it was clear we had entered a very unique kind of club. Seated before Ms. Flint, in a room lined by various framed expedition flags, our group was treated to a substantial information session about the history of the organization, and her professional responsibilities. Joined at times by other staff members who offered additional insights as they were going about their duties, we also had an opportunity for some Q&A with Ms. Flint following her presentation and throughout the tour.

We learned that Explorers Club flags have been carried to the top of Mt. Everest, and the depths of the Marianas Trench, both the North & South Poles, as well as the surface of the Moon. Since 1918, over 200 flags have accompanied Club members on excursions all over the globe (occasionally beyond) and as I foresee myself eventually working within a museum or similar institution, one of my first questions for Ms. Flint was about the preservation of the flags and other items in her care. Despite being ensconced in the opulent trappings of Madison Avenue, the Club’s collection is curated under relatively austere means, and many of the retired and framed flags surrounding us were in need of conservation care and remounting under appropriate archival glass.

The largest lunar flag was never flown, it remains in a sealed bag from the Apollo 13 mission

Progressing into what was previously the Clark family library, we were again reminded of the Club’s constant need for generating revenue, as they were in the midst of preparing the space for a ticketed event titled Tales from Dark Places. Though the bookshelves were partially obscured by large paintings of cave scenes (and rather ominous ones at that), it was easy enough to imagine a quiet read in the shadow of the fireplace’s massive mantel. What was less easy to imagine was how the family was able to navigate the assembled volumes, as Ms. Flint revealed to us a quirk of their personal cataloging. As opposed to author, title or even year of publication, we were told the books were sorted under broad generalities such as ‘things that fly’, a description that can encompass animals, aircraft and even celestial bodies.

This intriguing classification system brought to mind Finding Augusta, particularly the idea of “similarity” and the TSP. (Cooley, 2014) Viewing the library through the lens of the traveling salesman problem, I could imagine the parallels of trying to most efficiently find your way through the seemingly haphazard collection, while trying to gauge the similarity of subject matter as understood by someone else. Just as ‘Augusta’ could simultaneously describe many disparate things to different people, so did this Clark library lend itself to unique interpretations by those using it.

Just Lion around

Reaching the highest level of The Explorers Club, our group became acquainted with the main showroom, and its large taxidermy collection. Despite the delicate nature of the artifacts, the room housing them is not climate controlled, nor have any countermeasures been implemented as of yet to address ultraviolet degradation from sunlight through the windows. (Though we were told the curtains are kept drawn most of the time) I had recently read “Fundamental Forms of Information” before the tour, and as we learned more about the mounted specimens, a passage immediately came to mind:

. . . structures previously associated with life recede back into their natural, inert forms. Trace information is that information that is degrading from being represented information (encoded or embodied) into being natural information only (neither encoded or embodied). Trace information includes the no-longer-used wasps’ nest, waste heaps, carrion, disintegrating ancient scrolls, and so on.

Bates (2006)
Trace Information?

Even under the best of conditions, (and sadly the Club is far from being able to provide that) these artifacts and the information they contain, can not survive forever. As Bates explains, all organized elements eventually break down into basic patterns of matter and energy, and while organic decay is unfortunate, the loss of life of these animals in the first place is no small tragedy in itself. Though Ms. Flint assured the group that the particular examples on display were the result of scientific research, and not sport hunting, it is never easy to clearly discern the motivation of previous generations, and even a commemorative plaque within the room described the assorted animals as “trophies”.

Thinking back on this risk of complacency with questionable past cultural norms brought to mind a recent reading selection from Robert Jensen. His examination of “neutrality” in GLAM fields points out the potential dangers in accepting the status quo of an institution’s practices. (Jensen, 2006) Looking back on the tour with this additional perspective, I find myself conflicted over The Explorers Club’s taxidermy collection. While the specimens may still possess historic significance and cultural relevance, is their continued display a tacit approval of all the killing necessary for them to exist in the first place?

These shadows of the past can loom large in the ornate corners of the old Clark home, but moral ambiguity was not the exclusive takeaway of the day. Despite some questionable collection priorities, the Club does maintain its dedication to exploring the natural world, and one item in particular struck me as an eloquent overlap of information and exploration.


In this image, an inadvertent “selfie” of Neil Armstrong as captured in the reflection of Buzz Aldrin’s helmet, we see one of the only photographs of the first man to ever step foot on the Moon, and it was accidental! No satellite imaging, no high definition digital recording, not even a particularly captivating pose, just a man with some film in his camera snapping a photo of his coworker. Oh, and they just happen to be 200,000+ miles removed from the face of the Earth at the time. To be on the literal frontier of science, technology and human advancement, at the edge of the Abyss, and to capture it all with the click of a simple, mechanical shutter, it is a remarkable juxtaposition.


Bates, Marcia J. (2006). “Fundamental forms of information” Journal of the American Society for Information and Technology 57(8): 1033–1045. Retrieved from https://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/bates/articles/NatRep_info_11m_050514.html

Cooley, H. R. (2014). Finding Augusta: Habits of Mobility and Governance in the Digital Era. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/pratt/detail.action?docID=1524277

Jensen, Robert. (2006). “The myth of the neutral professional” in Questioning Library Neutrality, ed. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96.

All photos taken by Ian Gregory 10-04-2019 at The Explorers Club https://explorers.org/

Nikola Tesla, Wardenclyffe & The Wireless World System

In his lifetime, Nikola Tesla was overshadowed, and even undermined, by his peers in the field we now refer to as STEM. His creations and theories, however, have endured beyond the twentieth century to significantly influence our modern methods of telecommunication, while his legacy of sensational experiments has come to epitomize what it means to be an innovator in the minds of many around the world. Through his ingenuity, and mastery of the alternating current, Tesla was crucial to ushering in the age of electricity. His advances in power transmission revolutionized the public’s accessibility to energy, light and heat, and paved the way for a host of life-altering conveniences we now take for granted.

Though he recognized the significance of his work, and the great technological strides he was making, Tesla never became complacent in his achievements. His AC motors fed into the development of the powerful Tesla coils, which in turn were the catalyst for his breakthroughs in artificial illumination and X-rays. Those experiments would then spurn him on to his loftiest of aspirations: the wireless transmission of information and power.

While this grand goal ultimately eluded Tesla, his total body of work and overall vision of technological progress is remarkable nonetheless. In the same vein as Jules Verne in the generation before him, and George Orwell in the generation after, Nikola Tesla possessed such a prescient mind that he seemed to know the future. To theorize, and nearly implement, a global wireless network over 100 years ago is an astounding feat, and leaves little wonder as to why so many people have been captivated by his accomplishments.

The Future is Now

It should come as no surprise that scientific endeavors tend to take place in a laboratory, but what is not as well-known is the fact that Tesla’s sole surviving facility is here in New York. Erected near the Atlantic Ocean because of the proximity to England for transmission tests, Wardenclyffe was designed by prominent architect Stanford White (who is also responsible for the Washington Square Arch) and financed by banker J.P. Morgan. Situated 50 miles East of Manhattan, the brick structure was completed in the early years of the twentieth century.

Wardenclyffe Laboratory located on Long Island, in Shoreham, New York

The Tower at Wardenclyffe was a literal apex of Tesla’s imagination and engineering prowess. Though he had achieved success and numerous patents addressing radio wave transmissions, he was not satisfied with mere wireless communication, and became increasingly focused on developing a means of relaying usable electrical power through the atmosphere. This obsession of sorts unfortunately led to Tesla’s professional downfall. Instead of continuing his progress on telecommunications, his affinity for wireless power caused funding to dry up and in only a few short years the laboratory and tower were vacated.

The Tower was destroyed in 1917 under suspicion of involvement in espionage

Though Wardenclyffe was abandoned and neglected for much of the previous century, it has been given a second life as the Tesla Science Center in recent years, and the site earned entry into the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. As a not-for-profit organization, the Center’s mission is to serve as both a museum and practical teaching environment. By preserving the laboratory and legacy of Nikola Tesla, while also hosting local scholastic physics competitions, guest lecturers and community events, the Center honors the historical contributions of its namesake as it strives to enrich the education and development of future generations.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe hosts its Inaugural Gala in 2019

Wireless World System

“As soon as completed, it will be possible for a business man in New York to dictate instructions, and have them instantly appear in type at his office in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up, from his desk, and talk to any telephone subscriber on the globe, without any change whatever in the existing equipment. An inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a watch, will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the speech of a political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other place, however distant. In the same manner any picture, character, drawing or print can be transferred from one to another place. Millions of such instruments can be operated from but one plant of this kind.”

– Nikola Tesla c. 1901

Believing he could tap into the resonant frequencies and conductivity of the Earth itself, Tesla envisioned a system which could relay energy in a myriad of forms around the globe using highly elevated transmission and reception towers. This “cloud” of wireless signals could serve as the conduit for text, images, audio, video and even electrical power for motors or light bulbs, according to his theories. While the funding and feasibility of putting such a network into practice did not materialize before his death in 1943, unfettered access to data and reliable energy is a brass ring we still have not completely reached. Poor wifi reception, drained batteries, dropped calls, broken chargers and network dead-zones are all modern symptoms of the same problem Tesla was attempting to resolve those many decades ago. What thoughts might cross his mind if he were to interact with our latest smart phones? Would he marvel at the quantity of content available? The speed with which he could access it all? Would he be impressed by our “wireless” charging pads or the ability to exchange battery power by simply holding two compatible phones adjacent to each other?

Though the potential of his experimentation was never fully realized, Tesla’s concept of a ‘Wireless World System’ serves both as a rudimentary precursor to our current global networking capabilities, and also as an advancement in technology still worth striving for.

Tesla’s global transmission theories have manifested to a degree in terrestrial cell towers and geosynchronous satellite networks