Everyone who’s been to Africa knows that you’d rather be attacked by a lion than a leopard,” says Will Roseman, matter-of-factly. He should know a thing or two about the subject: Roseman was once a bush pilot based in Zaire and is now the executive director of the Explorers Club, an exclusive, international, members-only organization headquartered on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
A portrait of Rough Rider/President Teddy Roosevelt adorns the wall of an upstairs room.
At least as far as we know, though, Roseman’s never found himself in this Animal Kingdom dilemma—he’s actually referring to a predicament faced by the Club’s former president, Carl Akeley, whose scar-faced portrait adorns a wall along one of the headquarters’ dimly lit stairwells. As the story goes, Akeley, sent to Africa on a specimen-collecting expedition for the American Museum of Natural History, found himself face-to-face with a big cat on the prowl. “When the leopard attacked him, he put up his hand, and the leopard bit him,” Roseman calmly recounts. “And then Akeley took his hand and pushed it down the leopard’s throat and choked it to death,” he finishes, as if that’s as pedestrian a feat as making a sandwich.
Table? Civil War era. Tusk? Wooly mammoth.
This tale is just one of many hard-to-imagine (but totally true) anecdotes Roseman tells Made Man throughout our hour-long tour of the Explorers Club. (We’d gotten a glimpse of the place during a screening of Snows of the Nile—a moving climate-change doc set in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains, created by Drs. Neil Losin and Nate Dappen with the help of a $25,000 Dos Equis Stay Thirsty Grant—and returned for a closer look.) Yes, Akeley is the type of guy that the Explorers Club readily invites into its ranks (women started joining in 1981). Founded in 1904, the Club has played host to some of the world’s greatest adventurers, scientists, explorers and deep thinkers. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, newsman Walter Cronkite, war hero Jimmy Doolittle and legendary sherpa Tenzing Norgay, one of the first men to summit Mount Everest, are all on the Club’s wall of fame.
Clockwise from upper left: A commendation to Naval officer Frederick B. Walker for his part in Operation Deep Freeze II, the second U.S. expedition to Antarctica; pieces of airplane cloth from historic flights above a gun used during the failed Ziegler North Pole expedition of 1903-05; a letter from Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell that accompanied flags that went into space; the EC flag James Cameron took to the Marianas Trench.
But Roseman stresses that The Club is more than just a place where Indiana Jones-types can lounge around and drink whiskey out of snifters; real research gets done and actual expeditions get planned on site. For example, Titanic director James Cameron, an EC member, apparently makes blockbuster movies these days to fund his future expeditions, one of which brought him down to the Marianas Trench (he was the second Club member to do so). EC members have also been the first to venture to both the North and South Pole and land on the moon.
Hanging in a stairwell? A supply sledge used by Sir Hubert Wilkins during his 1928 trip around the Arctic Ocean from Point Barrow, Alaska to Norway’s Spitsbergen Island. He was knighted by King George V for the expedition.
The Explorers Club building itself is even a force to be reckoned with. The former home of the endlessly wealthy Clark family, best known for the Singer Sewing Machine, the manse once housed one of the premiere private art collections in the world, which helped seed the Museum of Modern Art and Yale collections. The inside of the edifice, these days, is a museum of sorts, too. A handful of its rooms were fashioned from the innards of an actual British ship and a reconstructed Italian prayer room. Even the table Made Man rested its styrofoam cup of coffee on in the Members Lounge is fashioned from the hatch of the Explorer, one of the lone ships left standing after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
This outdoor terrace comes in handy when hosting large groups of hardy folk.
For those who drool over priceless relics and collectibles, the Club is the equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. One upstairs room is devoted completely to President Roosevelt, featuring original photographs of the man and a priceless oil painting of the president (he slept there when he visited New York). On the top floor lies the Club’s “trophy room,” filled with a menagerie of taxidermied animals, frozen in mid-snarl. Roosevelt himself offed a lion, leopard and cheetah housed there. Standing majestically by a light-filled corner window? A rather imposing sperm whale penis. The room also includes the last king of Haiti’s drums, a wooly mammoth tusk (members found the mammoth frozen in the arctic, brought it back home, and literally ate it for dinner) and Roosevelt’s long table, where he apparently mapped out the Panama Canal. Roseman explains that many of the antiques—save for objects that could easily be robbed—are used daily and indeed, members were meeting at the table during our visit.
Never let it be said that the EC lacks for quality taxidermy.
So, you’re probably wondering when you can come check out this adventurers’ wonderland. It’s not that easy, unfortunately. While the Club hosts a variety of lecture series open to members and their guests, the only type open to all is first-come, first served Public Lectures series. A limited number of tickets are available, priced at $20 a pop for non-members and $5 for students with an ID. So your best bet is to keep your eye on the Club’s calendar for upcoming public events and pounce when the time is right. Or just go on a fantastic adventure that leaves them with no choice but to make you a member. Until then, we hope these images and the video below give you a feel for the magic that lies within…
Spring has sprung, and we are issuing a call to explore new frontiers here on Made Man. Check out Our Guide to Modern Adventure, soak up the inspiration, then get out and blaze your own epic trail.