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Inside Atlas Obscura’s All-Night Adventure at the Explorers Club

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A midnight peek into the Trophy Room of the New York City Explorers Club. (All photos: Steve Acres for Atlas Obscura)

On February 5, Atlas Obscura hosted guests at the Explorers Club, an international society and private clubhouse founded in 1904. A select group of attendees had the chance to wander the same halls and peruse the expansive collections of the club’s many illustrious members as part of the first ever overnight event for both the Explorers Club and Atlas Obscura. Guests gathered at 9 p.m. on Friday evening and departed at 9 a.m. the following morning.

Passing through different rooms and exhibits, the 50 guests had the chance to pore over such items as Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki Globe, a yeti scalp, a stuffed whale penis, Teddy Roosevelt’s membership application (in which he casually lists U.S. President under ‘Positions Held’) and the Explorers Club flag that was carried to the moon by astronauts onboard Apollo 11.

Throughout the evening, guests attended talks, tours, and film screenings led by all manners of adventurers. Arctic explorer Christine Dennison gave a presentation with her husband, acclaimed ocean explorer Tim Taylor, about a sunken World War II submarine they located using an underwater robot; space science strategist Kellie Gerardi spoke about her time spent in isolation at the Mars Desert Research Station and her work in promoting space travel; while New York Times journalist Nicholas Kulish talked about what it was like reporting off-the-grid in the world’s youngest country: South Sudan. 

Guests mingled in the main lounge of the club. That wooden table was actually built from a hatch cover for the USS Explorer, one of only a few ships to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In an expansive chamber known as the Trophy Room, guests came face to snout with taxidermic animals from lions to narwhals, many of them the work of naturalist Carl Akeley, the father of modern taxidermy. From there, they could crawl into a tent lined with furs, and tune into Yeti Dreamscape, an immersive installation featuring footage from Edmund Hillary’s quest to find a mythological creature.

Drinks and foodstuffs were served, stories were shared, and curiosity was sated. One could sip wine and wander about the plushly carpeted floors, admiring the building’s ornate woodwork and the oil paintings lining the six flights of stairs. At 3 a.m, guests tried some of the Explorers Club special scotch; right afterward Atlas Obscura staffers led attendees in a rousing trivia hour devoted to historic expeditions. Throughout the evening, drowsy guests took naps on mattresses provided by Oso Mattress. Most people, however, were still awake at 5 a.m, and a good number of the guests persevered until breakfast.

It’s not easy to become a member of this prestigious club—past members include the first explorers to visit the North and South Poles, highest and lowest points on earth, and the Moon. But for one night, a handful of inquisitive folks were able to share in their captivating sense of discovery.

Guests look up into the towering wooden staircase of the clubhouse building.

Adventure is out there! In this case, 12 straight hours of it right in the heart of Manhattan.

Explorers Club archivist Lacey Flint shares rare objects from the Club’s collections in the Roosevelt Room.

Atlas Obscura provided each guest with a booklet of intriguing objects held at the Explorers Club, such as the double-tusked elephant skull.

Libations might be considered another type of exploration.

Guests at the event ranged in age from their early 20s to their late 70s. You’d be surprised which ones lasted longer.

This pair of guests donned matching outfits for the evening in the spirit of adventure (the man shared that his coat was a $45 thrift shop find).

Johnnie Walker, Explorers’ Club Collection: Who doesn’t want to take a stroll down “The Spice Road”?

Arctic explorer and Explorers Club Fellow Christine Dennison spoke about being the first woman to scuba in the waters of the Northwest Passage and the Amazon’s Rio Negro. She now leads expeditions to the most remote corners of the world with her company Mad Dog Expeditions

The globe that club member Thor Heyerdahl used to plan his 1947 trip to Polynesia on the wooden Kon-Tiki raft.

Atlas Obscura staff writer Eric Grundhauser hosted an explorer trivia hour at 3 a.m.

The miniature Explorers Club flag taken to the moon aboard Apollo 11 in 1969.

Throughout the night, guests never stopped asking questions.

A gramophone belonging to antique phonograph DJ MAC, who plays music of the 1910s and 1920s.

Inuit mittens used by Matthew Henson on his 1906 North Pole expedition, a leather whip belonging to Roy Chapman Andrews, and other objects one might want to take on a dangerous adventure.

The rooms of the clubhouse are filled with all sorts of curious objects you’ve probably never seen before.

For those who made it through all 12 hours of the event, comfy mattresses allowed for much needed naps.