Highlights From the Forum
August 22, 1998 through August 30, 1998
>The only other alleged (and it is VERY shaky) inflight message was
Do we know who on Nauru is supposed to have heard this message? I’d really rather not have to dig into Goerner’s book!
You’ll find the reference on page 318 of Goerner’s book. It is April 6, 1965. Goerner is at the Office of Naval Information at the Pentagon in Washington to look at the U.S. Navy’s classified (at that time) file on Earhart. Goerner has seen the file previously but he wants to see it again. With him is Ross Game, whom he describes earlier in the book (page 220) as “editor of the Napa (California) Register and secretary of the Associated Press.”
Fred Goerner provided more information in a letter to a TIGHAR member dated April 18, 1989:
There you have it. On the one hand it seems incredible that the file would have been tampered with prior to its release, especially since the Navy had nothing to hide. On the other hand, I know that the officials who had to deal with Goerner and his allegations considered him to be a royal pain in the butt, and the temptation to let one slip of paper – a probably-erroneous message that only seemed to add fuel to the conspiracy fires – accidentally fall out of the file would be great. Especially if Fred’s allegation is true that Ross Game’s notes were identical to his own, it’s hard for me to believe that the piece of paper was not there. Whether or not it was a genuine transmission by Earhart is another question. If it was, it just happens to fit very nicely into the Nikumaroro hypothesis.
Love to mother,
Tom of Ossian writes:
>What!! Do you mean there AREN’T crates of historic stuff in musty old warehouses in D.C., just waiting to be rediscovered?
OK, it’s a bit off-point, but: two stories.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and Noonan’s sextant were all cohabiting in a government warehouse somewhere.
Over this past weekend Tom King and I developed a new hypothesis about where Gallagher found the castaway campsite (bones, shoe sole, sextant box, campfire, etc.). It seems to explain a lot of things that have been troubling us and we’re pretty excited about it. We also know that a researcher with a new hypothesis is like a teenage boy with a new girlfriend. You have to get out of the back seat, take her to the dance and find out what she’s like in public. So here she is.
This is going to be a long post. Bear with me.
Ever since the discovery of the Tarawa File (aka Gallagher Papers) in the late spring of 1997, we have thought that the site described by Gallagher was most likely the same site where we found the shoe parts in 1991 and the campfire (with label fragment) earlier in 1997. This did not require a great leap of faith. Gallagher said that the site was near the lagoon shore on the “southeastern corner” of the island. Depending upon how loosely you define “corner”, our site fit that description. Gallagher said that it was an area scheduled for clearing. We know that our site was cleared about that time. Gallagher described finding part of the sole of a woman’s “stoutish walking shoe.” We found the same thing. Gallagher said there was a fire there. We found a fire.
But if this was, indeed, the castaway campsite, why have we not found more artifacts or bones despite intensive searching? And if the fire turns out to be modern rather than old, as we now suspect, how does that fit? And isn’t it perhaps just too much of a coincidence that we should originally stumble upon the campsite in the course of an investigation of a feature (the baby grave) which turns out to have nothing to do with anything? And what if Gallagher was speaking specifically instead of generally when he said “southeastern corner?”
On August 29, 1998 Tom dropped me an email which launched one of those back-and-forth brainstorming sessions which can produce revelation or compost. Here’s how it went.
From Tom King
I had a sudden thought in the night (I do, from time to time).
Niku is an atoll of sorts, but it’s an unusual atoll in that the land around the lagoon is almost continuous. Most atolls are made up of multiple small islands separated by more or less submerged reef, around the fringe of a subsided mountain.
If one were thinking of Niku overall as an atoll, rather than as a single unitary island, then one would think of it as made up of two islands – one comprising Nutiran, Taraia, Aukaraime north and south, and Ameriki; the other comprising Ritiati, Noriti, and Tekebeia. The southeast end of the latter would be Tekebeia, east of Baureke Passage. I wonder how Gallagher would have thought of it.
And just to add interest, it’s the promontory at the west end of Tekibeia that we think was the site of the "Ghost Maneaba," where Nei Manganibuka was allegedly sighted early in the colony’s days. John, Veryl, LeRoy and I took a fairly close look at this promontory in ’89, but we are unlikely to have detected anything as ephemeral as a campfire or bone scatter. Farther to the east, as I recall (though I’ll have to dig out the maps), it was wall-to-wall Scaevola and we didn’t look at it too closely.
Food for thought....
Here I need to insert a little explanation about Nei Manganibuka. She is the Gilbertese ancestor/spirit who is the guardian of Nikumaroro. At some time soon after the island was first settled, the wife of Teng (Mr.) Koata, the Native Magistrate, had an encounter with the goddess. Here is how the event was described by Paul B. Laxton, the post-war District Commissioner who spent several months on Niku in 1949:
“The wife of Teng Koata, the first island leader, had been walking one afternoon and saw a great and perfect maneaba, and sitting under it's high thatched roof, Nei Manganibuka, a tall fair woman with long dark hair falling to the ground about her, with two children: she conversed with three ancients, talking of her island of Nikumaroro, and its happy future when it would surely grow to support thousands of inhabitants.”
(A maneaba is a communal meeting house and is the central feature of a Gilbertese village.)
Ric to Tom
Well, you did it again. You got me thinking and looking into things and I found something kind of interesting. See what you think. ...
What really strikes me after reading your theory that the Ghost Maneaba promontory at “the southeastern corner of the island” may be the spot Gallagher is talking about is that this feature appears on the New Zealand survey map as “Kanawa Point.” This rather clearly implies that there was a Kanawa tree or trees at that location in late ’38/early ’39. Kanawa is rare and valuable wood. Gallagher, on 27 December 1940, says that the coffin built to convey the bones to Fiji “is made from a local wood known as ‘kanawa’ and the tree was, until a year ago, growing on the edge of the lagoon, not very far from the spot where the deceased was found.” December of ’39 sounds a bit early for clearing operations to be underway down on Aukaraime, but if Kanawa trees are rare and highly prized, that could draw people to that place.
I think we need to re-examine Gallagher’s description of the site with the Ghost Maneaba promontory in mind.
Love to mother,
Tom to Ric
My, my, my.
Remember, too, Laxton’s note about the fish pond close to the Ghost Maneaba. Maybe a good place to camp.....?
And didn’t Laxton also say that Kanawa was used to build the furniture in the Rest House? Ergo, people might have been visiting Kanawa Point during the Rest House construction, which was prior to Gallagher’s arrival, no? Or about the time the skull was found and buried?
I knew there was SOME reason I had a print made of that site, and have had it hanging on my wall all these years. Not that you can see anything but Level 2 Scaevola, but it’s the symbolism, don’t y’know?
But – do we have anything that would suggest whether Gallagher and the Gilbertese thought of Niku as one island or two?
And of course, if Kanawa Point is the bones site, what the hell is Aukaraime South?
Ric to Tom
Check out Laxton’s description of the peninsula where Mrs. Koata saw the Ghost Maneaba (page 150 of his journal article). On either side are big pools where fish are trapped at low tide and frigates (or Gilbertese) come to get them. If you were marooned and needed easy to catch food, where would YOU camp?
The question is, which peninsula is he talking about? The skinny little one that runs parallel to the shore line or the larger one just beyond which goes out into the lagoon? Which one did you visit in ’89? The skinny one was part of the area partitioned in Laxton’s land allotments. The larger one wasn’t.
I also suspect that the location of the Ghost Maneaba may also be “Niurabo,” the place on the island where Manganibuka was said to live (according to Risasi on Funafuti).
Tom to Ric
We were never sure which peninsula Laxton was referring to, but we figured it was probably the fat one, because it’s the one that has pools (coves, really) on either side. That’s where we went in the tinny, poking about in the western cove thinking there might be a nice pile of bones there. It was one of the last things we did on the island in ’89, and was very much a disconsolate walkabout, hoping for serendipity. I don’t recall that we could even distinguish the skinny one from the lagoon side, and the landward side was about Level 9 Scaevola – that’s where Bill, Jessica and I almost bought the farm and achieved videographic fame, trying to cut in from the other side.
Ric to Tom
Okay, we agree that the feature marked on the Kiwi map as Kanawa Point is probably the place where Mrs. Koata met Manganibuka at the Ghost Maneaba. It may also be the place called “Niurabo.”
We agree that Kanawa Point, because it is on the “South East corner of island” (if Niku is two islands), could fit Gallagher’s description of the bone site.
We note that the flanking fish ponds would make Kanawa Point a good place to camp.
There is an obvious Kanawa Konnection between the Kiwi name for the feature and Gallagher’s statement that there was a Kanawa tree on the lagoon shore near the bone site. How significant this is depends upon how common Kanawa trees really are (or were) on Niku. Maybe we should find out just what the hell a Kanawa tree is.
We seem to have adequate reason to suggest that Gallagher’s bone site, Kanawa Point, and the Ghost Maneaba site (Niurabo?) are all the same place. What is the chronology of these three encounters with this site?
The Kiwi naming certainly came first. They left before the first women arrived. It seems logical to suggest that the presence of a Kanawa tree on the shore was unique enough to prompt that name for that point of land.
We don’t know just when Teng Koata’s wife showed up, but because he was the island honcho it seems likely that she was one of the first wives to come to the island. At any rate, it seems safe to say that she was there well before Irish took up residence in September of 1940. That raises the possibility (if not probability) that the Ghost Maneaba incident happened prior to Gallagher’s arrival.
If so, what are the chances that the harvesting of the Kanawa tree from which the bone coffin was eventually made (circa December 1939), the discovery and burial of the skull (about the same time), and Mrs. Koata’s close encounter of the third kind (date unknown), are completely unrelated? Right. Now we have to look closely at some hardcore folklore – the Ghost Maneaba incident.
Laxton – “The wife of Teng Koata, the first island leader, had been walking one afternoon and saw a great and perfect maneaba, and sitting under it’s high thatched roof, Nei Manganibuka, a tall fair woman with long dark hair falling to the ground about her, with two children: she conversed with three ancients, talking of her island of Nikumaroro, and its happy future when it would surely grow to support thousands of inhabitants.”
Let’s start from the assumption that something happened – that this woman did not simply fabricate this story out of whole cloth. Note that Mrs. Koata does not speak or interact directly in any way with Manganibuka. She is strictly an observer. I get the feeling that she’s peeking through the bushes. She is “walking one afternoon” and comes upon something that probably scares the bejesus out of her. Reduced to its most basic elements, removing as much interpretation as possible, she sees a female human figure sitting on the round under a shelter. This is not a fellow islander because the person looks dramatically different from a Gilbertese (a tall fair woman with long dark hair falling to the ground about her). With her are two figures which Mrs. Koata interprets to be children. She is alive because she is conversing with “three ancients” (whatever the hell that means). Confronted by such an apparition, Mrs. Koata quite naturally puts it into a context that makes it understandable. But what did she really see?
I've avoided this as long as I can. Here goes. Of all the creatures that Mrs. Koata could have seen, she describes something that could be a completely ’round-the-bend Amelia Earhart. She is female, tall, fair-skinned, with long dark hair. She sits on the ground under a make-shift shelter in a good camping spot and babbles.
There, I’ve said it and I’m glad.
Tom to Ric
Well, OK, let’s say Mrs. Koata does see Amelia alive. What happens then? How do we get from there to the bones and the shoes? It’s a great story, but ...
One thing I'm noticing reading I Kiribati oral traditions is that there’s a lot of shape-shifting that goes on, particularly between bones and folks. Somebody’s killed and burned and his bones stuck in a clamshell (these are little people) and they come back to life and climb out and zap people with lightning. Stuff like that. I wonder If Mrs. Koata doesn’t have her vision after Koata and Co. find the skull, as some way of accounting for the thing and making everybody feel better about having come on the bod. Not as romantic, but it’s got its charm.
And what about the fact that it’s Koata who has the Benedictine bottle?
We definitely need to find out about Kanawa. We also probably ought to find Grimble’s story about Koata, that Maude mentioned.
Ric to Tom
Last night I reviewed the videotape Dirk made in the Solomons. An old woman named Erenite Kiron told him a story about a ghost. Ms. Kiron does not speak English. Her comments are paraphrased by a barely-audible off-camera interpreter who doesn’t speak much English either.
My interpretation of what she’s saying is based partly on the translator’s paraphrasing, the gestures she makes, and names I think can pick out of her testimony.
She says that there is a place on the island called Niurabo. When people go there they see the ghost of a fair-skinned woman who is wearing a grass skirt that comes up over her breasts. When you get close to this ghost her face goes blank. Ms. Kiron never saw this ghost herself but she heard about it from a woman who did. Her name was Koata. (If I’m correct about the names, she pronounces Niurabo as niuRABo, very much swallowing the final o. Koata comes out koaTA.)
No mention of Manganibuka or a ghost maneaba, etc. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about answering questions from this I-Matang and the interpreter edits out the name Koata. I wonder what else he edits out. I'd like to have this tape looked at by someone who is really fluent in Gilbertese.
Your idea that Mrs. Koata’s encounter was more of a vision to help explain the disturbing discoveries at that site, rather than an actual encounter, would sure simplify things. The fact that Koata had the bottle may or may not be significant. He was head man on the island and might naturally be expected to have custody of an important object. What is interesting, come to think of it, is that the bottle was apparently seen as worth saving even before Gallagher arrives on the scene.
I can imagine these guys working on clearing and exploring this neat new island that even has kanawa trees, and then they find this damn skull. This is not good. At the very least it means there is a ghost loose on the island. They bury the skull (as damage control) but they stay the hell away from the place where it was found. Koata does, however, keep the bottle that was found at the same time. Once the skull is buried, the bottle serves as proof of this amazing and disturbing event. I can also imagine that everyone is less than thrilled when Gallagher insists that they go back and look for more stuff, and then the idiot wants to dig up the skull. (I’d like to have a transcript of THAT conversation.) It just occurred to me that Koata is not there when the bone search/skull exhumation is going on. He’s in Tarawa (for whatever reason).
I keep coming back to the question of chronology. Where does Mrs. Koata’s encounter fit into the sequence of events?
Tom to Ric
I’ll bet Koata kept the bottle because it was a neat bottle. Reminds me of Pat’s Chuukese “father,” Katin – a guy very much like Koata in rank, knowledge, etc. – who came to us after we’d excavated six bodies of his quite direct ancestors, buried in the ’30s when he was a young man, and asked if he could have the nice knife sharpener we’d found with one of them. Everybody had been highly respectful of the dead, and the whole village was on edge about ghosts, but here was old Katin, the most powerful traditional knowledge bearer in much of the Lagoon, wanting to ghoul the whetstone. Island logic ain’t our logic.
Your scenario makes a lot of sense. I wonder if Koata’s departure for Tarawa with the bottle triggered the recovery of the skull. “Koata sure is attached to that bottle,” Gallagher comments to someone as the Nei Manganibuka takes the last load out to the ship. “Yes,” the other guy says; “that’s the one he found with that skull.” “That WHAT?” asks Gallagher, and the game is afoot. You know, maybe this is why whatsisname, Gallagher’s erstwhile assistant and translator, didn’t know anything about the bones. Maybe he was on the same trip to Tarawa, and when he got back, mum was the word. That’s always troubled me.
Ric to Tom
Looking more closely at the map produced from the Kiwi survey, I note that patches of vegetation are annotated as to their make-up: “Puka (sic) trees,” “scattered patches of Mao and Ren scrub,” etc.
In only one location on the entire island is their a notation mentioning Kanawa. It is on the “Kanawa Point” peninsula and it says “Kanawa trees (valuable hard wood).” The notation at our Aukaraime site is “Puka trees.”
Gallagher makes a big deal of the Kanawa wood coffin in his 27 December letter and in his 11 February conciliatory wire to Isaac he offers (and then apparently changes his mind and crosses out the offer) to make him “a little tea table – we have a little seasoned timber left.” Kanawa wood seems to be very rare and highly prized. When the Kiwis are there in late ’38/early ’39 there appears to be a grove of Kanawa on that peninsula. By February of ’41 “we have a little seasoned timber left.” Sounds like the Gilbertese really went after the stuff.
I think that Gallagher’s mention of the Kanawa tree is the key to this thing. The settlers arrive in early ’39. They soon discover that there’s a grove of Kanawa on the island and they start harvesting it. As Kilts says, “They were about through” when the skull was found in late 1939.
How and when Mrs. Koata’s encounter with Manganibuka (and the consequent sanctification of the place as Niurabo) fit in, I don’t know. But I’m beginning to think that we’re really on to something here.
We still, of course, have a very interesting shoe and a maybe old/maybe new campfire down on Aukaraime – and little else despite some pretty intense coverage of the immediate area. We’ve already postulated an exploratory expedition ’round the atoll by Fred and AE. Bevington has told of seeing a place on Aukaraime where someone had bivouacked for the night, but he didn’t see any bones or sextant boxes. Maybe they stopped there for the night, left their shoes to dry by the fire (if it turns out to be an old fire) and woke up to discover that they had left the shoes too close to the fire. Good thing they have a second pair with them (we know Amelia had another pair on the trip).
They continue along and find Kanawa Point, probably a gorgeous spot in those days. A grove of shady hardwood trees wafted by lagoon breezes, and easy fishing in the bordering tidal pools. Spins my prop.
Tom to Ric
Spins mine, too. And if I can just lay my hands on the ’78 Kiribati biological survey, I'll bet it identifies Kanawa.
Ric to Tom
Don’t bet on it. I have a sneaking suspicion that Kanawa was completely eradicated through exploitation. The 1964 biological survey written by Roger Clapp (Niku Source Book, Section 2, Item 14) catalogs lots of different types of trees and plants, but nothing that sounds at all like Kanawa.
That’s where we are at this point.
Your comments are welcome.
Love to mother,
When I read this yesterday it made my hair stand on end... for more than one reason.
The most obvious reason, of course, is – could AE have actually survived this long? And if she did, how long did she live after the “encounter”?
The second is, the behavior described is eerily similar to that shown by some Alzheimer’s Disease sufferers. I have seen such people take objects out of a garage – for instance, a bale of yellow insulation – and put them down outside; then, later, introduce visitors to “this lady in a yellow dress” or “this blonde lady, I’m sorry but I don’t know her name, but I want you to meet my friend...”
Perhaps, if this “ghost” was AE, she was suffering in a like manner. She may have even made crude statues of children, just to have someone to talk to! Yes, 42 years of age is way young to be afflicted with Alzheimer’s, under normal circumstances... but this was hardly normal.
Of course it may not have been Alzheimer’s but a form of dementia... some of the symptoms are similar.
Is there a history in AE’s family of either disease? Might be interesting to know this.
Think on this. It may be less far fetched than one might first believe.
This kind of thing is so tough to assess realistically. We’re trying to interpret the accuracy of a tale arising out of a culture we know very little about that has already been interpreted by an outsider (Laxton).
I’ve been re-reading Sir Arthur Grimble’s papers, edited by Harry Maude and entitled Tungaru Traditions. A couple of points are worth noting. In the old days, it was not at all unusual for the Gilbertese to keep the skull of a dead relative around the house and talk to it as casually as they would to any other member of the family. On the other hand, Nei Koata is not reported to have had any direct discourse with this particular “anti” (pronounced “ahns”) or ghost.
Also, by the time of the settlement of the Phoenix Group, the London Missionary Society had done a rather thorough job of stamping out traditional Gilbertese customs and beliefs among the people of the southern Gilberts (where the first settlers on Gardner were from). This was somewhat less true in the northern Gilberts which were primarily Catholic, but at any rate – the reaction of the people who lived on Gardner in 1939/1940 to a heavy-duty spiritual event is not something we are equipped to say much about.
To Mike of the Radios – I think there are a lot of better ways to account for what Koata’s wife saw than to assume she saw Amelia. Native American medicine people of my acquaintance see little people and ghosts and all manner of supernatural things in places where, to my limited eye, there’s nothing whatever to see. They’re not making it up; they see something. What are they seeing? I have no idea, but I know that there doesn’t necessarily have to be a visual cue that’s recognizable to the jaundiced western eye to trigger such seeing. There’s also a very liberal use of metaphor in traditional island discourse, and an easy sliding back and forth between the descriptive and the metaphoric. Nei Manganibuka talking with the ancients (communing with ancient and reputable spirit-sources of knowledge?) and taking care of the children while talking about how good things were going to be on the island may have been a metaphorical way of saying with authority and kindness that everything was really going to be all right, at a time when things weren’t going particularly well for the colonists. Or, of course, it may have been something completely different; I don't think speculation is going to take us very far – or rather, it can take us a long way, but we won’t be anywhere when we get there.
But it DOES rather raise the hairs on the back of the neck, doesn’t it?
There is a condition that can seem like Alzheimer’s in persons too young to actually be afflicted with the condition. A friend of mine related an astonishing story to me yesterday about her soon-to-be daughter-in-law who had to have brain surgery due to a pocket that had developed in her brain into which blood had pooled. Her symptoms were the same as Alzheimer’s patients report. Only her age – 20s – convinced the doctors to look for something else. I didn’t ask if this gal had had a head trauma that might have caused the condition, but if AE actually did survive the crash, perhaps this could explain such behavior. That is, if one goes so far as believing it to be literally true. All I’m saying is that it is possible to explain Alzheimer-type behavior with another, entirely plausible, condition.
I think I’ll contact my friend and ask if any head injury/trauma was in the gal’s history.
Believe me, you don’t need to have suffered head trauma to be a bit barmy after a few weeks on Niku. It’s not the implied dementia that makes the AE-alive-and-living-on-Niku scenario hard to swallow. I also don’t have a problem with the notion of a reclusive, paranoid hermit avoiding human contact on the island. I think I could do it easily. The site Gallagher describes has clearly been abandoned for some time. There is no feeling in his reports that this is evidence of recent habitation. So if we’re going to pursue a literal interpretation of Mrs. Koata’s tale we’d have to say that she came upon AE very early on and, as a consequence, Amelia abandoned that campsite and moved deeper into the bush where she eventually died undiscovered.
What really makes the Amelia-alive scenario hard to accept is not any practical problem that I can think of, but rather the very outrageousness of the notion. A gut feeling of, “Naw.” The documented story is already better than any Hollywood screenwriter would dare suggest. The very idea of Amelia Earhart living out her days as some kind of female Ben Gunn is just too much. That, of course, is not a good reason to reject the possibility out of hand. The real problem is, as Tom says, that it’s hard to see how we’d ever know. As a research topic it’s a dead end.
There’s another reason not to get too wrapped up in this speculation. Can you imagine what would happen if the Weekly World News got hold of this? I don’t think it would do much for our credibility.
We’ve already established the fact that drinkable water was not and is not available on Niku and survival without water is impossible.
Coconuts provide the water needs of native populations on desert islands until rain supplements can be collected. They know how and are equipped to meet their needs.
How can anyone even consider that the “poor little rich girl” AE would have enough survival skill knowledge to last 30 days, much less 2 years, on such an equatorial island?
I have argued both sides of this one. The great, and still not late, Harry Maude finds the notion of AE’s demise on Nikumaroro incredible specifically because he can not imagine why anyone would have difficulty thriving on such a lovely island. It was Harry who, as Lands Commissioner for the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony, conceived and executed the Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme in the late 1930s. He went on to become the pre-eminent authority on Micronesian culture.
In my view it all comes down to rainfall and not getting hurt. There’s plenty to eat and if it rains often enough, you should be okay unless you fall on the coral, get bitten by a shark, fall out of coconut tree, or eat a toxic fish. We do know that 1938 was a year of record-setting drought in the area. On the whole, I’d bet against anyone lasting two years marooned on Niku at that time, but I can’t say it would be impossible.
With the help of a forum subscriber I was able to phone Fred Goerner’s former associate Ross Game. You may recall that Game was with Goerner in 1965 when they reviewed then-classified Navy files which, according to Goerner, included a message from Earhart allegedly heard by Nauru at 10:30 a.m. on the morning of July 2nd saying, “Land in sight ahead.” Goerner later said that when the file was declassified the message mysteriously disappeared. He said he was sure that the message was originally there because his notes and Games completely agreed about its content. My primary interest in talking to Ross Game was to confirm that these two contemporaneous written accounts of what was in the Navy file in 1965 indeed exist.
I regret to report that Ross Game, who seems to be a very nice guy, is in poor health and was scheduled to go into the hospital for a biopsy on a brain tumor the day after I talked to him. He told me that he has been working on the Amelia Earhart mystery for 30 years and is convinced that she was held prisoner by the Japanese on Saipan and died there of dysentery. He is also certain that the government is holding back information. He says that he is sure that, while working with Goerner, he saw a great many documents relating to Earhart that have never been made public. I asked him if he ever saw any document which established a covert relationship between Earhart and the government. He said no, but there are just too many people on Saipan who remember seeing a woman who could only have been Amelia Earhart.
I asked him whether he remembers seeing the “land in sight ahead” message and he said, “I could say yes but to tell you the honest truth I’ve talked about that so often with so many people that now I don’t know whether I’m remembering the message or the story about seeing it.” I asked if he had the notes that Goerner referred to. He said no.
So “land in sight ahead,” at this point, lives only in the realm of anecdote. Maybe Wiley Rollins can find Fred’s notes from that visit at the Nimitz Museum. That would be something anyway.
Well, I almost had a scoop. Since you had seen the Al Gray article, you gave me a break but I’m not done with you yet.
I am getting a bit gun shy with regard to info I come across and may want to convey to the Forum. Lets use the Al Gray article as an example. You indicated Gray’s article is full of conjecture stated as fact without documentation. Taking into consideration that were dealing with “historical investigation,” I still have to come to Gray’s defense. My reason, Al Gray knew these people personally and WAS PART OF THAT ERA and not some third person doing a research paper for an article some 60 yrs. hence. I think this fact alone should give the article and its contents some worth. Sure the John Ray photo is recent but that does not make the information he supplied invalid. Why should John Ray give his friend invalid info? These guys all knew each other even though they worked for different companies. I don’t understand why you call the info anecdotal when it was person-to-person. If I was Al Gray talking to John Ray, I would accept his statement as fact and that’s what Al did. I consider that competent evidence. I could see you asking me for documentation if I had written the article but these guys were there in 37.
I think one has to know the character/integrity of the person they are dealing with and a special trust or bond is developed. Then, information that is communicated within that bond is accepted as fact. I sense this with you and certain people you talk to on the Forum.
It’s interesting to note the month the trailing antenna and associated gear was removed in the Al Gray article (May) is the same as the month you have on your “trump” photo.
Is it not possible the body work was done at the repair facility in Burbank and the trailing antenna was removed when AE arrived in MIA (remove the antenna end weight and push the wire into the body in Burbank)? John Ray, a radio tech comes along and does the interior work...removes the trailing wire reel, antenna connection to the WE radio equipment and control at the cockpit. Now that’s conjecture but the photo you have cannot disprove it.
Anyway, I think the article is technically accurate and should have a higher acceptance value because of the authors direct contact with people from the era. Until I see something better, that’s my position. By the way, I never met Al Gray
Now I’m done.
Hope I'm not out of line.
LTM, Jack #2157
You're not at all out of line. You’ve provided me with an excuse to explain our approach to evidence, which is of course the entire foundation of our investigation.
>I think one has to know the character/integrity of the person
they are dealing with and a special trust or bond
No. That is not the way it works. If I appear to accept one person’s facts more than another’s it is because I have learned which forum subscribers understand scientific method and can (and do) back up their statements with documentation. Of course that cuts the other way too. I hope that nobody on this forum takes my word for anything. If I can’t back it up with hard evidence it’s just my opinion, which is every bit as subject to error as anyone else’s.
We start with the assumption that people can remember things wrong. Even intelligent, well-intentioned paragons of integrity like you and me are often unable to accurately reconstruct the events of last week, let alone years ago. Maybe we remember things correctly, maybe we don’t – there’s just no way to tell. The only way to beat this gremlin is to write down what happened as soon as possible after the event. If somebody recognizes the importance of an event and writes down what happened in a timely fashion, we have a “contemporaneous written account.” We consider that to be good evidence.
Photographs are also pretty good. The camera doesn’t lie, but of course, we must be careful that we don’t put our own interpretations on the photo and make it something that it isn’t. The Wreck Photo is a classic example of how tricky it can be to interpret a photo, and that is also why I qualified my comments about the Burbank photo not showing external signs of a trailing wire.
Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to have more than one contemporaneous written account. If they agree about what happened, that’s pretty darned good. An example of this is the question of how much fuel was aboard NR16020 when it left Lae. Two independent authorities – James Collopy, the District Superintendent of Civil Aviation; and Eric Chater. the General Manager of Guinea Airways – each wrote letters soon after the event saying that there were 1,100 U.S. gallons of gas aboard that airplane. That doesn’t mean that there were 1,100 U.S. gallons aboard, but it does mean that two guys who were there both thought that AT THE TIME. For an historical investigator, that’s about as good as it gets.
Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t have contemporaneous written accounts and we’re stuck with the notoriously fallible human memory. If you want to make it sound good you call it “oral history” or “first-person historical testimony.” But “old stories” and “folklore” are equally valid terms. We use the handle “anecdotal evidence” as a neutral description. Any time anybody tells us something about an event in the past which they can not back up with a contemporaneous written account, it’s anecdotal and highly suspect unless and until we can find better evidence to corroborate it. Classic example: In 1960 Floyd Kilts tells a San Diego newspaper that in 1946 a “native” on Gardner told him that bones had been found on the island. We found former residents of the island who also said that bones had been found. But we did not accept the discovery of bones as fact until Gallagher’s contemporaneous written account turned up.
It is apparent from his article in Naval History that Almon Gray did not understand this crucial distinction. His expertise in radio and familiarity with the procedures of the time were beyond question, but his assessment of the Lae/Howland flight was based upon assumptions gathered from anecdotes. For the radio set-up aboard the Electra he took what Joe Gurr told Fred Goerner in 1982, then put his own interpretation on it, and stated categorically that a “new receiver” was installed aboard the airplane by Lockheed. It was “an experimental model incorporating the latest improvements. Only three experimental units were built, although Bendix later marketed an almost identical design as the Type RA-1 Aircraft Radio Receiver.” He then goes to describe in some detail the capabilities of this new receiver. Not once does he offer a shred of credible evidence that this device even existed.
In describing the rest of the airplane’s radio system he states flatly that the loop was a Bendix Type MN-20. But the August 1937 issue of Aero Digest magazine contains an article on the “Newest Developments in the Field of Aircraft Radio.” It describes the “Bendix D-Fs” and notes the features of the MN-1, MN-3, MN-5, and MN-7. The MN-5 sounds most like Earhart’s. There is no mention of an MN-20.
He says that when the plane left the Lockheed plant it had a “250-foot trailing wire antenna on an electrically operated, remote-controlled reel at the rear of the plane. The wire exited the lower fuselage through an insulated bushing and had a lead weight, or ‘fish’, at the end to keep it from whipping when deployed.” It did not. The truth is that it had a set up similar to what Gray describes at the time of the Luke Field crash. When it came out of repair, all external evidence of trailing wire was gone. If you want to speculate that the heavy mechanism was left aboard with no way to deploy it, and carried all the way to Miami before being removed by John Ray, I have nothing to dispute that, but there is nothing but unsubstantiated anecdote to suggest that such an odd thing happened.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Gray states that Earhart maintained two-way communication with the Lae radio operator, Harry Balfour, for first seven hours of the flight. This comes from a letter Balfour wrote in 1969. The available contemporaneous written accounts suggest quite the reverse. Lae sent messages to Earhart, and Lae heard some messages from Earhart, but there appears to be no evidence that Earhart ever heard anything that Lae sent.
Because Gray didn’t understand and follow the rules of the game he – like so many others before and since (including, on occasion, me) – applied his genuine expertise to an invalid picture and, inevitably, drew invalid conclusions. This is a tough, tough business. We’ll only find the incontrovertible physical evidence we’re looking for if we’re correct in the conclusions we draw about where to look.
No need to be gun shy about passing along information. Just ask yourself what kind of information it really is.
Love to mother,
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