It is apparent that this
area was naturally quite open in the late 1930s and that, sometime between
April of 1939 and June of 1941, additional clearing occured, probably through
human intervention. The “shelter site” found and surveyed during
the expedition may be the structure referenced in the following passage from
P.B. Laxton’s article “Nikumaroro” published in the Journal of the
Polynesian Society in 1951.
Turning the [southeastern]
tip to return along the northern rim, narrow, thundering with surf driven
by the north-east trade winds, the path ends in a house built for Gallagher
on a strip of land cleared from lagoon to ocean beach so that the fresh winds
blow easily through. Beyond this there is no path, save along the steeply
sloping, sandy ocean beach.
Gerald B. Gallagher was
the island’s only resident British adminstrator. He fulfilled his duties as
Acting Officer-In-Charge, Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme from his headquarters
on Nikumaroro from October of 1940 until his death from tuberculosis at age
29 in September of 1941. Laxton does not explain why a house should have been
built for Gallagher at such a distance from the village but the reference
to “fresh winds” may indicate that this was intended as a sort of
sanitorium where he might find some relief from his respiratory affliction.
Although we would have
obviously preferred an aircraft in the bush to a house at the shore, we were
none the less encouraged by the project’s ability to spot genuine anomalous
features in very old photographs and then find and identify them on the ground
nearly sixty years later. We were also struck by how well the island’s underbrush
can hide large objects from even a determined search. In 1991 a TIGHAR team
had spent several days on this part of the island specifically searching for
the reported “water-collection device” and found nothing. In 1996,
with the advantage of having a specific target visible in an aerial photograph,
it took fully 76 man-hours of active search operations to find what the island
had hidden. An intact Lockheed Electra would have been no easier.
The expedition accomplished
its purpose of finding a reasonable explanation for the phenomena observed
in the aerial photographs-with one exception. If the features visible in the
1938 photo are, indeed, trails or footpaths they present a lingering and disturbing
question about who made them. However, unless additional information comes
to light, further search operations in this location are not contemplated.