Earhart Project Research Bulletin #29
February 13, 2001
Shoe Fetish

Among the most interesting artifacts found by TIGHAR on Nikumaroro are the remains of a shoe which appears to have been similar in many respects to the shoes Earhart was wearing when she disappeared—but is it Amelia’s shoe? Here is Part One of a detailed review of what was found and what it may mean.

During the Niku II Expedition in 1991, while excavating a small grave in the Aukeraime district of Nikumaroro, the TIGHAR team accidentally happened upon the much-degraded remains of one shoe and the heel of another. An anecdotal account of bones being found on the island during the early years of its settlement (see the Floyd Kilts Story) also told of the discovery of women’s size nine American shoes, so the presence of shoe remnants near what we hoped was the grave in which the bones had been buried was of great interest.

Much later in TIGHAR’s investigation, documentation would come to light which would reveal that the anecdotes were rooted in fact, but at the time of the 1991 expedition it was all still rumor. That the grave turned out to contain the skeleton of a very small, possibly stillborn, infant did not add to our confidence that there was any truth to the tale.

Nikumaroro small (click on the map to open a new window with a readable-sized map)

“Aukeraime South” is the name given to the strip of land on the southern side of the atoll east of the small lagoon outlet known as Bauareke Passage. Originally covered with scrub and small trees, a portion of the area near the passage was cleared and planted to coconuts by the island’s settlers in 1941. Today the area is covered with a fairly dense mix of second and third generation coconut palms mixed with other trees. The stumps of some of the original cocos can still be found.

Gravesite Photo This photo was taken at the grave site in 1991 as we were preparing to begin the excavation. The grave itself can be seen at far right. In the center of the photo is a small tree with gear piled on the ground in the shade at its base. A few days later, on October 16, 1991, during the excavation, Dr. Tommy Love (seen at the far left in this photo) was sitting under that tree changing his boots when a crab scuttled by. As Tommy watched, the crab knocked aside a leaf revealing a small black object on the ground. Tommy looked closer and called to expedition leader Ric Gillespie (in the white hat in this photo), “Hey! There’s an old shoe heel on the ground over here.”

We cordoned off an area around the heel and began to methodically remove all the organic material on the surface of the ground, being careful not to disturb any of the other shoe remnants which soon began to appear. These consisted of broken fragments of a rubber sole and a few scraps of leather. Samples of these materials have since been analyzed by the Winterthur Analytical Laboratory in Centreville, Delaware. Senior Scientist Janice H. Carlson was able to determine that the sole was rubber, but could not say whether the rubber was natural or synthetic. The material thought to be leather proved to be proteinaceous material consistent with leather. At the site, we also noted a small concentration of charcoal.

Once the area had been cleaned of all leaves and sticks and other surface detritus we photographed the artifacts in situ and mapped their distribution before collecting them.

The area was swept thoroughly with a metal detector. By this method we found a small rusted metal disc about the size of a nickel and the tiny broken end of a shoe nail.

We then collected and screened the first 3 cm of soil. This process took two days but resulted in the discovery of a few more scraps of what appears to be leather and a small brass eyelet.

Distribution Plot of  Aukairame Site

Distribution plots of artifacts found at the Aukairame Site.

Click on the graphics to open full-sized versions in new windows.

The artifacts were cataloged as follows:
Catspaw Heel 1 Catspaw Heel 2

Artifact 2-2-G-7/1, heel embossed “Cat’s Paw Rubber Co. USA.” These photos are of the interior (left) and the exterior, or walking surface (right) of the heel. The white marking on the exterior surface is White-Out™, used to provide a removable surface on which to write a catalog number.

Shoe Sole 2Shoe Sole 1

Artifact 2-2-G-7/2, section of rubber shoe sole from back of heel to just behind ball of foot.

Sole Fragments 1

Artifact 2-2-G-7/3, fragments of rubber shoe sole

Sole Fragments 2

Artifact 2-2-G-7/4, fragments of rubber shoe sole.


Artifact 2-2-G-7/5, broken shoe nail.

Brass Eyelet  Brass Eyelet 2

Artifact 2-2-G-7/6, brass eyelet.

Metal disk

Artifact 2-2-G-7/7, metal disc.

Scraps of Leather

Artifacts 2-2-G-7/8, 9 scraps of leather.

Heel 1Heel 2

Just outside the cordoned-off area, Frank Fournier, the LIFE magazine photographer accompanying the expedition, noticed a second shoe heel on the ground. This one bore no manufacturer’s label and was cataloged as Artifact 2-2-G-9. The area around the second heel was cordoned off and searched accordingly but nothing more was found.

The sole fragments were re-assembled into an approximation of their original form and measured as shown below.

Assembled Sole

Obviously, without all of the pieces, the dimensions are only approximate.

The Cat’s Paw heel was examined and found to have the markings shown below molded into the structure and the handwritten letters “RN” on the inside of the heel.

Catspaw Drawing

Identification of the Artifacts

The Cat’s Paw Rubber Company is now owned by the Biltrite Corporation of Waltham, Massachusetts. On January 30, 1992 the recovered shoe parts were sent to Biltrite where they were examined by experts at both the Waltham facility and the company’s factory in Ripley, Michigan. Photos of Earhart wearing the shoes she was wearing on the Lae/Howland flight were also examined by Biltrite.

Click on the page graphics to read their report.

Biltrite Cover Letter
Biltrite Report, Page 1
Biltrite Report, page 2
Biltrite Report, page 3
Cover Letter
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

In telephone conversations, documented in notes taken at the time by Richard Gillespie, Foshage and Ogintz also expressed their opinion that the “fine and close” stitching marks on the recoverd sole were indicative of a woman’s shoe.

Shoe Definition Graphic

BiltRite identified the shoe Earhart was wearing in the photo as a “blucher oxford.” An oxford is any lace-up shoe. The term “blucher” refers to a shoe style in which a portion of the upper (the part of the shoe above the sole) laps over the vamp (the part covering the instep and toe).

Shoe Definition Graphic 2
Further Discoveries

During the Niku III expedition in 1997, another more intensive search was made of the entire site using close visual inspection, and White’s Electronics pulse induction metal detectors. An electromagnetic survey of the site was also made using a Geonics EM-38 ground conductivity meter. Two artifacts were found.

Artifact 2-4-A-2 was a small rusted washer, but it cannot be known for certain that this was not an artifact from our own work at the site six years earlier.

LabelArtifact 2-4-A-3 was a partially burned paper label recovered from a concentration of ash and charcoal found within 5 cm of the surface where the charcoal pieces had been found in 1991.

Analysis of the label later revealed the presence of a bar code thus dating the label and the fire that burned it to not earlier than the 1970s. See Dating the Label Fragment.

In Part Two we’ll tackle the complex problem of comparing what was found to what we can determine about the shoes that Amelia wore.

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