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Author Topic: The Gallagher Paradox  (Read 127507 times)

Ric Gillespie

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The Gallagher Paradox
« on: January 11, 2013, 10:33:02 AM »

There's an odd paradox in the historical record. 
•  British administrator Gerald Gallagher suspected that the castaway whose partial skeleton he found on Gardner Island in 1940 might be Amelia Earhart.
•  Gallagher, a licensed pilot himself, certainly knew that Earhart had disappeared in an airplane.

But, in all of his correspondence about the bones there is no mention of a search for - or even curiosity about - possible aircraft wreckage.

•  At least some of the Pacific Islanders who lived on the island knew about the discovery of the bones and the suspicion that they were Earhart's.
•  There was clearly a tradition among the islanders during and after WWII that there had been an airplane wreck somewhere on the island in the early days of the settlement.

But, none of the stories about "the downed plane" connect it with the stories about the bones that were said to be Earhart's.

How could two legends - to us so obviously related - exist independently and simultaneously on the same island without being connected to each other?
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Tom Swearengen

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2013, 11:19:35 AM »

Ric---that is a very interesting question! We could wonder out loud if Gallagher thought that AE actually made it to NIKU. I would wonder if her ever confided in any of the other people on the island, possibly Emily's father the carpenter, for example. Of course, any of that info would be anecdotal now, but sure would be interesting.
Tom
 
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2013, 12:52:08 PM »

We could wonder out loud if Gallagher thought that AE actually made it to NIKU.

Gallagher was initially equivocal about the bones being Earhart's and, in the end, on July 3, 1941 when he was in Fiji, he wrote:

"I have read the contents of this file with great interest. It does look as if the skeleton was that of some unfortunate native castaway and the sextant box and other curious articles found nearby the remains are quite possibly a few of his precious possessions which he managed to save.

2. There was no evidence of any attempt to dig a well and the wretched man presumably died of thirst. less than two miles away there is a small grove of coconut trees which would have been sufficient to keep him alive if he had only found it. He was separated from those trees, however, by an inpenetrable [sic] belt of bush."

But Hoodless judged the skeleton to be "probably not that of a pure South Sea Islander-Micronesian or Polynesian" and no place on the island is separated from any other place by "an impenetrable  belt of bush."  You can always just walk down the beach.  Gallagher's disavowal of his earlier speculation sounds like signing on to the accepted party line. 
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Bob Lanz

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2013, 01:29:54 PM »

We could wonder out loud if Gallagher thought that AE actually made it to NIKU.

Gallagher was initially equivocal about the bones being Earhart's and, in the end, on July 3, 1941 when he was in Fiji, he wrote:

"I have read the contents of this file with great interest. It does look as if the skeleton was that of some unfortunate native castaway and the sextant box and other curious articles found nearby the remains are quite possibly a few of his precious possessions which he managed to save.

2. There was no evidence of any attempt to dig a well and the wretched man presumably died of thirst. less than two miles away there is a small grove of coconut trees which would have been sufficient to keep him alive if he had only found it. He was separated from those trees, however, by an inpenetrable [sic] belt of bush."

But Hoodless judged the skeleton to be "probably not that of a pure South Sea Islander-Micronesian or Polynesian" and no place on the island is separated from any other place by "an impenetrable  belt of bush."  You can always just walk down the beach.  Gallagher's disavowal of his earlier speculation sounds like signing on to the accepted party line.

Ric,

Is there a picture of the skeleton that is of a quality that a top notch current Forensic Pathologist could determine if the skeletal remains are male or female, independent of whether it is a Native Polynesian or a person of European descent?  I would think that the appearance and shape of the skull and especially the pelvic bone could verify one or the other.  What were Gallagher's technical qualifications to make his initial equivocation that it was Earhart?
Doc
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Bob Lanz

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2013, 01:35:30 PM »

Ric,

Quote
2. There was no evidence of any attempt to dig a well and the wretched man presumably died of thirst. less than two miles away there is a small grove of coconut trees which would have been sufficient to keep him alive if he had only found it. He was separated from those trees, however, by an inpenetrable [sic] belt of bush."

Could this not mean that the coco trees were surrounded so that walking down the beach would still give the same problem?  Of course you may know of the trees and thus be able to state that you could walk down the beach to them.

Time on Niku is something you have over most of us mere forum mortals :)

Chris, from the pictures of the Island I have seen, it would appear that one could see the Coconut Palms  above the scaveola brush by walking down the beach.  Ric will have to answer this one though as I may be somewhat myopic today.  ;)
Doc
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2013, 02:24:22 PM »

Could this not mean that the coco trees were surrounded so that walking down the beach would still give the same problem?  Of course you may know of the trees and thus be able to state that you could walk down the beach to them.

The cocos Gallagher is talking about are the the remnants of the old Arundel planting - the only mature coconut trees on the island in 1937-40. They're at the west end of the island, a few on either side of the main passage.  In a straight line up the lagoon from the Seven Site it's 3 miles to where the cocos were.  If you walk along the beach and go all the way around the NW tip it's more like 5 miles.  The buka forests all along that northeastern side of the island are tall and you can't see across to where the cocos were so it would be hard to know where to cut cross-lot to get to them.  Gallagher's estimate of the distance was off (but he probably didn't have Google Earth) but the idea that "impenetrable bush" would keep the castaway from reaching the cocos just doesn't work.

 
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Dan Swift

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2013, 02:42:04 PM »

Ric,
Assuming the landing on the NW corner of the island, wouldn't you explore that area first.  Therefore finding the Coconut trees early in your 'stay'.  And so even relocating to 7 Site....you would know where they were.  But, you may not have been healty enough to return.
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Dan Kelly

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2013, 04:39:43 PM »

Reading back in previous threads where the islander memory was discussed I see that someone made the observation that it seemed strange that islanders knew of airplane wreckage yet failed to tell Gallagher when he was actually recovering bones which he thought might be Earhart's - I think that is a very telling point about the nature of these islander recollections.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #8 on: January 12, 2013, 10:34:05 AM »

Assuming the landing on the NW corner of the island, wouldn't you explore that area first.  Therefore finding the Coconut trees early in your 'stay'.  And so even relocating to 7 Site....you would know where they were.  But, you may not have been healty enough to return.

Or maybe you discovered that the cocos really weren't of any use to you.  I've never met a European yet (we're "Europeans" in Pacific parlance) who can climb a coconut tree and opening a nut in such a way as to permit you to drink the contents without a sharp bush knife and the knowledge of how to do it is almost impossible.  But even if you succeed, for most people coconut milk is a great laxative.  Not exactly a desirable effect for a castaway.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #9 on: January 12, 2013, 10:39:21 AM »

Reading back in previous threads where the islander memory was discussed I see that someone made the observation that it seemed strange that islanders knew of airplane wreckage yet failed to tell Gallagher when he was actually recovering bones which he thought might be Earhart's - I think that is a very telling point about the nature of these islander recollections.

Or perhaps a very telling point about exactly when the airplane wreckage became known to the islanders.

For the islanders' recollections to be entirely faulty, at least four and probably five different islanders would have to independently come up with the same myth at different times in different locations.
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Bob Lanz

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2013, 11:10:45 AM »

Assuming the landing on the NW corner of the island, wouldn't you explore that area first.  Therefore finding the Coconut trees early in your 'stay'.  And so even relocating to 7 Site....you would know where they were.  But, you may not have been healty enough to return.

Or maybe you discovered that the cocos really weren't of any use to you.  I've never met a European yet (we're "Europeans" in Pacific parlance) who can climb a coconut tree and opening a nut in such a way as to permit you to drink the contents without a sharp bush knife and the knowledge of how to do it is almost impossible.  But even if you succeed, for most people coconut milk is a great laxative.  Not exactly a desirable effect for a castaway.

You pose an interesting conundrum there Ric.  Either die from having the Hershey Squirts leading to dehydration or not drinking the coconut milk also leading to dehydration.  What to do, what to do?   :-\
Doc
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Greg Daspit

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2013, 11:55:47 AM »

Maybe something from what Gallagher saw and didn't see, made him assume the plane sank at sea.
He was told it was not AE after they examined the bones. Then after reading files on the subject later he wrote:
"It does look as if the skeleton was that of some unfortunate native castaway and the sextant box and other curious articles found nearby the remains are quite possibly a few of his precious possessions which he managed to save."
"managed to save" sugggests to me he was thinking the castaway did not have time to salvage much and that the castaway came from a sinking vessel. When he thought it may be AE, he may have thought the sinking vessel was a sinking plane. So maybe he never thought to do any more searching for a plane than what was already done in the area for other items.
Since he was told the bones were not AE, he may have told the colonist the same. So if colonist saw plane wreckage after the bones were found, then they could have thought it was a different plane.

Now if colonist saw plane wreckage before the bones were found and before Gallagher died, another possibility could be Gallagher investigated and found what they saw was not aircraft wreckage. A mix up as to location of what was seen and what was investigated could cause this.

Also if some wreckage was tied to the edge of the reef. (in an attempt by AE to save the plane), it could have been playing paddle ball and hide and seek. Some days its on the reef, and some days over the edge and not vissible. It keeps getting washed on and off but stays tied down in the area for months

Maybe Gallagher sees nothing and tells the colonist they probably saw NC stuff, even though they still see wreckage later. Somehow the mix of stories and who saw what, and when, the wreckage playing hide and seek, leaves a paradox
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« Last Edit: January 12, 2013, 12:14:17 PM by Gregory Lee Daspit »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2013, 12:25:17 PM »

When he thought it may be AE, he may have thought the sinking vessel was a sinking plane. So he never thought to do any more searching for a plane than what was already done in the area for other items.

That makes sense to me.  Sounds like a reasonable possibility.

Since he was told the bones were not AE, he may have told the colonist the same.
So if colonist saw plane wreckage after the bones were found, then they would have thought it was a different plane.

Perhaps, but the story that the bones were Earhart's persisted in island folklore until at least 1946 - as related to Coastie Floyd Kilts.

Now if colonist saw plane wreckage before the bones were found and before Gallagher died, another possibility could be Gallagher investigated and found what they saw was not aircraft wreckage. A mix up as to location of what was seen and what was investigated could cause this.

That's tougher.  In the first instance we don't have to discount the numerous stories of a "downed plane" that Gallagher never knew about.  In this instance we have to say that the stories persisted despite Gallagher's debunking.

Also if some wreckage was tied to the edge of the reef. (in an attempt by AE to save the plane), it could have been playing paddle ball and hide and seek. Some days its on the reef, and some days over the edge and not vissible. It keeps getting washed on and off but stays tied down in the area for months

I do suspect that the plane played hide and seek but I don't see any evidence for an attempt to tie the plane down.
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William R Davis

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2013, 02:25:31 PM »

I am of the thought that by 1940 when Gallagher arrived there was little or no trace of aircraft wreckage to be found. I have wondered if the stories by locals about the wreckage have been inspired by hired workers for the late 30's survey, infrequent visits of fishermen or pearl divers? The possibility of a wheel sticking out of the water would certainly catch the attention of those there to work or rest. I'm sure many checked it out. But interesting no mention in records from the survey team about such a find. No doubt Gallagher heard the stories about the wreckage but never saw it himself. This may account for what seems as a quick assumption that the found human remains were probably Amelia. But a mention of the wreck to higher authorities would have been useless  at this point being only local hear say. I'm sure Gallagher was sharp enough to tie his find to a piece of aircraft wreckage if he could find something. But as you read the telegrams, there is a formality of very tight adhesion to just the known facts.       
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Dan Kelly

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Re: The Gallagher Paradox
« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2013, 04:39:41 PM »

I am of the thought that by 1940 when Gallagher arrived there was little or no trace of aircraft wreckage to be found. I have wondered if the stories by locals about the wreckage have been inspired by hired workers for the late 30's survey, infrequent visits of fishermen or pearl divers? The possibility of a wheel sticking out of the water would certainly catch the attention of those there to work or rest. I'm sure many checked it out. But interesting no mention in records from the survey team about such a find. No doubt Gallagher heard the stories about the wreckage but never saw it himself. This may account for what seems as a quick assumption that the found human remains were probably Amelia. But a mention of the wreck to higher authorities would have been useless  at this point being only local hear say. I'm sure Gallagher was sharp enough to tie his find to a piece of aircraft wreckage if he could find something. But as you read the telegrams, there is a formality of very tight adhesion to just the known facts.     

Interesting observation Mr Davis about adhesion to the known facts by Gallagher. I mentioned the observation made by someone else on another thread about the islanders failing to tell Gallagher of the wreckage they had claimed to have seen. In that post from what I remember the person also raised the idea that the "aircraft" wreckage might instead have been lighter structural bits from the Norwich City which was still pretty much intact at the time which had been washed to the north of the wreck. As an ill-informed observation on my part this does seem to have some  merit because I really do have difficulty in accepting that the islanders at that time would have much idea of what an aircraft wreck looked like. But if they had heard that Mr Gallagher thought that the stuff he was looking at might have belonged to a missing flyer then any lighter looking or odd shaped bits of ship wreckage might be construed as being the airplane as the rumour developed. Perhaps they even did tell him but he didn't bother to mention it in his reports because to him it was clearly parts of the ship. The island was a small community and like most small towns I bet there wasn't much to talk about and so rumours would get improved upon  ;D   
« Last Edit: January 12, 2013, 04:45:26 PM by Dan Kelly »
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