Linwood Day: Forgotten hero of the Earhart saga

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of research into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart knows about Fred Goerner and his 1966 classic The Search for Amelia Earhart. Goerner’s book remains the only bestseller ever penned about the Earhart case, and it opened the doors for other researchers, including this one, to continue the quest to establish the truth about what has evolved into one of the greatest travesties and cover-ups in modern American history.

may 27, 1960: Linwood Day's first Earhart story stuns the world. Even in 1960, none of the nation's big newspapers carried this story. though hundreds of smaller papers spread the word across the country that the Earhart mystery had been solved,

May 27, 1960: Linwood Day’s first Earhart story stuns the world. Even in 1960, none of the nation’s big newspapers carried this story, though hundreds of smaller papers spread the word across the country that the Earhart mystery had been solved.

But the popular San Francisco radio newsman would have never known about Amelia Earhart had it not been for the fine work of San Mateo Times reporter Linwood McGuire Day, whose groundbreaking stories set the stage for everything that was to come in the real modern-day search for Amelia Earhart.  On May 27, 1960, a full-page headline adorned the top of page 1 of The Times, exclaiming, “San Matean Says Japanese Executed Amelia Earhart.” The first of many of Day’s reports, titled “Woman’s Story: Aviatrix Died Before Saipan Firing Squad,” began:

A San Mateo woman who may have been one of the last to see Amelia Earhart alive, says that  the famed aviatrix was executed by a Japanese firing squad even while the U.S. Navy was spending $4,000,000 in a futile search for the missing flier and her navigator, Frederick Noonan.

Mrs. Josephine Blanco Akiyama of 15 South Idaho Street, has identified pictures of Amelia as the “American lady pilot” she saw taken into custody on the fortress island of Saipan in July 1937.  The woman flier was accompanied by a man, she said, an American also dressed in aviator’s garb.

Little more than a month later, the front page of the July 1, 1960 Times, with its 100-point headline, “AMELIA EARHART MYSTERY IS SOLVED” rocked the nation.  As true today as it was 54 years ago, the page is framed and mounted on my study wall, and it never fails to inspire. Even in 1960, though hundreds of newspapers ran Day’s story, and United Press International, then one of the preeminent news wires in the world, picked it up immediately, no trace of it can be found in the major papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times. Apparently, the word came down quickly from the nation’s power centers that the truth in the Earhart story was off limits, and it’s remained so to this day.

In mid-May 1978, San Mateo Times reporter Linwood Day pauses with Patty Hearst outside the Pleasanton, Calif., prison where Hearst was expected to spend the remainder of her seven-year sentence for bank robbery. Day developed a rapport with Hearst, and she responded by giving him exclusive information about her last few weeks of freedom. Day often remarked that the Patty Hearst case and the Amelia Earhart disappearance were the two stories that defined his career as a reporter. (Photo courtesy of Beverly Day.)

In mid-May 1978, San Mateo Times reporter Linwood Day pauses with Patty Hearst outside the Pleasanton, Calif., prison where Hearst was expected to spend the remainder of her seven-year sentence for bank robbery. Day developed a rapport with Hearst, and she responded by giving him exclusive information about her last few weeks of freedom. Day often remarked that the Patty Hearst case and the Amelia Earhart disappearance were the two stories that defined his career as a reporter. (Photo courtesy of Beverly Day.)

I always wondered about Linwood Day, the forgotten scribe who produced so many great stories in May, June and July of 1960, stories that rattled cages across the country and reverberated all the way to the halls of Congress. Quite serendipitously, I recently came across Linwood Day and his daughter Beverly’s names in a state of Maine genealogy chat room discussion. A few more steps and a kind cousin provided Beverly’s email address, as well as her snail mail. Soon we were talking on the phone, and she was happy to share her memories of her father’s days on the Earhart story, and how much it meant to him.

A byline in a family newspaper        

“Goerner contacted him because he saw the newspaper story that came out that my dad wrote,” Beverly told me from her home in Waterville, Maine. “He told me a lot about his conversation with her [Josephine Blanco Akiyama, whose account was first reported by Paul Briand Jr. in his little-known 1960 book, Daughter of the Sky]. What sticks with me is that my father was absolutely certain that she was correct about the fact that Earhart and Noonan died on Saipan, and that it was the Japanese that had taken them there and that Josephine was a young girl at the time but she saw them being pushed through the jungle. And they went to this military barracks kind of thing where they imprisoned them.”

But while Day’s stories transfixed the nation and launched Goerner on his life’s mission, the public never heard the rest of the story, the story behind the story, so to speak, and it wasn’t a happy one. Goerner got all the glory and wrote the famous book. Linwood Day got a byline in a family newspaper, and that was it, except perhaps his own satisfaction in a job well done.

For Goerner, it was always about himself, about fame and celebrity, narcissism and greed. Sure, he was a great radio newsman and is still the most important Earhart researcher ever, but Fred Goerner wasn’t a nice guy, not by any stretch. Many anecdotes I’ve heard in recent years attest to this unhappy fact, and I don’t enjoy reporting it. Moreover, I’ve kept the most disturbing things I’ve learned about Goerner off the pages of this blog, and will continue to do so.

From the first time Goerner saw Day’s story, he determined to make it his own. One fact I was unaware of until talking to Beverly was that beginning with the July 1, 1960 shocker, the Earhart stories her father produced were written with information Goerner provided over the phone. Day was never sent to Saipan to cover Goerner’s investigations in the summer of 1960, the first of his four visits to the island prior to the publication of Search.

“My dad was really upset,” Beverly recalled. “The deal was Goerner got his station [KCBS] to send him to Saipan, while my dad tried to get the newspaper to send him along and they refused. … He was heartbroken about not being able to go to Saipan when KCBS sent Goerner. … My dad was the real writer. It was ridiculous, because Goerner came in on it after my dad had started this whole thing. It was like he all of a sudden took over and took all the credit.  My dad was going to write a book about it and Goerner said, “No, no. We can work on this book together.

And then he wrote the book and never gave my dad credit for anything. … My father was livid. He called Goerner and they argued on the phone, and I remember that because I remember my father slamming the phone down and pacing back and forth in his den. His face was just blood red. I had never seen my dad so angry, and you can imagine how he felt because he had to convince the Times to run the Earhart story. At first they were very nervous about doing this because ‘How do you know this is true’ and ‘Are we going to be liable?’ blah, blah, blah. But my dad was such a good reporter. Not only did he know how to write, he knew how to tell a story, how to pull it all together.

Fred Goerner at KCBS San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

Fred Goerner at KCBS Radio, San Francisco, circa 1966. (Courtesy Merla Zellerbach.)

“He gave Goerner all this information” she continued, “what questions to ask, he told him who talk to [on Saipan], he told him everything.  He totally screwed my dad; it did not end well.” A check of The Search for Amelia Earhart reveals just one single mention of Linwood Day. On page 2, Goerner wrote about how he initially became involved with the Earhart story: “Intrigued, I called Lin Day, the Times newsman who had written the story.” And that was it for the man Goerner promised co-authorship of the book that was to become the definitive Earhart work and turn Goerner a national celebrity.

“He [Day] was very charismatic … a great intellectual and he had a way of getting people to talk to him,” Beverly said. “He was very professorial and had an innate grasp on history. He was always interested in the way things happened. I mean he did a lot of firsts. He was the first reporter on an atomic submarine … and then wrote about what it was like.” Indeed, an archive search of the San Mateo Times revealed an October 1964 story headlined “Staff Travels Around Globe” with the statement, “Linwood Day spent two days beneath the ocean in an atomic submarine.”

Another story in the same October 1964 issue, titled “Times News Staff Builds Top Record in its Coverage,” tells us that “Lin Day has served seven years with the staff and gained his experience in Philadelphia and Maine journalism. He was formerly on the staff of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, and San Jose (California) Mercury,” as well as the Maine Sunday Telegram. Most importantly, “Day’s coverage of the Search for Amelia Earhart brought The Times worldwide attention.”

“Discourses” with presidents and kings

Linwood Day spent most of his days in San Mateo at the Times, where he was eventually promoted to editor, recalled Beverly. “He first edited The Post, a ‘weekly grocery rag’ put out by the San Mateo Times, and he did something unexpected,” she said. “He applied the tenacious spirit and dedication to detail that had made him a great reporter to molding The Post into something people actually wanted to read. And read they did.  The Post’s circulation increased fourfold.  And Lin Day?  He was swiftly moved over to a new position — editor of the San Mateo Times. Besides his editing duties, my Dad also served as the Times Food Editor  —  — which I remember all too well as he would get tons of free coupons for ‘a hand-packed quart’ of Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors Ice Cream. Ah, to be a kid again.”

Beverly also worked as a journalist before branching off into a multifaceted writing and high-tech marketing career that included positions with Cray Supercomputers, Lockheed Martin and the advertising agency VIA in Portland, Maine. She laughs when talking about her last position with the famed Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, Maine saying “I could probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know about 3,000 strains of inbred mice.”

An animal lover, she’s also owned Arabian horses for many years and has been breeding Maine Coon Cats since 1993, with an eye toward earning a Grand Championship for her 9-month-old Maine Coon cat, Honeycoon Sir Braeburn during the next show season. “Like my Dad, I love a challenge and  have a very competitive spirit,” she said.

When asked what she most remembers about her Dad, she answers, “His growl! Friends of Dad used to joke that when he was on a story he was like a bulldog, he just wouldn’t let go. He developed the habit that whenever he finished a story he would let out this great terrier growl.  The only time I don’t recall the growl was when he was on the Amelia Earhart story.” Why no growl?  “To my Dad the Amelia Earhart story wasn’t finished yet, Beverly recalled. “There was more, much more to be written.”

Beverly spoke fondly of a childhood spent mainly with her father, who took the family to California when she was 4 but was divorced her mother four years later. “It was just my dad and me from the age of 8 till I was 13 or 14 when he married for the second time,” she said. “So from that age, I was the one he talked to and I was mature for my age because I had to be. He would take me with him on stories. I would accompany him all over the place. If there was a fire engine passing, he would jump in the car and I would jump in the car and off we’d go.” Linwood Day, without doubt, often caught up with the fire engine or whatever else he was chasing for a story during his heyday at the San Mateo Times.

Below is a list of just a few of the many memories – “random facts” – about her father that Beverly created on short notice:

  • He was heavily involved in political writing and mentions that he “walked the floor of Philadelphia’s Convention Hall with Jim Farley, stood by as Harry Truman ‘gave ’em hell,’ sat on the floor in dim hotel rooms with Henry Wallace Progressives, and accompanied the Goldwater crusaders in their epic San Francisco takeover.”
  • He interviewed, “or discoursed with” (his words) President Richard Nixon, President John F. Kennedy, Estes Kefauver, Harold Stassen, Joe Martin, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Edward VIII of England and Robert Frost.
  • He wrote a speech for Nixon when he was running for Governor of California. 
  • He received a brief note from Ronald Reagan when he was Gov. of Calif. thanking him for his book [The Constitutional Conservative: The Poetry of a Cause, 1972] and saying, “I enjoyed reading it and found much food for thought.”

“My father could talk anyone into just about anything,” Beverly wrote, “and somewhere I have a picture of him getting the head of a museum in San Francisco along with the Egyptian liaison – well –  he got them to let him try on King Tut’s ring – when the King Tut Exhibit came to California.”

Linwood McGuire Day was born in 1917 and attended the University of Maine in Orono, majored in history and journalism and graduated about 1941.  He retired at age 68 and spent the remaining years of his life in Davis, California, where he died in 2003 at age 85. I like to think that Amelia was among the first to welcome him at the Pearly Gates, and that she thanked him profusely for all he did to tell the world the truth about her sad end on Saipan.

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3 responses

  1. […] Linwood Day: Forgotten hero of the Earhart saga […]

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  2. You know it’s weird. As a child I had to write a report on Ameila Earhart, I found it odd reading how she disappeared. I never believed what my teacher told me. “She crashed and was never seen again.” I knew that something was odd, but back then the internet wasn’t great. I’ve also had a strange calling to go to Japan. I feel as if my heart is there. I’ll be going to Japan in 2016. I hope I can find out anything I can. I know in my heart that they were captured.

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    1. Dear Big Red,
      Welcome to the Earhart truth. You can add to the knowledge you have in your heart by reading this blog, investing in a copy of Truth at Last, and telling your friends. Because the establishment media has always refused to touch this story, word of mouth at the grass roots level remains the best way to inform others. Thanks for your interest in the Earhart disappearance.
      Mike C.

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