Longtime reader Ken McGhee livened up an uneventful day recently when he informed me about a Sept. 9 Coast to Coast AM story, “Earhart Mural in Malaysia Gets Panned” that repeated a Sept. 5 Yahoo! News article in its own dependably despicable style. The story describes the recent painting of a huge mural depicting Amelia Earhart and her Electra on the outside of a public jail at Taiping, Malaysia, where Earhart reportedly stopped for fuel on her way to Singapore during her 1937 world flight attempt. (Boldface and italic emphasis mine throughout.):
During her now-infamous 1937 attempt at circumnavigating the globe which ultimately led to her disappearance, the legendary pilot stopped at the city’s airport for a day to refuel her plane. Much to the chagrin of those in Taiping who don’t consider the event to be all that significant, the brief moment when Earhart came to town is what is being memorialized in the mural.
Never one to miss an opportunity to throw dirt on the truth, Coast to Coast showed its stripes by drawing a false parallel to the Earhart Memorial Monument movement on Saipan, never checking the validity of the claim in the Malaysia story in its eagerness to misinform its readers about the Earhart disappearance whenever possible:
Taiping is not the only Earhart tribute to become a community concern as debate continues to rage in Saipan over plans to build a huge statue of the aviator whose only connection to the area are rumors that she ultimately landed there.
What “rumors” that Earhart “ultimately landed” on Saipan is Coast to Coast referencing? George Noory and his disinfo claque aren’t interested or well-read enough to be referring to Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, in which author Thomas E. Devine’s claimed that Earhart flew directly from Lae to Saipan, an idea rejected by all serious Earhart researchers. This leaves Paul Briand Jr.’s original erroneous claim found in the recently discussed “Daughter of the Sky,” knowledge of which is also beyond Coast to Coast’s pay grade, though someone on their staff might have read my recent post. Most likely, it’s just Coast to Coast being incompetent, confusing and contrary, its usual practice in all things Earhart.
The original story, “Taiping’s latest mural of aviator Amelia Earhart draws online criticism,” came by way of the
Taiping’s latest mural depicting the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart, has not gone down well with some people online.
Many have gone to the Taiping Municipal Council’s (MPT) official Facebook page to question the rationale behind the drawing.
The American had made a refueling stopover at Tekah Airport on June 7, 1937 before continuing her journey to Singapore and New Guinea in her attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
“As I look into this further, some strange things come up,” McGhee wrote in an email. “In the news article from Malaysia, they say she was in Taiping on June 7 to refuel. According to history books, she was in Natal in South America on June 7. Also in the history books, her route did not take her to Taiping, but to Singapore on June 21. Some error checking is needed here. When was she in Taiping? If at all? Something is not right, but I’m not sure what it is . . . Funny how nobody checks the facts on this. And Tekah is not that far from Singapore. If they went to Tekah Airport to refuel, they would not have needed to stop in Singapore.”
None of the maps or books I’ve checked contain any reference to Earhart stopping at Taiping, in 1937 or any other time. Thus far, the only source I’ve been able to find for the claim that Earhart stopped to refuel at Taiping has been Wikipedia’s Taiping Airport entry:
The airport also achieved fame through the famous American aviator, Amelia Earhart in 1937, when she was doing her world flight and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refueling. Amelia Earhart was flying between Thailand and Singapore and permission to land at Taiping Airport was granted on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya.
Wikipedia offers no footnotes or citations for this claim, leaving us to speculate where it could have come from. I can’t find email addresses for the two artists or reporter Sylvia Looi, either, and have a language problem with the Majlis Perbandaran Taiping Facebook page.
Hoping to find some clarity, I turned to what most would consider the definitive source — the first-person record of Earhart’s world flight, at least of events leading up to the fliers’ June 30 arrival at Lae. What could be more authoritative than Amelia’s own book, Last Flight, published in 1937 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., which I have in a first edition, without her signature, of course.
Below is a scan of the top of page 204, Last Flight, Amelia’s account of her departure from Bangkok, Siam (now Thailand), on June 21, 1937.
The next four paragraphs present Amelia’s impressions of her flight to Singapore, with phrases like: “A country of green mountains opened before us”; “charming towns which looked from the air much like those at home”; and “the fields and valleys were upholstered with a deep-green jungle in an unbelievably continuous covering made by separate trees.”
Nowhere does Earhart mention Taiping or its airport, and she soon gets to the fliers’ arrival at Singapore:
Mary Lovell’s The Sound of Wings is among the best of all the Earhart biographies (see p. 302 for the critical section), but it also offers nary a word about Taiping or its airport. Lovell’s source is also Last Flight, according to the book’s notes, but if Last Flight can’t be considered definitive, what can?
Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, the above map of Earhart’s world flight shows no stops between Bangkok and Singapore, June 20-21, 1937. So where did these two Malaysian muralists get the idea that Amelia stopped there with Fred Noonan and her Electra?
If we’re to clear up this little mystery, we need some help. Your ideas are welcome.
Sept. 24 update: On Sept. 23 I sent a correction page to Wikipedia, following its protocols, and see that the original sentence, “The airport also achieved fame through the famous American aviator, Amelia Earhart in 1937, when she was doing her world flight and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refueling,” has been changed. It now reads, “The airport also achieved fame through the famous American aviator, Amelia Earhart in 1937, when she was doing her world flight. Amelia Earhart was flying between Thailand and Singapore and permission to land at Taiping Airport was granted on 7 June 1937 by the then Resident-General of Malaya.” Note that the all-important phrase, “and made a stopover at the Taiping Airport for refueling,” has been deleted.
In a Sept. 24 email, Ken McGhee wrote, “I think its one thing to say she got permission to land on June 7. It is another thing to actually land. She may have gotten permission and then decided later not to land there.”
Clearly Amelia was not flying between Thailand and Singapore on June 7, when she was in Natal, Brazil, and would not have asked for permission to land at Taiping. But we’ll take the partial concession to logic that Wikipedia makes; it’s quite unusual in itself, especially where Amelia Earhart is concerned.
More important, Ken McGhee’s explanation makes more sense than anything we’ve seen before, and Wikipedia agrees. I’m not going to press them about the small detail of a long-distance radio call from Brazil to (then) Malaya, which could not have happened.