We continue with our visit to the first and only Amelia Earhart Symposium held and sponsored by the Amelia Earhart Society, in August 1993 in Morgan Hill, Calif., an event that AES founder Bill Prymak modestly labeled a “measured success.”
Today we present the first-person account of the symposium proceedings as recorded by AES member Jo Ann Ridley, who, with Art Kennedy, co-authored High Times: Keeping ‘Em Flying: An Aviation Autobiography (1992). Boldface emphasis mine throughout; underline and caps emphasis author’s.
“AMELIA EARHART SYMPOSIUM
AUGUST 27-29, 1993”
By: Jo Ann Ridley
When Amelia Earhart failed to reach Howland Island during a 1937 attempt to fly around the world, her disappearance in the South Pacific created a mystery that after fifty-six years intrigues the American public nearly as much as the JFK assassination, and seems no closer to a solution.
But not for want of trying. As 70 members of the Amelia Earhart Society heard during a recent members-only symposium in Morgan Hill, California, twin bills introduced by Hawaii’s Senator Daniel Inouye and Congresswoman Patsy Mink would declassify and transmit all relevant government records to the Library of Congress for public perusal.
Col. Rollin Reineck, USAF (Ret.), responsible for gaining the collective ear of his Hawaii congressional contingent, is suspicious of government protestations that all Earhart material has been released. Major Joe Gervais, USAF (Ret.), after thirty-three years of investigation considered the “dean” of Earhart research, claims that until the United States government does release classified documents he believes still are kept hidden from view, the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance never will be solved.
During the three-day closed session in August, impressively accredited researchers took to the podium to offer persuasive and well-documented hypotheses about what really happened to Amelia Earhart, and why. Not surprisingly, their theories are as diverse as their backgrounds.
A retired Pan American Airways radio man, recreating with charts her radio transmissions and presumed flight path, wondered why Earhart initially refused his airline’s offer to help track her across the Pacific. A retired airline pilot totally committed to an assumption that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan perished when they crashed in the ocean, pleaded for acceptance of the flyer’s last radio transmissions as evidence of the truth of her predicament and ultimate fate. On the other hand, AES president, Bill Prymak, the Denver business man who has traveled the world and sailed the South Pacific with Gervais in pursuit of Earhart data, told of their encounter with “uncontaminated” Marshallese witnesses who confirmed published reports that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese.
A retired New York Police Department forensic expert presented a sheaf of government documents he says indicate that as early as 1923 Earhart had been selected by the U.S. military to participate in a secret “Orange Plan” and was on a photo mission when she vanished. Like Gervais, he believes Earhart returned to the United States after the war, but not as the Irene Bolam described in the book “Amelia Earhart Lives” by California writer Joe Klaas, based on material furnished by Gervais.
It was Klaas who related in spine-tingling detail the harassment he and Gervais experienced at the hands of minions of Howard Hughes, who Klaas intimated in his book may have provided the Japanese with a design for the Zero fighter in an attempt to gain Earhart’s release. The harassment ended with Hughes’s death, but not before the powerful millionaire recluse sent the two a message to the effect that had it not been for their distinguished combat records in World War II, he’d have “squashed you like bugs,” to quote the Hughes messenger Klaas heard say it. Thanks to efforts either of Hughes or the U. S. government and a cooperative publisher, Amelia Earhart Lives is virtually unobtainable today, with first editions fetching up to $100 a copy.
[Editor’s note: Amelia Earhart Lives was republished by iUniverse in March 2000 and has been available ever since for a pittance on Amazon. Not that I recommend it for casual readers, but the 1960 interviews by Operation Earhart operatives Gervais and Robert Dinger on Guam and Saipan were valuable contributions; otherwise the rest of AE Lives presents only bizarre and ridiculous speculation, and probably did more damage to honest Earhart research than any book ever published.]
As if that weren’t enough on-the-spot intrigue, the final day of the symposium featured several witnesses to the possibility that Earhart, having survived capture and imprisonment when her country failed to extricate her from a mission of their own making, was quietly repatriated by an embarrassed U.S. government under the assumed identity of a New Jersey woman.
Julie Perch, whose father operates the famous aviation theme restaurant “The Flying Lady,” where the symposium took place under 120 model airplanes circling overhead, related her bizarre encounter with Irene Bolam in New York City in 1976. For many, it was bizarre enough to force a conclusion that Bolam either was Earhart or, slightly confused, was afraid that she was. The late Bolam’s best friend was a special guest at the Symposium and confirmed that she saw stacks of files in a closet marked “AE,” and that a silver hair brush set bore the initials “AE.” Bolam’s brother-in-law and his wife said they remembered an intelligent, “classy” lady who was a world traveler, had famous friends, and could talk knowledgeably about airplanes of the twenties and thirties. But all agreed that if you dared to ask if she were Amelia Earhart, you were no longer her friend. None would admit they thought Bolam was Amelia Earhart, but none of them would positively claim that she was not. Photographs of both women elicited various opinions about a resemblance.
[Editor’s note: Only the blind could see any resemblance between the slim, attractive, 5’8″ Earhart and the far shorter, stodgy Irene Bolam. In late December 2015, I began a four-part analysis and overview of the entire Irene Bolam fraud. If you’re new here or want to revisit one of the most ridiculous chapters of the Earhart saga, please click here for the entire series.]
The symposium ended on the following note: no solutions yet, but banding together presents a united front for the record in Earhart research. More information constantly is being retrieved and someday the truth will be known.
The only unanimous conclusion during the sometimes hot and heavy debate was that The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) did not find remains either of the Earhart Electra nor her belongings on Nikumaroro (Gardner) Island as claimed by its director Richard Gillespie. Cited were independent reports from three former Lockheed employees who worked on the plane emphatically denying that a piece of the belly of an aircraft located by Gillespie could be from the Earhart Electra. Nor was it possible that the size 9 shoe sole Gillespie offered as having belonged to the famed aviatrix actually was hers. Earhart wore a size 6 shoe, which Gillespie already had been told by Lou Foudray, curator of the Amelia Earhart birth-home in Atchison, Kansas, before releasing the information.
Amelia’s presence at the symposium was all the more palpable by the affectionate display of photographs taken by Albert Bresnik of Los Angeles, who was Earhart’s personal photographer and originally was slated to fly with her to record the journey. Others among the intent participants, who came from all over the U.S., were several members of Ninety-Nines, the women flyers organization Amelia Earhart helped to establish. Michelle Stauffer, a Kansas aircraft dealer and the first woman ever to fly a Russian SU-27 jet fighter, and Ann Pellegreno, who in 1967 successfully duplicated and completed Earhart’s 1937 flight represented two generations of women pilots devoted to Earhart’s memory.
Two more books about Earhart are due out within the next few months. An anthology of eyewitness accounts assembled by Don Wilson of Rochester, New York, will be published in November under the title Amelia Earhart: Lost Legend. Bloomsbury Publishing will bring out Lost Star: The Search for Amelia Earhart by Gervais associate Randall Brink in November.
End of Part II.