We continue with our visit to the strange and desperate times of George P. Putnam, as he futilely searched for his missing wife, Amelia Earhart, in the years immediately following her disappearance on July 2, 1937. This article appeared in the November 1994 issue of the Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, and outside of my boldface emphasis and inserted photos, it is a near exact representation of the stories that appeared in the December 1939 and January 1940 editions of Popular Aviation magazine.
“IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?” (Part II of three)
By Dean S. Jennings
A woman in Detroit sent a series of unique sketches which she called “human radio wave pictures,” depicting Amelia Earhart dragging Capt. Noonan ashore on a barren island. The woman, an architect with two university degrees, said she was impelled to draw the pictures by a power she could not explain. At the same time another correspondent airmailed a crude pencil sketch which she said was drawn by “the eye of science” moving her fingers. It showed Miss Earhart sprawled face down on a beach, dead.
The messages came from every, state, from Mexico, Canada, Great Britain and a dozen other countries. A clairvoyant in Miami “saw” Miss Earhart in a native village at Samoa and asked a reward for her information. Five prominent citizens of Denver “talked” to Miss Earhart in a séance and learned that she and Capt. Noonan had been forced down on a volcanic island and were asphyxiated by sulfur fumes. A seer in Boston forwarded a 5,000-word transcript of her astral conversations with the lost flyers.
From an engineer in New Mexico came an incredible account of a dream in which, he saw rescue boats approach the wrecked Electra. He quoted Miss Earhart:
“We felt no uneasiness, thinking we were among friends. But when our plane touched water, we were shot in the back of the head. Our plane and bodies were rifled of all valuables and the inhuman monsters sank the plane with our bodies.”
The writer offered an explanation for the crime, saying: “This dream was so starkly clear I felt it my duty’ to tell you. When one considers the pirating done in the past and today with automobiles, trains and ships, it seems entirely reasonable . . .”
A retired Los Angeles businessman forwarded a diary of his spirit talks with Miss Earhart, and a detailed map of an island he had seen in his visions. He had drawn it in the dark of night, but was never able to give an exact location.
In looking back through the bright pages of Amelia Earhart’s adventurous life, George Putnam remembered something that might have explained the curious fervor of all those men and women who wanted to help in his hour of despair. It was simply that Amelia Earhart herself had a fragile psychic quality, some strange susceptibility to conditions beyond understanding. She rarely mentioned it to friends, never discussed it publicly. But whenever AE participated in mental telepathy or other psychic experiments to further her curiosity, observers were astonished at results. And yet she never invoked or followed the advice of countless clairvoyants and astrologers who besieged her at every stage of her great flights.
She used to say, laughing gaily: “I haven’t the courage to tell people my plans in advance. A pilot shouldn’t worry: if I listened to every prediction, I’d probably never leave the ground.”
It is not generally known that forecasters predicted accidents on two of Amelia’s successful ocean flights — or that several astrologers begged her not to fly on March 20th in 1937, the day her plane was smashed on a take-off from Honolulu.
Despite his willingness and feverish anxiety to leave nothing to chance, George Putnam found little or nothing tangible in the first rush of letters from eager writers. He was ready to be shown, but there was heartbreaking confusion and disparity in every batch of mail. Late in July, however, occurred the first of several remarkable events. That morning Mr. Putnam received the following telegram from Hamilton, Ontario:
AMELIA EARHART ALIVE ON CORAL SHOAL ON ONE OF GILBERT ISLANDS LATITUDE 2 ABOVE EQUATOR 174 LONGITUDE. THIS MESSAGE RECEIVED BY MR. L______ NEW YORK MEDIUM.
Mr. Putnam made a note of the position, intending to check it later on his maps, and filed the telegram away. An hour or so later, when the morning mail was delivered, there came a brief but pleasant note from Capt. T_____ M______ of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Mr. Putnam eventually came to it, in the monotonous process of routine, and began reading:
“I am the retired captain of a copra boat that used to trade in the South Seas. I just happened to remember an uncharted island that we frequently visited for turtle eggs. The Gilbertese natives know where it is, too. The island is at ______ ”
George Putnam was suddenly out of his office chair, yelling for his son. “Dave! Oh, Dave!”
David Putnam came, running. “Trouble, Dad?”
“No. Listen, Dave. get me the telegram that came this morning from Ontario, Canada. The one about the island near the Gilberts.”
David fetched it, and he and his father nervously compared the latitude and longitude with that given in Capt. M ’s letter. They were exactly the same! The retired skipper’s letter, however, gave a more detailed location — 174 degrees, 10 minutes east longitude, 2 degrees, 36 minutes north latitude. A hasty examination of a map located the spot, roughly about 85 miles from Tarawa Island.
Urgent telegrams were rushed to the Ontario medium and to Capt. M asking further details. Suitcases were packed for a swift trip to New York. The telephone wires throbbed with calls to navigation authorities, government officials, explorers, seasoned travelers — anyone who might have come upon that tiny dot of land in their wanderings
Two days later, in New York, George Putnam knew in his heart that he must have that island searched. And finally, through the cooperation of Sumner Welles, Under-Secretary of State, the transatlantic cables to London pulsed with Mr. Putnam’s plea. The British authorities agreed to communicate with their consul in the distant outpost and a search was arranged — at Mr. Putnam’s expense.
A vessel put out from Makin Island. skimmed through uncharted lanes and soon came to 174 east longitude, 2 degrees north latitude.
But the island had vanished. The searching crew checked and re-checked their bearings. They poured over maps, took soundings and cruised around the spot for two days. But there was no land within 20 miles, there wasn’t one single clue to indicate what might have happened to that uncharted speck of earth. And the island has not been found to this day.
While Putnam was in New York late that summer, stopping at the Barclay Hotel, he was approached by numerous persons who offered to sell him information concerning his missing wife’s whereabouts. One man, Wilbur Rothar, a Bronx janitor, actually claimed he had found Miss Earhart on a South Seas island, and attempted to extort $2,000 from Putnam. He was trapped by Dept. of Justice agents, found insane by a board of alienists, and sent to an asylum for life.
George Putnam returned to California — and the stream of letters still flowed. But the edge of curiosity was dulled; he had not quite the same zest for searching the unknown. Yet there were some whose challenge he could not resist. And occasionally there were results which, though inexplicable, clearly showed how much the world has yet to learn about psychic phenomena, mental telepathy and related fields. One of these experiences concerned Mr. Ka, a Los Angeles crystal gazer. Accompanied by his son, David, and a stenographer, Mr. Putnam attended a demonstration in which Mr. Ka went into a trance over a huge crystal ball.
After a moment of silence, he began reciting letters rapidly in a hollow, muffled tone. He rattled them off for seven minutes and, when typed, they proved to be rambling sentences in Latin. Subsequently, when the message was translated, it contained an astonishing amount of little-known information about Amelia Earhart’s flight, and gave the location of the lost plane.
A search of the remote area described was out of the question. And later, when Mr. Putnam called on the clairvoyant again, he was given another message which said, simply: “You are too late.”
George Putnam was convinced the whole performance was faked, until a confidential investigation disclosed that Mr. Ka was totally uneducated, spoke and wrote very poor English — and had never before given out a message in Latin. (End of Part II.)