G.P. Putnam’s bizarre search for Amelia, Conclusion

Today we present the third and concluding installment of Dean S. Jennings’ 1939-1940 compilation, IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?” his chronicle of the desperate times of George P. Putnam, as he searched in vain 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.  (Boldface emphasis mine throughout.)

“IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?” (Conclusion)
By Dean S. Jennings

Late in September, Mr. Putnam received a telephone call from a man of unquestioned integrity, a writer long prominent in literary circles and a serious student of psychic phenomena.

George,” he said eagerly, “I have had the most baffling experience in all the years I’ve been doing psychic research! 

Well . . . ” Mr. Putnam said lightly, what am I supposed to do? 

“Now, listen. This medium is a middle-aged woman of considerable intelligence.  She has two voices — one her own, and another that comes from some place in her chest.” 

Ventriloquism, perhaps? 

No — I’ve already eliminated that possibility. The point is, George, she gave me a brief message from AE the other night.  And there may be more.  I just thought you’d like to sit in for a demonstration. 

Of course. 

Make it tomorrow night, about 7:30? 

Fine.  I’ll be there. 

And so George Putnam, still skeptical, still rebuking himself for toying with fantasy, went to the author’s Los Angeles home and witnessed a phenomenon that numerous observers have yet to solve.  The woman medium was thoroughly examined before the demonstration began.  Her mouth was taped.  Mr. Putnam and his friends stood very close to her, and all the lights were on in the room.

Kingman Reef (looking north) is a largely submerged, uninhabited triangular-shaped reef, 9.0 nautical miles east-west and 4.5 nautical miles north-south in the North Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway between the Hawaiian Islands and American Samoa.  Some have speculated that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan may have landed there.  Photo by Susan White/USFWS.

Suddenly the voice was heard, an eerie whisper that rose and fell like the night wind.  The woman’s eyes were closed, her body was tense.  There was not a ripple of motion in the muscles of her throat or chest.  Mr. Putnam began asking questions; the voice answered. Sometimes softly, sometimes in a shrill whistle of startling volume.  And here is a portion of the transcript, just as it was recorded during that ghostly interview, with Mr. Putnam’s notations concerning some of the answers:

Voice (V): . . . Fred was not at fault.  It unavoidable.
Putnam (P):  Were they killed instantly?
V:  No
P:  Were you on the plane a long time?
V:  No.  On a reef. . . .
P:  What direction from Howland?
V:  Almost directly north.  (There are no islands north of Howland.)
P:  Is it Kingman Reef?
V:  Near there.  There are Navy planes flying there now.  (This is November.  The Navy search ended in July.)
P:  What will they find?
V:  They will find wreckage, in the water, near the island.  (Nothing was ever found.)
P:  What did Fred Noonan call his wife?
V:  Fred wants you to tell B. that it was not his fault. . . He is living.  (Evasive answer.)
P:  Who is living?  Noonan?
V:  He is not dead.  He wanted you to know there is no death. . . . Maitland.  He is here.
P.  Is Kingsford-Smith there?
V:  Yes.  Maitland and Kingsford-Smith.
P:  Wiley Post?  And Will Rogers?
V:  Yes.  Yes.  Amelia is among a lot of friends.
P:  What about her mother?
V:  She has not given up hope.  (That was true.)
P:  Can you ascertain from Amelia what word she used in addressing me?  Does the name begin with the letter K?
V:  No, P.
P:  This is important; I want to get this right.
V:  Pug.  Pug or Pugsy.  (AE actually gave me a nickname similar to this, although only one or two intimate friends knew it.)
P:  What was it that Amelia always carried that she didn’t take this time and left with me?

V:  Her bracelet. (This is true. No one knew but myself.)
P:  What country did the bracelet come from?
V:  Africa. (Only AE and I knew that.)
P:  What would she like me to do with the bracelet?
V:  Keep it.  You gave it to her, so you keep it.
P.  Will any of Amelia’s things, like her watch, ever be found?
V:  No. Parts of the plane.
P:  Will you ask Amelia, please, if she had the Seagraves watch.
V:  She did not.  (Wrong. She did have it.)
P:  Where is her will?
V:  In the safe-deposit box.  With the watch.  (Wrong.)
P:  Ask Amelia if she knows anything about the trip I am contemplating.
V:  Yes.  That is very good.  By all means go.  (I was planning a cruise.  I did go later.)

The séance ended as abruptly as it had begun and George Putnam went home to ponder another mystery.

Amelia Earhart and husband George P. Putnam, undated.  Putnam left no stone unturned in his search for Amelia, even consulting with several psychics and mediums, attempting to reach beyond the Veil to learn the truth about Amelia’s fate.

He has had other brushes with the occult in the long months since.  Things have happened that defy the laws of nature and common sense and, at the same time, are ridiculous and an insult to intelligence.  There was the woman in Los Angeles who dreamed that Mr. Putnam came to her home and showed her a bulky manuscript.

It looked like the bound proofs of a book,she wrote.  You riffled the pages and I saw the number on the last one.  Have you written a story about Miss Earhart. and is it about 266 pages long?

Mr. Putnam had not.  But some months later, when he finished compiling a draft of Amelia Earhart’s book, “Last Flight” — it was exactly 266 pages.  Was this the power of suggestion?  Perhaps. . . . 

There was the group of four college women in San Francisco who had long scoffed at psychic phenomena until they sat down one night to playwith a Ouija board.  That venture resulted in some 10,000 words of dialogue between them and an invisible power which moved the wooden finger in the name of Amelia Earhart.  The board spelled out a vast amount of technical aviation information that required an expert to explain — information that the women admitted was far beyond their understanding.  Not one of them had ever flown a plane.

They wrote to Mr. Putnam with a sense of chagrin and foolishness.  At the expense of typing ourselves as a few crazy cranks,one said, we are sending this material to you.  We are ordinarily sensible people who found a game turning into something frightening and mysterious. I wish we knew the answer. . . .

George Putnam replied, and his answer was indicative of the position he took when the first telegram came, the opinion he still holds today.

“I gather that you regard such manifestations much as I do,” Putnam wrote.  “That is, with open mindedness and tempered curiosity.  Long ago I became convinced, as did Miss Earhart, that there is much on the borderland of things psychic about which we understand little or nothing.  We were both always ready ’to be shown.’  I have had an extraordinary amount of this kind of communication for many months, coming from sincere people with no axe to grind, no favors to ask.  I have told them what I am telling you: I honestly do not know how to explain these things. . . . ” (End of “IS AMELIA EARHART STILL ALIVE?”)

For more on Amelia’s reputed psychic abilities and her quixotic relationship with the other side, please see my Jan. 18, 2017 post, “The Psychic World of Amelia Earhart.

3 responses

  1. Leslie Kinney | Reply

    Nice change of pace, Mike.

    As you know, there is quite a bit of truth in some of the psychic wisdom imparted by various mediums during and immediately after Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance. Jennings and Putnam had collaborated on this article.

    Your readers might be interested in knowing Dean Jennings was a friend of Putnam and spent a considerable amount of time at Putnam’s home in North Hollywood. Jennings had just finished a book titled “The Man Who Killed Hitler” which Putnam published without naming the author.

    As part of a publicity stunt for the book, Putnam almost got arrested for faking his own kidnapping. He told the police that two German speaking men had accosted him in his garage at gun point and brought him to a house under construction in Bakersfield where he was bound and gagged. They demanded to know who wrote the book and suggested he stop it’s publication.

    If this had happened today, Putnam would have been arrested.

    Les Kinney

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  2. Stuart R. Brownstein | Reply

    Thanks for keeping everyone informed ! Be well ! Stuart

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  3. William H. Trail | Reply

    Greetings to All:

    Although Jennings most likely wouldn’t have been aware of it at the time he wrote the article for Popular Aviation magazine, one individual who claimed some measure of psychic ability that Putnam sought out immediately for information was none other than the noted aviatrix, and personal friend of AE, Jacqueline Cochran — hardly a person who could be categorized as a “crank,” “fraud,” “charlatan,” or someone seeking “notoriety,” or one seeking to profit from a tragedy involving a good friend.

    In her autobiography — “The Stars at Noon” (1954) Little, Brown and Company, Co. — Cochran writes on page 91, “With all this ability and preliminary work with Amelia [who also had an interest in psychic phenomena], why didn’t I locate her when she went down? The answer is that I did, or at least I think I did, but can never prove it one way or the other, and besides it was all to no purpose. George Putnam was in my apartment in Los Angeles almost as soon as he could get there after the news of her nonarrival at Howland Island. He was extremely excited and called on me for the kind of help Amelia thought I might be able to give. I told him where Amelia had gone down; that with the ditching of the plane Mr. Noonan, the navigator, had fractured his skull against the bulkhead in the navigator’s compartment and was unconscious; but that Amelia was alive and the plane was floating in a certain area. I named a boat called the Itasca which I had never heard of at the time, as a boat that was nearby, and I also named another Japanese fishing vessel in that area, the name of which I now forget. I begged Putnam to keep my name out of it all but to get planes and ships out to the designated area. Navy planes and ships in abundance combed that area but found no trace. I followed the course of her drifting for two days. It was always in the area being well combed. On the third day, I went to the Cathedral and lit candle’s for Amelia’s soul, which I then knew had taken off on it’s own long flight. I was frustrated and emotionally overcome. If my strange ability was worth anything it should have saved Amelia. Only the urging of Floyd [Odlum] ever prompted me to try my hand at this sort of thing again and he hasn’t urged me for several years for he knows it upsets me.”

    Essentially the same account with some elaboration appears in “Jackie Cochran: An Autobiography” by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley (1987), Rufus Publications, Inc. on page 142.

    All best,

    William

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