In the wake of our recent three part series about George P. Putnam’s desperate search for Amelia Earhart, which included consultations with psychics and others who offered advice to him from the “other side,” the question of whether Putnam ever visited Saipan to search for his wife’s gravesite has often been raised.
Truth at Last presents the eyewitness accounts of Everett Henson Jr. and Billy Burks, former Marine privates who were ordered by Capt. Tracy Griswold to execute a special excavation detail on Saipan during the summer of 1944. An entire chapter is devoted to their stories, and in a subsection within that chapter, titled, “Secret Files and Executive Orders,” Putnam’s possible Saipan search is examined.
California newspaperman Ross Game accompanied Goerner during at least one of his early investigative forays into Washington’s inner sanctums. In a 1998 letter to Rollin Reineck, Game recalled that he and Goerner had been granted access to secret files in 1963 — before Henson came forward to Game with his story — files that outlined the basics of the Griswold, Henson, and Burks incident:
In Washington files we learned that George Palmer Putnam was secretly
brought to the Saipan gravesite after the island had been captured by
U.S. Marines and the remains “secretly” removed under the direction of
an intelligence officer (we even obtained his name, thanks to the CIA).
I wrote to Game in September 2007, and he kindly responded and confirmed that the name of the officer who removed the fliers’ remains was Captain Tracy Griswold. Game was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and passed away in October 2009 at his home in Napa, Calif. Earhart researcher Ron Reuther met with him in 2005 at a Napa restaurant, and described the seventy-five-year-old newsman as “very sharp on recall.”
Game reiterated to Reuther his conviction that Earhart met her end on Saipan and that Griswold directed the recovery of the remains, and he shared an interesting comment Griswold had made to him and Goerner: “Game still strongly believes AE/FN died on Saipan in December 1937, AE of dysentery, and Noonan was killed shortly after,” Reuther wrote in a 2005 e-mail to the Amelia Earhart Society. “He still believes they were buried together and that USMC Captain Tracy Griswold supervised their exhumation, and that the remains were returned to this country. Game and Goerner talked with the two Marine enlisted persons, Henson and Burks who dug up the remains. He says when they later found and talked with Griswold, he said of their efforts and revelations, ‘You did a wonderful job.’ But he would not confirm anything else.”
Putnam’s presence on Saipan during the war is not certain, as the records Game claimed he and Goerner saw have never been released. Major Putnam was an intelligence officer for the 468th Bombardment Group that operated in China, India, Burma, and the Marianas during 1944 and ’45, and could have been on Saipan, but nothing officially confirming it has surfaced.
J. Gordon Vaeth told Goerner in 1964 that in his job at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he interviewed an ex-Air Force officer who had been on Saipan and “had personally driven G.P. Putnam around the island. Putnam was busy asking questions intended to reveal whether there was any trace of his wife there,” Vaeth wrote. “According to this interviewee, he did not know whether Putnam ever found anything concrete or not.” Vaeth, eighty-seven and living in Olympia, Washington, told Ron Bright in 2007 that the man’s name was Charles Cushman.
I called Vaeth in July 2008, and he confirmed that Cushman was the man who said he drove Putnam around Saipan “during the days when the war was winding down,” well after the island had been secured and was under the control of the U.S. garrison force. Cushman worked for about “five or six years” at NOAA, Vaeth said, and “died about 20 years ago.” Vaeth said the subject came up between them on a few occasions, and he was sure Cushman said Putnam “came up with no information” that indicated his wife’s presence on Saipan, nor did Cushman say anything to Vaeth about Putnam visiting a gravesite.
Cushman’s name also surfaced when Ron Reuther looked into the alleged Putnam gravesite visit. In October 2005, Reuther wrote to the Amelia Earhart Society online forum that he had narrowed the possible time window for Putnam’s visit to Saipan, citing as sources unnamed “family members, many of whom were women”:
Sometime between July 20 and November 2, 1944 George flew to Saipan and was driven around in a jeep by a U.S. military person, later Col. USAF Cushman. Putnam tried to determine if Earhart had been there, but supposedly found no evidence. It seems to me that with his being a Major and an intelligence officer, shortly after the U.S. invasion of Saipan, with the strong likelihood of a number of GI’s being present who had been told of and/or having found evidence of Earhart and Noonan having being on the island, and with several prominent U.S. Marine officers involved with the invasion who have been quoted by Goerner as having said the Marines had determined Earhart had died there, that George would have been told much of this same information while he was there, especially with his strong connections in Washington or to high brass.
Another voice who supported the Putnam-on-Saipan scenario was British biographer Mary S. Lovell, whose The Sound of Wings (1989) is among the best Earhart biographies, but she offered nothing about a clandestine visit to his wife’s gravesite:
At some time during this period of service George visited Saipan. By now stories that Amelia had been captured by the Japanese and taken to Saipan had started to circulate widely. . . . George drove all over the island making extensive enquiries about the white woman flier but he got no answers that gave him any hope that Amelia had ever been there.
Lovell’s scenario is similar to those offered by G. Gordon Vaeth and Ron Reuther, but she cited no source for her statement placing Putnam on Saipan.
Though the foregoing is suggestive and not definitive about Putnam’s alleged Saipan visit and search, researcher Les Kinney is certain that it never happened. When I recently asked him about this, he said we had “pretty much covered” this topic in the comments section of my Dec. 26, 2017 post, “KCBS 1966 release a rare treasure in Earhart saga, and suggested using his comments in this post.
In one of those remarks, on Jan. 8, 2018, Les wrote:
The story of Putnam traveling to Saipan is “fake news.” It never happened. I tracked his travel from China (where he was stationed) back to the US. The story apparently originated second hand when a guy in a jeep reportedly said he drove Putnam on Saipan. He later said, maybe it was China.
One of the Earhart biographies [Lovell] said Putnam went to Saipan but it was never sourced. Putnam left his unit early in China because of severe health problems which eventually killed him. He never flew to Saipan.
For more of Les Kinney’s statements from the Dec. 26, 2017 post, please click here.
But Les had more to offer. In a May 11, 2021 email, he sent “a few more details regarding the apocryphal Putnam visit to Saipan that might not have been in those comments”:
Putnam left the United States on April 15, 1944. He was a briefing officer attached to the 468th Bomber Group. It was the first week of May 1944 before the entire unit mustered in Kharagpur, India.
Putnam didn’t stay in the theater long. On June 6th, when one of the unit members was introduced to Putnam, he wrote, Putnam didn’t stay long and left because of political connections. That wasn’t true. Putnam contracted a parasite which attacked his kidneys. He hung on for another couple months but departed India back to the states sometime in September. According to military records I reviewed, George arrived in the U.S. on September 25th and was admitted to a hospital. He was discharged a few months later but was never able to shake the lingering parasite that eventually killed him. He died of uremic poisoning in a Trona, California Hospital on January 4, 1950.
Putnam never was assigned per se to China. All the B-29 bombing missions for the 468th originated at Kharagpur, India. They flew over the “Hump” to a refueling strip known as A-7, south of Chengtu China. From that forward refueling base, they carried out raids on Thailand, Burma, Singapore, and later in Japan. Base A-7 is 900 miles from the Eastern Chinese coast which was in Japanese hands and remained that way until the close of war.
The 468th Bomber Group was not reassigned to Tinian (not Saipan three miles north) until May of 1945. By then, Putnam was in California.
There’s no reason to believe Charles Cushman hadn’t met Putnam in India and maybe even had flown with him to forward base A-7. But if Cushman drove Putnam around in a jeep, it would have been in India or possibly at the A7 refueling base in western China.
Cushman wouldn’t have arrived at Tinian until May of 1945 which meant he never drove Putnam around Saipan.
Cushman told Gordon Vaeth, a FAA bureaucrat with an interest in Earhart, the story of driving Putnam around Saipan looking for Amelia’s grave. Later, Cushman told Vaeth he might have been mistaken and that it was China where he ferried Putnam around in a jeep. I have that account in my files. I have no idea where one of the Earhart biographers came up with the story. But it simply couldn’t have happened. Flights from western China to the Pacific islands didn’t occur until spring of 1945. When B-29’s flew to India or western China, prior to that time, they were routed through South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, and then on to India. The first B-29’s didn’t arrive on Saipan from the other direction until late fall of 1944. If Putnam visited Saipan in the summer of 1944, he would have traveled in ill health literally around the world to reach Amelia’s grave site. It just didn’t happen.
A similar account has George analyzing the voice of Tokyo Rose. In Courage is the Price, Amelia’s sister, Muriel, wrote that George made a dangerous three-day trek through Japanese held territory to reach a Marine Corps radio station near the coast where the broadcast reception was loud and clear. After listening to the voice for less than a minute, he said “I’ll stake my life that that is not Amelia’s voice.” None of Muriel’s letters describe any such incident. In fact, she had to write the Army department to determine when and where Putnam served overseas. Much of what Muriel wrote is apocryphal and bordering on the ridiculous. Traveling through Japanese territory for three days to a Marine station on the coast? Muriel knew nothing. As adults, Amelia was more the mother to a petulant child.
Les Kinney makes a strong case that Putnam never made it to Saipan, and I trust that he has the file wherein “Cushman told Vaeth he might have been mistaken and that it was China where he ferried Putnam around in a jeep,” as he describes it, though I’d still like to see the hard copy.
Several years earlier, Amelia Earhart Society researcher Ron Bright joined Kinney in dismissing the idea of Putnam’s alleged Saipan search. During an Oct. 28, 2015 discussion on the now defunct AERA (Amelia Earhart Research Association) Yahoo! Group Forum, Bright wrote that he agreed it was “unlikely that GP toured Saipan looking for his wife.” The former ONI agent continued:
I think the U.S. government was comfortable in the “crash and sank” version, and doubt that he would have taken on such a search without a lot of folks knowing it, including those Navy officials on Saipan in 1944. Never have I seen any other mention of this alleged search.
The only source I would depend on was Vaeth’s identification of Cushman, but who knows how credible Cushman was. He simply could have been mistaken about the identity. I just didn’t press Vaeth on Cushman and the circumstances he found Cushman. Hearsay at best.
. . . Anyway GP would have told Amy, Muriel , et al , even if unsuccessful, that he tried his best to find AE on Saipan. Never a word from him and as a journalist, this would have been reported somewhere, someplace.
Thus, I think you are right, that there really isn’t any solid evidence that GP toured the war torn Saipan. If GP had been there, other reporters would have picked up on it.
Prior to Les Kinney’s recent update, I was undecided about the Putnam-on-Saipan question. Most of all, I had Ross Game’s statement that he and Fred Goerner had viewed secret files in Washington that revealed Putnam’s Saipan visit, and the Cushman story via J. Gordon Vaeth seemed to support Game’s account. Otherwise, Mary Lovell had mentioned Putnam’s alleged Saipan search in her book, without citing a source, and Ron Reuther referenced “female sources“ that he never identified in his message to the AES.
Now I think Kinney’s research and reasoning is superior to the rest of what we have, and he’s made a believer out of me, at least unless and until more definitive information surfaces. Ross Game’s claim, however, still reverberates.
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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?
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.
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 “play” with 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.”
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.)
Today we reach back into the dusty archives that chronicle the early years following Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, for an up-close-and-personal look at the strange and bizarre experiences that Amelia’s desperate husband, George Palmer Putnam, encountered during his vain search for his doomed wife.
For added realism, I’ve included the original headings from the November 1994 Amelia Earhart Society Newsletter article; forthwith is the first of three parts of “Is Amelia Earhart Still Alive,” by Dean S. Jennings (1905-1969), taken from the December 1939 and January 1940 editions of Popular Aviation. (Boldface emphasis both mine and in AES Newsletter original version.)
The judge’s voice had the tone of unwilling finality: “With all the evidence before me, I can reach no other decision: Amelia Earhart Putnam died on or about July 2, 1937. . . ”
And so, in the court of Superior Judge Elliott Craig at Los Angeles on January 5, 1939, ended another tragic chapter in-the dark glories of aviation.
Ended? Indeed not! For the next morning the postman arrived at the home of George Palmer Putnam in North Hollywood with his usual batch of strange letters from psychics and others who said: “She is not dead” . . . “I spoke to her last night” . . . “I saw Amelia in a dream.” There were more telegrams for a file already choked with some 500 wires. There were phone calls, local and long distance, from persons who challenged: “No court can govern nature. She is still alive.”
What is the answer to this mass controversy? Is Amelia Earhart alive? Did she find a refuge on some remote, uninhabited island? These are the questions that emerge from deeply moving appeals — more than 3,000 of them — to Mr. Putnam since America’s premier aviatrix vanished with her navigator, Capt. Fred Noonan, in the sunlight of a South Seas morning months ago.
Hundreds of writers, asking neither publicity nor reward, insist they have seen Amelia Earhart in their dreams. Many others claim they have talked to her in an astral world. One man in New Mexico insists Amelia told him she was murdered, not drowned. And Mr. Putnam himself, on several occasions, has conversed with weird spirit voices, at least one of which was supposed to be that of his lost wife. The letter writers ask the question: “Mr. Putnam. do you believe she is alive?” Now at last, 20 long months after the disastrous flight, her husband has given the answer he feels deep in heart and mind — an answer echoed by a court of law: “NO.”
In that agonizing interval George Putnam has had some of the most extraordinary experiences ever allotted to one man in a lifetime. Some of them were uncanny with truth and fact — and without explanation
He has been besieged, hoaxed, heckled, and strangely stirred by thousands of correspondents in every comer of the world. Open-minded, he has attended séances, read horoscopes, corresponded with mediums. He has received rambling messages written by spirit hands; has examined sketches of Amelia Earhart, handwriting, maps — all supposedly emanating from unworldly sources. And once, through one of the cruelest plots ever born in a criminal mind, he was actually convinced that Amelia had been found alive — and brought to New York.
The deluge began less than three hours after that last pitiful radio whisper from a plane floundering in the sky south of Howland Island. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca heard that SOS. Georgia Putnam heard it, crouched over a receiver in a Coast Guard station at San Francisco. The whole world soon heard it.
Here is the first telegram, copied verbatim from the original in Mr. Putnam’s personal files which, never before shown to anyone, were made available to this writer:
NEW YORK N.Y. DL
OPERATIONS MANAGER OAKLAND AIRPORT.
PLEASE GIVE THIS INFORMATION TO PUTNAM. EMINENT PSYCHIC SAYS BOTH SAFE ON REEF LESS THAN 200 MILES NORTHWEST HOWLAND ISLAND. PLANE PRETTY WELL CRACKED UP BUT BOTH SAFE.MISS EARHART IN BETTER SHAPE THAN NOONAN. ITASCA WILL FIND THEM IN MORNING. HASTE IS NECESSARY BUT THEY WILL BE RESCUED. PLEASE TAKE THIS FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH FROM A WELL WISHER.
The Itasca did not find them the next morning. Or the next. Or ever again. But the telegrams and letters and phone calls kept coming. By nightfall operators at the airport telegraph office had stopped sealing the messages; they gave them to Mr. Putnam in bundles. The telephone company installed a special wire. Postmen trudged a weary path to the Coast Guard office and his rooms at the airport hotel in Oakland. Today — more than two years later — those messages are still coming.
In those first anxious hours and days, George Putnam was surrounded by friends and well wishers, most of whom, openly skeptical, saw something grimly humorous in the flood of bizarre messages. He himself was faced with conflicting emotions–an ingrained doubt of the supernatural, a natural curiosity heightened by grief and worry. AE was down. And any thread was a line of life. . . .
George Putnam tried to answer every wire and letter, tried to run down every meager clue that offered any hope at all. By the end of the third day the task assumed staggering proportions. He had gone without sleep for 70 hours, had taken virtually no food. and friends tried to intervene.
“Now look, George,” said Dr. Harry Clay of San Francisco, an old friend, “you can’t stand much more of this. And anyway, you certainly don’t believe in that psychic stuff.”
“Believe?” George Putnam said wearily. “At a time like this, Harry, I’m willing to believe almost anything that might help.”
“But those letters are based on dreams. On spook voices. Probably fakes.”
“Perhaps, Harry. You’re a doctor. You know how close dreams are to reality. And who really knows how to find the dividing line?”
Dr. Clay smiled at his friend and patient. “There are some things people shouldn’t know. Oh, I know you and AE have sat in on table-tappings and other experiments out of your healthy curiosity.”
“With some astonishing results — ”
“–and others plainly ridiculous.”
“Of course. Someone asked me last night,” Mr. Putnam added a little bitterly, “whether AE carried a good luck piece on her plane.”
“Certainly not. She said the only lucky charms she wanted were a good engine and a first class mechanic.”
“That sounds like AE.”
George Putnam said no more, and walked back to the airport office and his long vain vigil. On the fifth day, when Mr. Putnam was on the verge of a physical disintegration that might have left permanent scars, the wise and determined San Francisco physician saw to it that he found rest. He slept 48 hours and rode the crisis.
Then, with his son David, and others who remained at his side during that humbling period when men and planes and ships searched the south Pacific, he began sorting the messages with a calmer mind. One of them might keep hope alive. . . .
One of the first telegrams, significantly, was from a woman now recognized as one of America’s leading astrologers. It was she who had written to Miss Earhart before the flight, counseling: “Flying conditions on the first and second of July (italics are the author’s) are very good indeed, and this would be an excellent time to make the last lap.”
On July 7, plainly stunned, the noted forecaster telegraphed to Mr. Putnam at Oakland:
YOU CAN IMAGINE MY STATE OF MIND AND I CAN IMAGINE YOURS.
CONSULTATION OF THREE PSYCHICS SIX ASTROLOGERS SAY ALL WILL BE WELL.
Still later, in a humble and poignant letter that reflected her perplexity, she wrote:
“I don’t want to alibi. I have none. I failed in the biggest job I’ve ever had and there’s no alibi for that. About psychics and astrologers, our work has been wrong many times right many times. That is about as much as one can say for it. It has a long way to go.”
In the same mail came a letter from another astrologer, Mrs. K___ S___, gently and wistfully reproving Miss Earhart and Mr. Putnam for having ignored a warning she had given them before the fatal flight. And she was right. Her first letter dated May 7, 1937, was found in the files, and it read:
“I beg of you to postpone your trip . . . you can expect at best only delays, obstructions, and difficulties, even if you avoid a dangerous crash. Please believe that this letter was motivated by a sincere desire to keep you from possible disaster.”
These ironic contradictions were noticeable in all the letters and telegrams that reached Mr. Putnam, first at Oakland, then in his North Hollywood home. (End of Part I.)
“Two very strange telegrams,” is the way Bill Prymak described these compelling missives in the opening pages of Volume 1 of his Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters. I don’t know how Prymak procured these provocative documents, or even if they were ever made public before they appeared in the AES Newsletters. I’ve never seen them anywhere else, but maybe someone can shed more light. In his brief note at the bottom of the page, Prymak wrote:
July 30, 1937 from [U.S. Secretary of State] Cordell Hull to American Embassy London, and [second] telegram from [George Palmer] Putnam to Marvin McIntyre, personal secretary to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. We are digging to find out what is so “hurtful and internationally embarrassing to all concerned.” Putnam evidently knew something that had to be kept from the American public; could be that he knew AE did survive July 2nd.”
Here’s the first telegram, from Cordell Hull to the American Embassy in London. At the time, the U.S. Ambassador to Britain was Robert Worth Bingham, whose name has never been associated with the Earhart story, to my knowledge.
In the telegram (above) Hull flatly states that “evidence that to many sources seems positive indicates that Amelia Earhart (Mrs. Putnam) was on land the two nights following her disappearance.” What “evidence” is Hull referencing in his July 30, 1937 telegram, written less than two weeks after the official Navy and Coast Guard reports failed to list a single instance of any such evidence? (See also Truth at Last, pages 38-57.) To this day, these reports are cited as the official U.S. government position on the Earhart matter.
Otherwise, Hull is asking the British government, which owns the Gilbert Islands, to “continue a thorough search in those Islands” and that “Mr. Putnam would be glad to defray the expense involved.” Hull then reports that Putnam is offering a $2,000 reward for “any evidence leading to a solution of her disappearance whether in the nature of wreckage or more positive indication of what happened.”
Can anyone tell us why this statement from the eminent Secretary of State under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the longest serving (11 years) in U.S. history, has never been mentioned by the U.S. media in over 83 years of its dishonest coverage of the Earhart disappearance? Or has it?
Nearly a month later, Amelia Earhart’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, writes to Marvin McIntyre, FDR’s secretary, to complain that “after three weeks” he has been “unable to secure reply or cooperation British [sic] on small specific search financed by me.” Putnam asks McIntyre for help in “getting action at least information” on his request to Britain, adding that he is “anxious [to] head off threatened story by newspaper which knows situation some likely hurtful all concerned and internationally embarrassing.”
To summarize: These two telegrams sent soon after Amelia Earhart’s disappearance contain statements that strongly suggest that Secretary of State Cordell Hull and G.P. Putnam are in possession of facts that directly contradict the official U.S. story. Prymak’s AES Newsletters don’t offer anything further from Hull or Putnam along this thread, so we’re left to speculate just what Hull and Putnam were talking about.
What do you think?