Tag Archives: Muriel Morrissey

Revisiting the ’82 Smithsonian Earhart Symposium

As we continue our trek through these ever-more interesting times, perhaps the most significant public discussion about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the June 1982 Amelia Earhart Symposium at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum, continues to fade from sight and memory.

Only the most well-informed even recall this event, or that it occasioned the great inventor Fred Hooven, after years of studying data from the Pan Am intercepts and other alleged post-loss radio receptions, to present his paper, “Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight,” the first academic, objective analysis of the Earhart post-flight transmissions. 

Hooven’s thesis became better known as “The Hooven Report” and established him as the creator of the McKean-Gardner Island landing theory, soon to become TIGHAR’s infamous Nikumaroro hypothesis” that continues to haunt us to this day, long after Hooven abandoned it.  For more on Hooven’s work, see Truth at Last pages 56-57, 303-304 or click here.

For reasons clear to those of us who understand the truth, the symposium was not covered by Smithsonian Magazine or any other publications that I’m aware of, nor do I have a transcript or audio tape of it.  The only significant mention of the event that I have can be found in the July 1998 edition of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, which contains the below letter from little-known Earhart researcher Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog. 

Forthwith is the first of two parts.  Boldface emphasis mine throughout, underline emphasis in original AES article.

THE GREAT DEBATE of 18 June 1982
at the SMITHSONIAN, WASHINGTON, D.C.”
(A letter from Dean Magley to Joe Gervais, who could not attend.)

 

Dear Joe,                                                                                     6/25/82

I thought I should bring you up to date concerning my attending the symposium on A.E. in D.C. on 18 June 1982.

Earhart researcher Dean Magley, of Rockford, Ill., passed away in January 1991 at age 57.

I did make contact with Bob Jones and we were together the entire day.  Nice fella.  He is also very interested in the Lindbergh kidnapping, and a fellow named Olson, whom Bob had written but received no answer from, sat right in front of us for one session.  Bob was so excited he could hardly concentrate on the speaker.

The audience totaled around 400. The first 5 or 6 rows were reserved for various preferred
people.  I never learned how they were selected, but Bob and I weren’t included.  Those who [attended] were, included the afternoon speakers: Sally Chapman, granddaughter of G.P.P.  [George Palmer Putnam] who is writing a book on G.P.P.; Grace McGuire, A.E.’s look-alike who is to complete A.E.’s flight plan this year; Don Kothera and wife; Paul L. Rafford, Jr., who claims to be a close friend of Bill Galtin, the radio operator on Itasca; Milton R. Shils, an insurance man from Philly who had a picture taken of him at age 13 with A.E. and 4 or 5 others; Amy Kleppner, Muriel Morrissey’s daughter; [Evelyn] Bobbi Trout, charter member of the 99’s and her companion, Carol Osborne, who inherited some large collection of flying memorabilia; [William] Polhemus, the navigator on Ann Pellegreno’s  [June-July 1967] duplicate flight; Cmdr. H. Anthony who was in charge of the search for A.E. (who relieved [Itasca Cmdr.] W. K. Thompson?); and possibly 30-40 others who were not introduced and I did not learn their names.  One of these was a young lady of about 30 who had short cut hair like A.E., actually resembled her, and wore a new, shorter version of the leather coat A.E. wears in the first picture of your book.  She also audio taped the entire program.  She got out of the hall before I could talk to her.  Darn!

There were basically three types of people represented: Those who say A.E. was taken by the Japanese but is now dead; those who agree with you that she still lives; those who say she was lost in the drink.  One young man age 20-25, raised four or five questions with reference to your book.  I did not get his name.

Muriel Morrissey spoke first.   She spoke mainly of their childhood.  Muriel is getting a little senile, I think.  She did say the Lindberghs didn’t get along too well.  I don’t know how she got on that topic.  She also said, “We should have a true answer soon” (as to A.E.’s disappearance).  This brought a murmur from the crowd.  Questions from the audience asked for an explanation of her true answerstatement.  She flustered, then looked down at the front row of the audience and asked Elgen Long if she should say anything further.  He indicatedno.’  She then said more would be told in the afternoon session.

Fay Gillis Wells, circa 1930, who passed away in December 2002 at age 94, was an American pioneer aviator, globe-trotting journalist and a broadcaster.  In 1929, she became one of the first women pilots to bail out of an airplane to save her life and helped found the Ninety-Nines, the international organization of licensed women pilots.  As a journalist she corresponded from the Soviet Union in the 1930s, covered wars and pioneered overseas radio broadcasting with her husband, the reporter Linton Wells, and was a White House correspondent from 1963 to 1977.

Fay Gillis Wells — quite robust — speaks with authority.  She had her entire talk on 3 x 5 cards and read it word for word.  It was very well written and delivered.  She was a foreign correspondent in 1933 in Russia, and handled the logistics for Wiley Post on his world flight.  She also accompanied Nixon on his trip to China.  She said there will soon be three new books on A.E.  She vehemently denies that A.E. is alive.  You recall when I spoke to her on the phone a month previously and mentioned there are some who think A.E. lives, she broke in almost before I could finish my statement said, “THAT’S PREPOSTEROUS!  That poor woman in New Jersey should be left alone.”  I have just realized that Fay was asked if she knew Irene Craigmile by the young man I mentioned earlier.  Her reply was to the effect that she didn’t know what he was talking about but no, she didn’t know any Irene Craigmile.  The young fellow then said Irene Craigmile is now Mrs. [Irene] Bolam and is pictured in your book, “A.E. [Amelia Earhart] Lives.”  Fay said, “Oh, I’ve never read that book!”

Twice in her talk or in answering questions, Fay said, “A.E. would not throw her life away on a crazy spy mission.”  She also said a TV seriesdistorts history,and blasted an NBC three-hour production.  I’m not sure what she was referring to on the NBC bit.  She also stated that A.E. was born in 1897, and that Muriel Morrissey was here to back her up.  Mrs. [Florence] Kothera asked her about her letter to Gen. [Wallace M.] Green asking about Privates [Everett] Henson [Jr.] and [Billy] Burks.  Fay said she had never written to Gen. Greene.  Mrs. Kothera then opened her scrapbook and said, I have a copy of his answer to you, and if you would like me to read it, I will.”  Fay then said,Oh well, if I wrote a letter to the Marine Commandant, then I guess I did. (Nothing had been said about his title by Mrs. Kothera!!)  The Kotheras (who did the bulk of the research for Amelia Earhart Returns From Saipan), told me before the sessions started that they had letters from Henson and Burks stating that the government had NOT contacted them to ask about A.E.

Fay indicated throughout her talk that there is no way A.E. is alive, and tried to let on that she has not actively looked into her disappearance.  Fay called Amelia A.E.and G.P.P. Gyp.

Fay also said A.E. paid for publishing the 99’s Newsletter.  She mentioned Clara Livingston as helping Fay set up the 25th Anniversary Commemorative Stamp.  I asked her if she believed in ESP as did A.E. and Jackie Cochran.  Her answer was negative.  She announced that May 22-24, 1983, would be a super big get-together in Atchison, Kansas.  I can’t recall why she said it would be rated so highly though.

Undated photo of former Adm. Richard B. Black, who supervised construction of the Howland Island air strip for Amelia Earhart’s scheduled refueling stop.  Black was in the radio room of the USCG Cutter Itasca as he listened to Earhart’s last known radio transmission indicating that she was low on fuel and was searching for Howland island.

[Retired] Admiral [Richard B.] Black was introduced as having been given a medal for the Saipan-Tinian assault.  (This means he may have been privy to firsthand information.)  He said the H. Frequency D.F.  [high frequency direction finder] was offered to him by a young lieutenant whose name he can’t recall (or I may have misunderstood) on Oahu.  He told of the Itasca circling Howland on July 1 to calibrate it.  It worked free.  It was battery powered and they did lose some of their power so they were not at their best when they were needed.  His opinion is that she crashed in the ocean after running out of gas about 10 A.M.  He was on the Itasca until 5 A.M., when he went ashore to be with the H.F.D.F.

At the end of his talk (which seemed to be one he has given several times), he said:And now for the first time I have an addendum.  He then stated that a Capt. Carter (whom he cannot now locate) told him a Japanese ship entered Jaluit* Harbor (with a white man and woman as prisoners).  Black now believes they were A.E. and Fred Noonan.  He offered no further information. 

       *  The AES visited Jaluit and harbor in 1997.  (End of Part I.)

Goerner and Devine reach out to Muriel Morrissey: Did Amelia’s sister know more than she let on?

Grace Muriel Earhart Morrissey, Amelia’s favorite childhood companion and her only sibling, is an often-overlooked character in the Earhart saga.  Unlike Amelia, Muriel was blessed to live out a long, productive life, dying at 98 at her West Medford, Mass., home.  She was a unique individual in her own right, and deserves to be remembered. 

Muriel Morrissey was a charter member of the Medford Zonta Club, a worldwide service organization of executive women in business and the professions, founded in 1919,wrote Carol L. Osborne, who, with Muriel, co-wrote Amelia: My Courageous Sister, self-published by Osborne in 1987.

During Muriel’s long teaching career, Osborne continued in her tribute to Muriel that appears on the website of the Ninety-Nines, the elite women’s pilot group that Amelia co-founded with Louise Thaden in 1929,she published numerous articles in professional education magazines, was a member of the Massachusetts Poetry Society and the author of several poems, including First Day, To AE, and Labor-in Vain No More.

In 1976, her ‘Bicentennial Reverie’ received a Freedom Foundation Award.  She wrote a poem which was read at the dedication of a new school named for her sister Amelia, and a narrative poem, ‘By the Gentle Flowing Mystic’ as a feature of the celebration of Medford’s 350th anniversary.”

Grace Muriel Morrissey Earhart, Amelia's beloved "Pidge," passed away at 98 on March 2, 1998. "She was really a very sweet, gentle woman and she was really devoted to Medford," her son-in-law Adam Kleppner told the Atchison Daily Globe. Wednesday. "She embodied a lot of old-fashioned virtues, responsibility, loyalty -- things we seem to be in short supply of today."

Grace Muriel Morrissey Earhart, Amelia’s beloved “Pidge,” passed away at 98 on March 2, 1998.  “She was really a very sweet, gentle woman and she was really devoted to Medford,” her son-in-law Adam Kleppner told the Atchison Daily Globe.  “She embodied a lot of old-fashioned virtues, responsibility, loyalty — things we seem to be in short supply of today.”

Muriel wrote an earlier biography of Amelia,Courage is the Price, in 1963, and in 1983 she wrote and self-published The Quest of A Prince of Mystic Henry Albert Morrissey “The Chief, the biography of her beloved husband.

Muriel could never have dreamed the way her life would change after Amelia’s tragic loss, and we can only imagine how she agonized over her sister’s disappearance.  The massive publicity, unwanted attention, false leads and dead ends that the never-ending search for her famous sister created must have brought her to the brink on many occasions.  At least, this is the conventional wisdom about Muriel, as well as her mother, Amy Otis Earhart; George Putnam, Amelia’s husband; and Mary Bea Noonan, Fred’s widow.

It could well have been that way, but some researchers, including this one, have wondered whether Muriel, Amy, Putnam and Mary Bea could have been let in on the truth about Amelia’s Saipan fate by the feds and sworn to secrecy and silence in exchange for the kind of closure that families of missing loved ones long and pray for.

Telling the Earhart and Noonan families the sad truth would have made sense for the feds from a practical standpoint: With the Earhart and Noonan families fully informed, the government wouldn’t have to deal with the messy and noisy distractions they could have created in the media had they been kept on the outside of the establishment stonewalls that Fred Goerner nearly broke though during his early 1960s investigations. 

We have Amy Otis Earhart’s statement to the Los Angeles Times in July 1949, in which she revealed that she knew almost precisely what had happened to Amelia: “I am sure there was a Government mission involved in the flight, because Amelia explained there were some things she could not tell me.  I am equally sure she did not make a forced landing in the sea,” Amy said.  “She landed on a tiny atoll – one of many in that general area of the Pacific – and was picked up by a Japanese fishing boat that took her to the Marshall Islands, under Japanese control.”

And five years earlier, writing to Neta Snook, Amelia’s first flight instructor, Amy left no doubt that she was quite well informed about her daughter’s fate, and we discussed this in our Dec. 9, 2014 post, Amy Earhart’s stunning 1944 letter to Neta Snook, which included this from Amy:

You know, Neta, up to the time the Japs tortured and murdered our brave flyers, I hoped for Amelia’s return; even Pearl Harbor didn’t take it all away, though it might have, had I been there as some of my dear friends were, for I thought of them as civilized.

Amy lived with Muriel in West Medford from 1946 until her death in 1962 at age 93, so it’s safe to assume that Muriel knew everything that Amy did.  Thus, for the government to have officially shared the truth with the Earharts would not have been surprising. 

After all, despite the media’s insistence that Amelia’s fate has been a great aviation mystery from the first moments of her loss, the truth about her Marshalls and Saipan presence and death has been an open secret since Goerner presented it for all to see in his 1966 bestseller, The Search for Amelia EarhartSince Goerner’s book, 50 years of investigations have added a mountain of witness testimony that has illuminated the obvious for all but the most obtuse or agenda-driven.  

Just when this may have occurred is anyone’s guess; they might have even been allowed to quietly bury Amelia and Fred in unmarked graves No probative evidence has surfaced that supports this idea, but nothing we know precludes it, either.  In fact, Muriel’s public statements to Fred Goerner, Thomas E. Devine and others in later years that she endorsed the Navy’s conclusions are far more surprising, in light of her mother Amy’s famous statements.

If a letter Goerner wrote to Muriel in 1966 is any indication, it’s clear the KCBS radio newsman didn’t believe that Muriel was privy to any inside information, at least at that time.  That doesn’t mean Muriel hadn’t already been told about her sister’s sad end, only that Goerner didn’t think so.  Below is his 1966 letter to Muriel, courtesy of Bill Prymak’s Amelia Earhart Society Newsletters, where it first appeared in the March 1998 edition

Fred Goerner, right, with the talk show host Art Linkletter, circa 1966, shortly before the establishment media, beginning with Time magazine, turned on Goerner and panned his findings, telling readers, in essence, "Move along, Sheeple, nothing to see here."

Fred Goerner, right, with the talk show host Art Linkletter, circa 1966, shortly before the establishment media, beginning with Time magazine, turned on Goerner and panned his findings, telling readers, in essence, “Move along, Sheeple, nothing to see here.”

“An Eminent Researcher’s Poignant Letter to Amelia’s Sister”

Mrs. Albert Morrissey
One Vernon Street
West Medford, Massachusetts

August 31, 1966

Dear Mrs. Morrissey:

Your letter of the 27th meant a great deal to me.  I can’t begin to tell you how I have agonized over continuing the investigation into Amelia’s disappearance and writing the book which Doubleday is just now publishing.  I know how all of you have been tortured by the rumors and conjectures and sensationalism of the past years.

I want you to know that I decided to go ahead with the book last December at the advice of the late Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz who had become my friend and helped me with the investigation for several years.  He said, “it (the book) may help produce the justice Earhart and Noonan deserve.”

The Admiral told me without equivocation that Amelia and Fred had gone down in the Marshalls and were taken by the Japanese and that this knowledge was documented in Washington.  He also said that several departments of government have strong reasons for not wanting the information to be made public.

Mrs. Morrissey, regardless of what the State and Navy Departments may have told you in the past, classified files do exist.  I and several other people, including Mr. Ross Game, the Editor of Napa, California REGISTER and Secretary of The Associated Press, actually have seen portions of these files and have made notes from their contents.

This material is detailed in the book.  I am sure that we have not yet been shown the complete files, and General Wallace M. Greene, Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps in Washington, refuses to confirm or deny the testimony of many former marines that the personal effects of Amelia and Fred and their earthly remains were recovered in 1944.

Amelia, or “Meelie,” left, was two years and four months older than Muriel, known as “Pidge.” “We never played with dolls,” Muriel wrote, “but our favorite inanimate companions were our jointed wooden elephant and Amelia’s donkey. Ellie and Donk lived rigorous lives which no sawdust-filled, china-headed beauty could have survived. … We never slept until the two battered but faithful creatures were on guard at the foot of our beds.”

Amelia, or “Meelie,” left, was two years and four months older than Muriel, known as “Pidge.” “We never played with dolls,” Muriel wrote, “but our favorite inanimate companions were our jointed wooden elephant and Amelia’s donkey.  Ellie and Donk lived rigorous lives which no sawdust-filled, china-headed beauty could have survived. . . . We never slept until the two battered but faithful creatures were on guard at the foot of our beds.”

Please believe what I am saying.  If justice is to be achieved, it may require your assistance.  You know I have the deepest respect for Amelia and Fred.  My admiration for their courage has no limits.  They should receive their proper place in the history of this country.  A San Francisco newspaper editor wrote the other day that Amelia and Fred should be awarded the Congressional Medals of Honor for their service to this country.  I completely concur.

I shall be in Boston sometime toward the end of September or early October.  I hope that I can meet with you at that time and bring you up to date on all of our efforts.

My very best wishes to you and Chief.

Sincerely,

Fred Goerner
CBS News, KCBS Radio
San Francisco 94105

Goerner had known Muriel since October 1961, when he traveled to West Medford, Mass., to ask her for permission to submit the remains he had recovered on Saipan during his second visit there, about a month earlier, for anthropological analysis.  For a time, Goerner thought it possible that the bones and teeth he excavated during his second Saipan visit, in September 1961, might have been those of the fliers, but he was soon disabused of that idea when Dr. Theodore McCown determined that the remains were those of several Asians.

Before he engaged with Muriel and her husband, Albert, better known as Chief, Muriel told Goerner she believed that Amelia was lost at sea, and that a crash-landing on the ocean was more likely than capture by the Japanese.  But after her meeting with the charismatic newsman, Muriel changed her mind, and sent letters to officials granting Goerner permission to have the remains evaluated.

Thomas E. Devine, the late author of Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident, one of the most important Earhart disappearance books, had his own ideas about where Amelia was buried, and he visited Muriel in West Medford in mid-July 1961 to appeal to her for information she might have had about Amelia’s dental charts.

Devine described his visit with Muriel as pleasant, and before he left, she even gave him a portrait of Amelia.  On the back of the photograph, Muriel wrote: To Thomas Devine, who is genuinely and unselfishly interested in Amelia’s fate, I am happy to give this photograph of her.

Otherwise, she told him that many years of false and irresponsible claims had taken their toll on the family, and she had resigned herself to accepting the Navy’s version that Amelia and Fred were lost at sea near Howland Island.  Muriel’s generosity to Devine was short-lived; two years later, in 1963, she refused to grant him permission to exhume what he was convinced was the true gravesite on Saipan. 

Thomas E. Devine, circa 1987, Incident, wrote about his visit to Muriel author of Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart

Thomas E. Devine, circa 1987, wrote about his visit to Muriel in his 1987 classic, Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident.

Devine’s visit with Amelia’s sister was memorable nonetheless, for reasons that could very well be directly related to the possible scenario suggested earlier.  In a day filled with strange and unnerving occurrences, Devine only later realized he had been trailed — actually escorted — by ONI agents throughout his entire trip to West Medford.

In a scene oddly reminiscent of the day on Saipan in August 1945, when he was approached out of the blue and told to return to the states by airplane — an order he wisely refused to obey — Devine was picked out of a large crowd at the Boston train station by a cabby who told him he’d take him to West Medford for free.  Without asking for Devine’s destination, the cabby deposited him within a block of Mrs. Morrissey’s house, saying, This is as far as I go.

When Devine asked the driver where Vernon Street was, the cabby pointed and told him, That’s it, right up the hill.  It’s that corner house.  When Devine said he was looking fornumber one, Vernon Street, the driver, as if clairvoyant, replied, “That’s it, the corner house on the hill, where Amelia Earhart’s sister lives.”

After their visit and just before Devine left, Muriel went to a window and raised and lowered a window shade to its full length.  Saying she would return soon to say goodbye, she left the room to attend to her mother, who was bedridden and living in the Morrissey home.  When Muriel left the room, Devine looked out the window.  Standing a short distance from the house, he saw the same cabby who met him at the depot talking to another man.

Upon departing the house, Devine walked down the hill.  The two men had disappeared.  As he rounded the corner, looking for transportation back to Boston, the cab driver suddenly appeared, and directed him to the nearest stop on the MTA that would shuttle him back to Boston.

Stopping for lunch at the depot restaurant before taking the train for New Haven, Conn., Devine watched from the counter as two men and a woman entered and took a table at the near-empty restaurant.  The woman then walked behind the counter where he was seated, and went into the kitchen with Devine’s waiter.

Devine said he paid little attention to their whispered conversation, but heard the woman ask the waiter for an apron.  She then began serving the two men at the table behind Devine.  Suddenly she told Devine,You’ll have to sit at one of the tables or I can’t serve you.”  Devine initially said nothing, but the woman persisted.  He then agreed to move, as he wanted a cup of coffee.  As he turned, Devine saw the cab driver and the man who had been talking to him outside the Morrissey home.  He pretended not to recognize them, and they seemed not to notice him.

Muriel Earhart Morrissey, circa 1989, West Medford, Mass. Did she know the truth about her sister's sad fate all along?

Muriel Earhart Morrissey, circa 1989, West Medford, Mass.  Did she know the truth about her sister’s sad fate all along?

“After I was seated, the two men began a real show,” Devine wrote in Eyewitness. “The woman encouraged me to speak to the men about their foul language, but I declined; then they pretended to argue.  Here I invite you in for a drink, the cab driver roared, but you don’t reciprocate!’ ”  At their table, Devine saw three full beers in front of each man.  Again the woman insisted that Devine speak up, but he refused.  The cab driver then pounded on the table, threatening to beat up the other man.  Suddenly, they left the restaurant.

“Amazingly, the woman urged me to go out and intervene, but I had seen enough of this ridiculous charade,” Devine recalled.  “I was not about to be relieved of my briefcase.  Instead, I left the restaurant by another door.  Shortly, who should I spy amidst a group of passengers in the depot but the cab driver!  As I looked toward him, he turned his head.

Finally my train arrived,Devine went on, and I boarded, but there was the cab driver, also boarding. Thoroughly unnerved, I walked to the last car and stepped off just as the train started moving.  While he waited for the next train to New Haven, Devine said he decided to return to the restaurant “to risk a cup of coffee.  The same waiter was behind the counter, but the waitress was gone.”  Devine asked the waiter where the woman was, receiving only, She left, in response.

Devine boarded the next train and returned home without further incident.  Fast forward to 1963, when he visited the Hartford station of the Office of Naval Intelligence for a second time, to determine if the ONI was still active in its investigation of his Earhart gravesite information.  He was taken into an office where two men and a woman were seated.  One of the men opened a safe to get the Earhart files, then pointed out passages for the woman to read, as Devine described in Eyewitness:

I was haunted; the woman looked familiar to me.  Slowly, I came to the astounding realization that this woman was the “waitress” in the Boston depot!  The woman must have sensed that I recognized her, for she immediately excused herself.  Hastily the remaining ONI agent informed me that there had been no further investigation of Amelia Earhart’s grave.  I left the meeting convinced that the people who had accosted me in Boston were agents of the Office of Naval IntelligenceWhy their presence in Boston on the day of my visit with Mrs. Morrissey?  I cannot say.  Mrs. Morrissey did tell me that she had informed the Navy of my intended visit.

But why would the ONI trail me to West Medford?  I don’t know.  What was the purpose of the ONI agents’ peculiar antics in Boston?  That I do not know, either.  Perhaps they were trying to frighten me into curtailing my investigation.

The bizarre fiasco acted out in the Boston train depot restaurant by ONI personnel defied explanation, but it did expose the agency’s awareness and interest in Devine’s meeting with Muriel Morrissey.  It also demonstrated that Muriel had a confidential relationship with the Navy, the roots and nature of which were never made public by the Earhart family. 

Thus, we can still reasonably ask whether Muriel knew the truth about Amelia’s demise on Saipan, and when she knew it.  The answer to that question, of course, will probably never be known.

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