I see the museum is having a presentation about Ruth Elder on Friday, April 25. If you are in the area (Cleveland) I recommend that you attend. She is one of the interesting characters in my latest book, 1927 A Brilliant Year in Aviation. Ruth started out in Lakeland, Florida, and while working as a dental assistant, learned to fly. She became an accomplished pilot. In 1927, she recruited a group of businessmen to purchase a plane for her and George Haldeman to attempt to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, about 3 months after Lindbergh had done it. She did not quite make it, but landed next to a freighter and was rescued. At the time, her flight was the longest by any woman. She attempted to find backers for a subsequent flight, but it never materialized. In the 1929 women’s race from Santa Monica to Cleveland she was fourth. Her second career was as a movie actress and in Hollywood fashion, she was married six times. There is a chapter in my book 1027 A Brilliant Year in Aviation on Ruth. You might want to look that over before attending the Museum’s presentation.
After three years of research and writing a new book on aviation in 1927, almost all the work is done other than formatting and adding pictures. All of a sudden doubts creep into my brain. Will anyone think it is as interesting as I do? Should I instead turn to magazine articles or break the book into smaller parts? This book is longer than the last one. Will anyone want to read it all the way through? Nancy, my confidant, assures me that people do not mind longer books, especially ones about history. So I am plodding ahead and hope the finished product is out by May.
At the end of the year I was lamenting the fact that my goal of a first draft of my new book was not completed. Now I am half way through the second draft all because of the cold rainy weather. Nothing like a few days at the keyboard to speed things along. I have been spending time looking at newspapers from 1927 and they are a wonderful source. But, every once in a while I run across a small paragraph that describes another event that I have not seen before. Last week I saw that Frank Courtney took off from Plymouth, England in a seaplane for the Azores on his way to the United States. It turns out he did not make it, but was rescued, and later moved to the U.S. and was a productive aircraft designer and test pilot. Today, at the end of an article about one of the famous attempts to cross the Atlantic, I read a short sentence about a French expedition by Captain Costes taking off to go around the world by air by way of South America. When I looked into it I found that it took 6 months and included a steamship leg, but they made it. What an adventure! 1927 was a wild year.
One of the fun things about writing a book about aviation history and the events of 1927 is finding new sources during my research. The internet is wonderful in that someone has posted something about just about everything. That gives a researcher a head start, although one finds quite a bit of misinformation and conjecture paraded as fact.. As far as contemporary reports from 1927, nothing beats the newspapers of the day. The large newspaper chains had reporters all over the country. And, in 1927 there were at least three significant news services, Associated Press, United Press, and International News Service. Like today with network television correspondents feeding news to local stations, the news services provided stories from all over the world to newspapers both large and small. And if the newsmaker had a local connection, small newspapers would follow up on that aspect of the story. For example in the Salmanca (NY) Republican Press published a story relating to aviatrix Ruth Elder chronicalling the fact that she was married to a man who had spent part of his youth at Salmanca, a tiny town in Southwest New York next to an Indian Reservation. The article mentions that he left Salmanca when he was a “small boy” so her connection to Salmanca was slight. This was the first of 5 different husbands for Ruth. But, the interesting part of the story quotes Ruth Elder at length as to her training regimen for her proposed flight to Europe, a subject not mentioned in any other paper.
Earlier this year, Atlantic Fever was published. In it Joe Jackson concentrates on the first half of 1927, and the scramble by a handful of aviators to win the Orteig Prize of $25,000 (about $300,000 in today’s dollars) payable to the first aviator to fly from New York to Paris or from Paris to New York. This book covers some ot the same ground which will be the subject of my new book and at first I was disappointed that someone had beaten me to the punch. Jackson’s book is wonderful and adds a good deal to our understanding of the men who risked everything to be the first to fly the Atlantic. I continue to work on my book which is broader in scope and covers all the aviators of 1927. Right now the title is: “1927 Wow! The Brilliant First Year Of The Golden Age Of Aviation.” With every book I read, and every old newspaper I find, there are more interesting stories that just have to be included. I will finish by the end of the year. Now that I have said it, I have no choice.
After reading my book, Shooting Star about my aunt, Mildred Doran and her quest to be the first woman to reach Hawaii by air, a friend sent me an article from Garden and Gun magazine. (I’m not kidding.) The article written by Winston Groom, the author of Forest Gump, recounts the story of Paul Redfern, a pilot from South Carolina, who attempted to fly from Brunswick, Georgia to Rio de Janeiro. His flight began August 25, 1927, just a few days after my aunt’s fateful flight. Unlike my aunt, Redfern has not been forgotten. Each anniversary of his quest, a group of admirers from his hometown Columbia, SC, gather to remember him. This year, the 85th anniversary of his attempt, a special celebration is being sponsored by Historic Columbia Foundation. There will be some talks about Redfern (including by Warner Montgomery, PhD who is writing a book), a tour of sites connected to Redfern, and the annual toast to his memory. I have been asked to say a few brief words about Mildred Doran to the gathering. I am so pleased that Redfern’s hometown has continued to honor his memory. Mildred is remembered in her hometown sporadically by the Flint Journal, but despite my urging there has been no community event scheduled there. I am hoping that by next year I can persuade an organization or bookstore to begin such a tradition. If any of you in the Flint area that also feel there should be an event, please contact me with your thoughts.
In the course of research for my new book, I continue to look for information on the Dole Racers. One tidbit has to do with Marty Jensen, the pilot who despite getting lost on his way to Hawaii, finally found Honolulu with about 20 minutes of gas to spare. He won $10,000 for coming in second. About a month after the Dole Air Race in 1927, Jensen was ferrying his cargo from San Diego to New York when he was forced to land in the Arizona desert near Gable. His cargo? A lion. Jensen and the lion were lost for a day or two before being found. Both the lion and Jensen were hungry after their ordeal. The cage held together, thank goodness.