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.
It strikes me that there are similarities in the way the press has been covering the search for the Malaysian Airliner and the search for the lost aviators in the Dole Race in 1927, which included my aunt, Mildred Doran. When the Dole fliers disappeared on their way across the Pacific Ocean, there was immediate speculation as to where they were. Many thought they were on an island somewhere. Others thought they were floating in their aircraft on calm seas. After two days, reports came in to the anxious families that they were found safe on Maui. The report was completely fabricated. Back in 1927, the first two lost planes had no radio. The third had a radio and reported being in a tailspin shortly before it was lost. The U.S. Navy sent more than forty ships, including an aircraft carrier and a submarine out to search. After about 10 days, the search was abandoned. Some continued to hope they would be found even years later. In 2014, we have long range airplanes, radios, radar, satellites, black boxes, and transponders at the disposal of searchers. After a month there has been no sighting. The families of the passengers and crew were hopeful at first, but now there is a growing sense of dread. Despite all the modern electronics the plane is lost. Just like the case of the Dole racers, the Pacific Ocean is so vast that it can swallow a plane and not leave a trace..
I have been asked again to participate in the annual Blue Ridge Bookfest at Blue Ridge Community College on April 25 & 26. On the first day there are presentations for authors and would be authors and on the second day several authors talk about their books, including Paul Grossman’s book Beyond the Pale, about Sierra Nevada brewery. It’s all free except for the banquet on Friday evening. I will be there with copies of both my books, and hope to see you there to discuss the books, and related stories. For details visit the Bookfest web site: blueridge.edu/blueridgebookfest
I was just informed that Kindle will put 1927 on sale for a limited time from December 20 through 27. Regular price is $2.99 and the sale price will be $.99. It’s a great bargain and if you have been thinking of getting it on Kindle a real opportunity to save a few cents. At that price this G rated book would make a great stocking stuffer.
Last week I received a phone call from an attorney whose office is about 20 miles from my home in Hendersonville, NC. He told me he was raised in Flint, Michigan, and he had inherited a postcard written to his Grandmother by Mildred Doran in 1927. He was interested in finding a museum that might have a place for it. The postcard was written just a few days before the Dole Race. The message was short: “No doubt you have learned what a High Flyer I am. Am the only woman in the race. Sure we are going to get there first. Tell the people from the church I send my love to all.” I applaud the attorney’s desire to preserve the document in a place that will treasure it. I am in the process of putting him in touch with the curators as two museums that will be happy to hear from him.
My new book, 1927, A Brilliant Year For Aviation, will be available on Amazon.com later this week. During my research into the Dole Race and the experiences of my Aunt Mildred Doran, I could not help but notice the other courageous flights of that year. Starting with Lindbergh, of course, but continuing with over twenty more attempts to fly across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Flying in terrible weather because of inadequate weather predictions and inadequate navigational tools, more than half of the attempts failed. Those aviators make up a group of diverse characters, including Charles Levine, the “Millionaire Junkman,” Dick Grace, the “Broken Neck” pilot who crashed airplanes for Hollywood, Ruth Elder a silent film star and skilled pilot, Richard Byrd, the explorer, Princess Anne, an honest to God 63 year old Princess, and Frances Grayson who reportedly carried a pistol in her purse to “persuade” her pilot not to turn back. It’s a history book that reads like a novel with characters you might find in an Elmore Leonard book.
One of the decisions that caused me to hesitate was whether to put my e mail address on the back cover. Now two years later, I am sure I did the right thing. I have heard from several folks who have added to my understanding of Mildred Doran’s story. I heard from Bronislw H. who actually grew up in the upper floors of the Doran Tower. His father ran the gas station on the first floor. He also sent me a copy of stationery from just after the Doran Tower was constructed showing the building which was shaped like a Dutch windmill WITH SAILS. So apparently it was originally designed to closely resemble a windmill and only later were the blades removed..
Also contacting me was Jeff T. a relative of Bill Malloska, the sponsor of the airplane Miss Doran. He was able to send me photographs of a Lincoln Oils gas station and of a person wearing a Lincoln Oils bowling shirt. Malloska was known for sponsoring sports teams.
Another e mail was received from two nephews of Willard Miller. Apparently the horse Mildred is shown riding in a photo in the book was Willard’s and its name was “Moonshine Run>” Willard also was a breeder of Great Dane’s and it is assumed Mildred’s dog Honolulu came from Willard, who they say was dating Mildred. It is odd to think that if things had worked out differently, I could be related to Willard’s nephews today.
Earlier this summer I learned that the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in D.C. has created a new exhibit called Time and Navigation. In that exhibit appears a photograph of Mildred. As far as I know this is the first time mention of her has been made at the Museum.
Finally, during my speaking engagement earlier this month at the Int’l Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland, I was shown a plaque showing a picture of Mildred on the top and words of praise from the Ninety Nines, an organization of women aviators on the lower half. They had no record of when or how the plaque had come into the Museum’s possession. I recognized it immediately and said, “I’ve been searching for that plaque.” I have a newspaper article from the 1970’s when the plaque was given to the Flint, Michigan, airport for display. During my research for Shooting Star I wrote the airport to see if it was still there. I received no response, so I assumed it was lost. Now it is found and in a wonderful spot.
My goal for Shooting Star was to insure Mildred’s story would not be forgotten. The responses I received from my e mail address assures me she will not be.
I see where TIGHAR has gotten more publicity regarding the search for Amelia Earhart’s plane in the Pacific Ocean. Last summer they identified several spots where it looked as if pieces of the plane were found only to later discover they were looking at pieces of a shipwreck. Now they have identified more pictures taken last year that look as if they could be parts of an airplane. Let’s hope they are right. However, it seems that every few months, TIGHAr issues another press release claiming to be on the trail of a ;plane wreck. These sightings hardly ever seem to pan out. I hope that this time is different and the new press release has a purpose other than fund raising..
On Friday June 14, i’ll be giving a presentation about Mildred Doran the aviatrix that lost her life in the 1927 Dole Race from California to Hawaii. Of course, Mildred is the subject of my book, Shooting Star. And she was my mother’s older sister. They were especially close since their mother died some years before the race and Mildred was ten years older. During my time growing up, my mother did not speak about her sister very much. It was only after my mother died that I started to find out more based on the scrapbooks and other memorablilie that my mother kept. It’s going to be a fun evening since I understand a group of my high school friends will be there. I look forward to the opportunity to share the story. And, I understand the museum is a wonderful place to visit. If any of you are in the area I hope you join us. For information visit iwasm.org
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.