Sunday, January 18, 2009

Excerpts from "Soaring Wings"

Excerpts from "Soaring Wings" - by George Palmer Putnam (1939)

pg 42
She decided to train herself in photography. (AE's roommate) told me about her labors in the darkroom and the classroom.. after a while, AE was able to get a job in a photographic studio. (1924)

pg 44
"Nothing on sea or land can be more lovely than the realm of clouds," AE wrote.. she established an altitude record of 14,000 feet in the little open-cockpit Kinner Canary, with the three-cylinder air-cooled midget engine.. "I plunged into a rolling bank of clouds. There was snow inside. It stung my face and plastered my goggles. At 11,000 feet the snow changed to sleet and at about 12,000 dense fog enveloped me. Unbelievably - until you've tried it - human sensations fail when one is thus 'blind.' Deprived of a horizon, a flier may lose the feel of his position in space. Was I flying one wing high? Was I turning? I couldn't be sure...Spinning was the quickest way down my inexperience could suggest. And so I spun. Seconds seemed very long, until I saw clear weather several thousand feet (below).

pg 56
I found two other letters, unopened and exactly as she had filed them, held together by a weary elastic band.. to her father.. "May 20, 1928, Dearest Dad: Hooray for the last grand adventure! I wish I had won, but it was worth while anyway. You know that. I have no faith we'll meet anywhere again, but I wish we might. Anyways, good-by and good luck to you. Affectionately, your doter, Mill." The second, to her mother:
"Even though I have lost, the adventure was worth while. Our family tends to be too secure. My life has really been very happy, and I didn't mind contemplating its end in the midst of it."

pg 57
On June 17th, at about eleven o'clock in the morning, almost no one was at hand to see the plane off (from Trepassey) because there had been so many false starts.... "We taxied to the end of the harbor," AE (wrote), "With the waves pounding the pontoons and breaking over the outboard motors, we made the long trip down its length, the ship too heavy to rise. Stultz turned around and taxied back to try again. I was crowded in the cabin, with my eyes glued on the air speed indicator as it slowly climbed. If it passed fifty miles an hour, chances were the Friendship could pull out and fly. Thirty - forty - a long pause - then the pointer went to fifty. Fifty, fifty-five- sixty - we were off at last, staggering, the two outboard motors sputtering in protest at the dousing of salt water they'd received."

pg 60
Mabel Boll, nicknamed "The Diamond Queen" had, no only well publicized jewels, but a yen for a place in the public prints and a good deal of innate courage as well. She developed the idea she wanted to fly the Atlantic. And so when AE started - and with a good deal more impulse than planning - Miss Boll just up and started too. She actually got as far as Harbor Grace in Newfoundland in her plane, while AE was poised at Trepassey, so it took no great journalistic ingenuity to make it look like a race... Mabel's plan was to have her plane piloted by - Bill Stultz. .. they were old friends. She called Bill by telephone and without (telling us) he went. It produced a fairly critical situation. (but) he kept our plans scrupulously secret.

pg 61
(AE) told me those days at Trepassey taxed her spirit more than any experience she'd ever faced... She considered asking us to replace Stultz with another pilot (because of his drinking.) .. (However) she knew Stultz could fly the Friendship as no one else could... She simply got hold of her pilot and all but dragged him to the plane. he wasn't in good shape.. Long afterward she told me the first few minutes of the next hour seemed to her the most dangerous minutes of her life - certainly the most dangerous of the flight.... AE knelt in the cabin, or wedged between the gas tanks, anxiously studied (Stultz) and "those little spots of red in the center of his cheeks" which never seemed to pale.... In the cabin she found a bottle smuggled aboard. Her instinct was to cast it through the trap door in the bottom of the fuselage. But.. what (if Stultz) should come and get it? .. as it turned out he never wanted that bottle, and in the end AE dropped it silently into the Irish Sea.

pg 66
So when they came down on the face of the quiet little Carmarthenshire waters in South Wales she had the battered flying clothes she was wearing - brown broadcloth riding breeks, a white silk blouse made childishly dashing by a red necktie, high laced boots and a comfortably ancient leather flying coat with plenty of pockets and a buttoned collar. For extra warmth, a worn shapeless brown sweater, a light flying helmet with goggles. If there was any elegance at all, it lay in one of two scarves, brown and white silk. (subsequently nipped from her pocket in the press of the crowd..).. An hour's gas left, they were anxious for land.. they dropped down in (Burry Port). It was raining and Gordon dropped a rope over a buoy.. through the rain they could see plumes of smoke.. houses, a few cattle, and three men working on a railroad track.. the fliers waved; the men looked at each other, walked down to the shore to see, but.. went back to their work... They called out to several others for a boat. AE waved a white towel. A man on shore.. took off his coat, waved it, put it on again, went about his business. In about an hour a policeman came in a little boat.. "Do you be wantin' something?" he inquired. "We've come from America," they said. "Have ye now? Well, we wish ye welcome, I'm sure..."

pg 75
She wore a brown suit, I think and a casual crepe blouse with a turndown collar, and as I remember it, brown lizard shoes. No hat of course.

pg 94
A certain grief was inevitable when in Nov 1934, I had to telephone AE in California one night that our house in Rye, which had been closed the day before, had been partially destroyed by fire. I could catch a sharp unhappiness in her voice as she began to inquire for specific things. "How about the Rockwell Kent paintings?" "All gone, I'm afraid." "What about my 'peppers'?" She always called her personal files "the peppers" with a tincture of fictitious melodrama, and eve now anxiety could not overcome the humorous little habit. "they're safe - at lest most of them are. I haven't had time to go through everything. It's a terrible mess." (He says its an indication of her modesty she doesn't enquire about her suitcase full of medals.) A friend was at the house with her fourteen year old son, and she said something about the medals. Finally AE was persuaded to get them out to show the boy. With a rueful smile.. she carried the small, russet suitcase. 'The old lady shows her medals!" she chided herself.

pg 107
Her altimeter failed... she saw, I think with awe rather than horror, that the dials were swinging uselessly. It was deep dark. The moon had gone behind clouds. A storm blew up. There was lightning, and the ship shook and was held with difficulty under control... she climbed for a half an hour, until her wings grew heavy and she saw ice on them and slush on the windowpane. The tachometer, too became ice-bound. .. of those moments she wrote: "I carried a barograph, an instrument which records on a disc the course of the plane.. at one point it recorded an almost vertical drop of 3,000 feet. It started at an altitude of something over 3,000 feet and ended - well something above the water. That happened when the plane suddenly 'iced up' and went into a spin. How long we spun I do now know... as we righted a held level, through the blackness below I could see the whitecaps too close for comfort.".. then she saw flames trailing like the lashing tail of a coral snake, from a broken weld in the manifold ring of her engine. It might take a long time to burn through. It might not. When it burned through, or the vibration splintered it completely, the ship was doomed. "Yes, that was disturbing," she said later, "but there was nothing to do about it. There was no use turning back..." (in the morning) the sun burst through (the clouds) and she put on dark glasses, but even so, it was too bright. "I came down through a layer to fly in the shade." The flames from the exhaust manifold burnt angrily, the weakening metal vibrating like a bony hand.. the reserve tanks? She turned them on and saw she had a leaky gauge. She must come down - somewhere, anywhere. .. She dropped along the coast.. could find (no airport) found several emerald pastures.

pg 110
Dan M'Callion, running out from the byre by the Hugh McLaughlin's cottage on James Gallagher's farm was astonished. "I've come from America," AE said. "Do ye be tellin' me that now?" said Dan M'Callion. He said later he was "all stunned and didn't now what to say." Soon, the master of the farm, Mr. Gallagher, came running, one of the dairymaids got AE a drink of water. (Mr. Gallagher drove her the six miles in to Londonderry to use the phone.)

pg 125
One June 21, 1932, after her return.. the National geographic Society wished to give her its special gold medal and we were asked to the White House to dine prior to the ceremonies in Constitution hall... When the President and Mrs. Hoover appeared, they looked solemn. Everybody looked solemn. And we all filed solemnly into a solemn dining room. AE.. was doing her valiant best to be entertaining at the right hand of the glum faced President.. every now and again through dinner one did see him .. attempt to be responsive; but there was still a peculiarly absent air about it... an un-magnetic man surrounded by a household pathetically dedicated to gloom.. (Later that night) at Constitution Hall, (he said) "Miss Earhart has been modest and good-humored. Her accomplishments combine to place her in spirit with the great pioneering women to whom every generation of Americans has looked up with admiration for their firmness of will, their strength of character, and their cheerful spirit of comradeship in the work of the world." AE's reply; "I think that the appreciation of the deed is out of proportion to the deed itself.... I shall be happy if my small exploit has drawn attention to the fact that women, too, are flying."

pg 129
April, 1933. Mrs Roosevelt had not flown at night. AE felt that ones' first flight after dark (has) a sense of magic... Wanting her to taste that experience, AE asked Eastern Airlines if they had a ship which could be used for such a purpose. "Will you go with me?" she said to Mrs. Roosevelt after dinner. "Why, yes" she said, giving a quick smooth to her delicate satin gown. "Why yes - of course I'll go. Someone fetch me a coat - and." she turned to Amelia smiling like a conspirator - "a hat, I suppose?" "A hat if you like," Amelia said, "Though you won't need it." Several newspaperwomen set forth with them, and Mrs. Roosevelt's brother, Hall Roosevelt.... Mrs. Roosevelt was enchanted with the flight. Amused too, that (AE wore) a white satin dress, saved by excellent equipment from even the necessity of taking off her white gloves..

pg 165
We lunched with Carl Laemmle at Universal to persuade AE to make a movie... she "owed it to her public.".. He wanted AE to play the lead. 'ach, what exploitation possibilities!" purred Uncle Carl. The he talked money. Quite a lot of money. "But I'm not worth it!" AE laughed.. "Little girl," he waggled a gnarled finger at her -"get what you can while the getting is good. Just now your name means something. In a year - perhaps a few months, you'll be forgotten." (Later, AE would say) some day, if it's a proper story - if they'll let me play my unromantic self, slacks, engine grease and all. If something comes along that will be useful in advancing women - if it will help flying - if - if - it.." (She and) Mary Pickford collaborated on a motion picture story for months. .. a story of a lanky girl who grew up around an airport where her brothers worked, and whose love of that something which the sky held for her opened the doors of adventure and romance and success..

pg 166
"The pilots," she wrote, "are in a free for all argument about some one of the technical points fliers are forever battling, just as veterans never agree 'who won the war.' "An' I"m telling you the only sure way to keep a carburetor from icing up is.." "Yeah! We've heard all that before," Red cuts in. "A bally flying museum - that's what you'd make a plane with your trick gadgets. Now, what you really need..." "Gentlemen! What we need right now is something new to talk about." The Girl grins up in their faces, going through mock motions of separating fighters. "You big ground fliers break clean and get to your corners." "Well it's an interesting problem." "Sure, but I've got a better one." About flying? "About flies. "flies?" Uh huh. "The old one about how houseflies land on the ceiling." "They do a roll.." "No such thing. It's a half lop they come out of.." "At once the two men are hard at it again. So each man bets on his theory - the roll or the loop and the Girl holds the stakes while all three embark upon a fly-hunt around the hangar, doulbe amusing because of its seriousness. Then a clue up of the three faces studying the flies, as the man and the Girl lie flat on their backs on the apron beneath the Girl's "Vega" looking up at flies landing on the ship's gleaming belly.. a gob of oil messes into the Girl's hair.. Red, prone, has difficulty with his cud of tobacco.. then a telescopic close-up probably in slow motion, of a fly actually landing, exactly as the three of them see the process. The evidence is all in.. Grumbling, the loser pays. "Nuts,. he struck an air pocket..." As fresh bickering starts, the Girl drags them to the Greasy Spoon, eating shack just across the road from the airport. There they pipe down partially because it is difficult to talk and drink Coca-Cola at the same time. Also Red, with a piece of waste and gasoline siphoned with a lunch counter straw from the tank of a parked auto, gets the grease out of the Girls tousled hair and erases a stray smudge from her cheek.

She confided to me that .. she might be willing.. (to make the motion picture of her life when she returned from the world flight.) "I want to try lots of things - all kinds of things," she often said "try them at least once."

pg 176
On the day she came into my office.. not only did her looks make no particular impression on me, but she couldn't have resembled (Lindbergh) very much or I would have noticed it. My recollection is that the first concrete attention paid to the resemblance.. was as a result of the distribution of picture taken of her on the roof of the Copley Plaza while she and Gordon and Stultz were waiting in Boston for weather. .. In the picture, she was wearing riding breeches, high laced shoes, a leather flying jacket; and her face, in profile was framed by snug leather helmet... Although it is hardly important to establish that she was or that she was not selected to make the flight primarily because she looked like Lindbergh, .. (some) simply cannot be convinced... Much later AE.. remarked "Oh, I've got the kind of face that looks like everybody!" (later apologizing to Anne Lindbergh about being called "Lady Lindy" she wrote): "I believe I have never apologized so widely and so consistently for anything in my life, excepting possibly having been born."

pg 190
Stutltz received $20K, Lou Gordon, the mechanic, $5k, AE nothing. She was paid $12,460 by the NY Times for syndication, she returned that to the flight funds. She received exactly nothing for the flight. ("Who could refuse such a shining adventure?" she said)

pg 196
After a debacle where she's chastised for allowing her name to be used for a Lucky Strike ad, even though the money went to Admiral Byrd, one day she abruptly seizes three cigarettes from guests at the Rye home. "Why shouldn't I smoke if I want to? Whose business is it but mine?" She smoked all three at once, then threw the stubs into the fireplace. "There! I smoked" And after an instant, If you really want to know, I probably never will again!"

pg 211
It was always exciting to study her face when she was being publicly announced. She had a quality of spirit which fame could not disturb, but spoken praises honestly embarrassed her. To look as if she didn't hear would be a silly affectation. To regard the speaker attentively was for her impossible. It was hard for her to know hot to be famous, who was so naturally a free soul; she disliked ostentation, was intrinsically reserved in attitude, opinions, and speech.

pg 238
At least twice, deliberate efforts were made to sabotage her plane. The psychological reasons behind such efforts at delayed murder seem difficult to get at, but their manifestations occur periodically in the careers of people in the public eye. Once when she was about to take off from Burbank, by the merest chance of a last minute examination of the ship disclosed that one of the control wires was nearly eaten through ;. After a bit of use in the air it would unquestionably have snapped, putting the plane out of control and almost surely resulting tragically. Laboratory examination disclosed that nitric or sulphuric acid had been applied to the wire - apparently the previous night. Why? The question introduced a dismal and macabre element into AE's fun in flying.

pg 241
Dr. Elliot, President of Purdue, dined with us at the Coffee House Club in New York.. "We want you at Purdue," he said. If she was surprised, she didn't show it. "I'd like that if it can be arranged. What would you think I should do? He told her about Purdue's 6000 students, 800 of which were women. AE's eyes shone, as they always did at the suggestion of a challenge... for two hours we turned the idea over between us.. it was the only University in the US with a fully equipped airport providing day and night flying.

pg 248
Why (shouldn't) women be given equal opportunity with men? "After all," she would say to them, times are changing, and women need the critical stimulus of competition outside the home. A girl must nowadays believe completely in herself as an individual. She must realize at the outset that a woman must do the same job better than a man to get as much credit for it. She must be aware of the various discriminations, both legal and traditional, against women in the business world... Probably no sure way has yet been discovered for women - or men either - to know before they reach the age of sixty-five if they'd done right by their lives.. I'm inclined to say if you want to try a certain job, try it. If you find something on the morrow that looks better, make a change. And if you should find you are the first woman to feel an urge in that direction - what does it matter? Feel it and act on it just the same. It may turn out to be fun. And to me, fun is the indispensable part of work.".. One professor found himself disturbed by AE's activities. "I'm afraid," he said plaintively, that if she keeps on, the coeds won't be willing to get married and lead the quiet life for which Nature intended them." I wonder.

pg 292
(GP recounts an incident where they were approached at a streetlight by an older homeless man asking for money. He said "It's hard to get old.. so hard.." Later at home:) Amelia said "It is hard to be old - so hard, I'm afraid I'll hate it. Hate to grow old." She was quiet for some minutes. And then, as one who may be imagining or simply comprehending a fact, she said slowly, "I think probably, GP, that I'll not live - to be old.

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