A Cartersville man may have taken one of the last photos of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, who disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937 — 80 years ago today — as she attempted to circumnavigate the globe.
Herman Glass, now deceased, a U.S. Navy sailor, presumably on shore leave, saw a familiar face, instinctively grabbed his camera and took a photo of the acclaimed aviator, a camera crew in tow, as she walked toward him.
Three-and-a-half months later, she and navigator Fred Noonan vanished, spawning one of the great mysteries of the 20th century.
But Glass left no information about the photo. In fact, he put it away for safekeeping.
After his death, he left them for his nephew, C.B. Siniard, also of Cartersville.
The photos were stored in plastic bags for more than a decade.
“I found the photos and began looking through them along with my niece Lauren Falk,” Siniard said. “I looked right past it, but Lauren said, ‘Hey, that’s Amelia Earhart.”
But that was all they knew. There was no information written on the back of the photo.
“All I knew was the woman in the photo was Amelia Earhart,” he said.
An email to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., provided answers.
Alison Mitchell, a media affairs specialist at the Smithsonian, took the photo to the Institution’s Amelia Earhart expert.
“The photo was taken at Wheeler Field, Oahu, Hawaii, upon Earhart’s arrival on March 17, 1937, during her first attempt at her round-the-world flight,” the expert wrote. “In our archival collection, Amelia Earhart is wearing the same wide-collared blouse, print scarf and jacket, and the mountains visible in the background are similar. Also she’s wearing a lei, which would make sense if she just arrived in Hawaii. All the men wearing light-colored suits reinforce the idea that it’s a tropical location.”
Earlier that morning, Earhart had taken off from Oakland, California, to Honolulu on the first leg of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. However, her Lockheed Electra experienced mechanical difficulties due to improper lubrication of the propeller hubs. The Electra landed at Wheeler, then was moved to the U.S. Navy’s Luke Field on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor for repairs. The flight resumed three days later, but during takeoff, the Electra “ground looped,” causing either the right tire to blow out or the landing gear to collapse.
“In Amelia Earhart’s case, she was piloting a plane that was ‘aft-loaded,’ meaning it had a lot of weight at the rear of the plane,” explained Ricky Smith, chief pilot at Phoenix Air. “There was also a strong wind coming from the left of the plane so the right rudder was affected. She applied power too quickly and the plane basically spun out on the runway.”
With the aircraft severely damaged, the attempt was canceled and the Electra was shipped by sea to Burbank, California’s Lockheed facility for repairs.
At midnight, July 2, 1937, Earhart, with Noonan navigating, nudged the heavily loaded Electra into the air at Papua New Guinea — destination Howland Island, a flat sliver of land 19 hours away.
The two never made it.
A radio call near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles from New Guinea, was received at 2:45 am by the USCGC Itasca, a Coast Guard cutter, but was broken up by static. At 6:14 a.m., another call was received stating the aircraft was within 200 miles from Howland and requested the Itasca use its direction finder to provide a bearing for the aircraft. She began whistling into the microphone to provide a continual signal for them to home in on, but the Itasca’s radio operators were unable to find the aircraft's frequency. Another call was received at 6:45 a.m., when Earhart estimated they were 100 miles from the island.
At 7:42 a.m. Earhart radioed that the plane was running low on fuel.
Her last transmission at 8:43 a.m. indicated she and Noonan were flying along a line of position, which Noonan would have calculated as passing through Howland. After that, there was no further contact with Howland.
The Itasca was joined by U.S. Navy ships in the search for the missing aviators, which lasted until July 19, 1937, the most costly ($4 million) air and sea search in U.S. history up to that time but to no avail.
Since then, numerous theories have been advanced about Earhart and Noonan’s fate.
Many believe the Electra ran out of fuel and Earhart and Noonan ditched at sea.
Another claims they safely landed on a deserted island and died as castaways.
Another theorizes that the aircraft crashed on the island of Saipan, which was under Japanese occupation, and were executed.
The craziest notion is that she faked her disappearance and lived the rest of her life as a New Jersey housewife.
Whatever happened to her, Herman Glass — although his nephew said he never talked about it — may have unwittingly recorded a bit of history on that St. Patrick’s Day, 1937.