Book review

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My posts have gotten pretty irregular, and they are going to stay that way for a little while. I’m trying to focus on getting more detailed research done and preparing for conferences and the like. I do need to learn to build a better balance between blog posts and in-depth research (such as shorter, less detailed posts) but I haven’t found that balance yet. I’ll get there.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Conception Bay Museum for the launch of the poetry book Flightpaths: The Lost Journals of Amelia Earhart by Heidi Greco. I snuggled in with the pirate Peter Easton and enjoyed an imagining through journal entries and poetry of Amelia Earhart’s last days.

 

Peter Easton, a well-known pirate who often used Harbour Grace as his base. Photo by author.

Greco fell in love with Earhart’s story, and has researched her life and the stories around her disappearance. She uses this information to follow what might have been Earhart’s thoughts as she and Fred Noonan find themselves crashed on a small sandbar, Noonan with severe injuries, and Earhart with a severely injured ankle. Greco allows Earhart to expresses herself with short journal entries, poems, and dreams, exploring her life from the first plane she ever spied, to her marriage to George Putnam, to her childhood and relationship with her sister, to her solo flight from Newfoundland, to her friendships with Katherine Hepburn and Eleanor Roosevelt. Through dreams the wanderings of the mind, Greco explores some of the theories as to what happened to Earhart as she attempted to fly around the equator. She looks at Earhart finding herself in a Japanese prison camp, in a witness relocation scenario, in an institution, and simply as an excuse for the United States to explore the Pacific Islands. Some of the poems and journal entries are so powerful that they will bring a tear to your eye and cause you to mourn the loss of Earhart.

 

Heidi Greco reading from Flightpaths at the Conception Bay Museum. The camera insisted on focusing on the sunflower, brought by Greco as a reminder of Earhart’s Kansas. Photo by author.

What made Greco’s launch even more powerful was that she choose to launch it in Harbour Grace on the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s solo trans-Atlantic flight. Most fitting, she read the poem “Grace” about that flight which even mentions “With a gifted thermos of homemade soup tucked beneath my arm,/ I ducked into the cockpit, smiling and waving”, a wonderful touch that I feel shows Newfoundland hospitality at its finest.

Artifacts of aviation in Harbour Grace, including the log from the Harbour Grace Airfield. Photo by author.

After the reading, it was wonderful to explore the museum. I have been there before, and will be there again. The museum showcases so many important parts of the area’s history, not just Earhart but the Harbour Grace airfield and Harbor Grace’s role in the Trans-Atlantic Air Race, the Kyle and its search for Old Glory. With so much history beyond aviation, the museum looks at the pirates in the area, the fishery, government, and life in Harbour Grace.

Outside the Conception Bay Museum in Harbour Grace. Photo by author.

While at the book launch, I did have the oppotunity to meet many wonderful people from the area whom I only knew through facebook. First, the ladies of The Moose Curry Experience who post great recipes and have helped me with in the field identification with a tweet or two. I was also talking to Florence Button who runs the museums in Carbonear. I will admit I haven’t been into the Railway Station Museum, the Rorke Store or the Post Office Museum, but will make a point of visiting them the next time I am out in Carbonear (which is pretty regularly). Finally, I made arrangements with the wonderful folks at the Conception Bay Museum to let me check out some of their historic documents to get the research ball rolling on a history of Harbour Grace (one that might compliment Challenge of the Atlantic which is now out of print).

A picture of the Harbour Grace Airfield which was taken on a much sunnier day. Photo by author.

Overall, it was a great day, and I enjoyed spending my evening with a glass of whiskey and a wonderful book of poetry.

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Another stretch where I just couldn’t get to the blog. I have been preparing for some conferences. This Friday is a Public Archaeology Twitter Conference. I will be the last presenter of the day, at 23.15 GMT presenting the paper “Preserving Aviation Archaeology Sites While Engaging Public Interest: A Discussion with Gander, Newfoundland, as a Case Study”. If you want to follow the conference, check out #PATC and for my paper discussion, follow me at @planecrashgirl. This should be an interesting experiment in conference presentations, and a wonderful way to make academic papers more accessible.

Time for a book review.

A wonderful friend of mine gave me one of the most amazing gifts I have ever received: a well-loved copy of Charles A. Lindbergh’s “We”: The Famous Flier’s Own Story of his Life and his Transatlantic Flight, Together with his Views on the Future of Aviation. When he gave it to me, he called it his prized possession and wanted me to have it. Thinking about how much this gift means continues to make me a little emotional to know that I have such amazing support in my research. Thank you Nelson.

I know there is very little about Newfoundland in this book, but Lindbergh does mention Newfoundland and flying over on his historic trans-Atlantic flight. Plus, he did visit Newfoundland a few times on his flights, or at least fly over.

“We” is a very interesting read from the perspective of aviation history. Lindbergh is not a strong writer, in fact, he feels that he is at a loss for words when it comes to talking about the celebrations and fanfare surrounding his trans-Atlantic flight and brings in Fitzhugh Green to write about the speeches and fanfare.

From Lindbergh 1928

Throughout Lindbergh’s book, the focus is so much more on his early flying career; his training, barnstorming, and his time training for the reserves. He devotes very little to the planning and preparation of his trans-Atlantic flight. In fact, if you were to read it without Green’s section, it almost seems like the flight is a bit of a whim instead of months of planning. Certainly, he talks about how he changed the aircraft to carry more fuel, some of the testing, and his route planning, but it is all done in very little details when compared to his stories about barnstorming or his crashes and accidents.

From Lindbergh 1928

What Lindbergh’s book is really interesting for is his descriptions of early flight training, and the novelty of aircraft in different areas of the United States. He spends a lot of time barnstorming and working fair circuits to make some money, and has some great stories where people come together around the novelty of aircraft (communities pitching in to allow a coloured individual to fly, pulling the aircraft out of a ditch, or even forgiving damages to a storefront as it would be great advertising for the shop!). He talks more about his first plane (a military auction Jenny) than the other half of we in “We” (Spirit of St. Louis).

From Lindbergh 1928

What is of particular interest for any aviation historian is his in-depth look at training to be in the Army Air Corps Reserves. He devotes a lot of the text to the ins and outs of training, the trouble they sometimes got up to, and has his one accident report copied verbatim.

Lindbergh offers up insights and theories on aviation, many of which came to be in the next few years, such as the importance of parachutes and the capabilities of aircraft. He continuously refers to the short period of invention to improvement of aircraft and envisions almost limitless journeys in all kinds of weather. While flying at night and in poor weather has much improved, there are of course still the weather extremes that can stop flights. But, as Lindbergh predicted, these are always improving (see YYT and their new measures to help flying in the fog). The only one I think he really missed the mark on was discussing commercial aviation, but then, he talks about the potential for commercial aviation with small aircraft in mind, and for many years, commercial aviation was incredibly viable as a luxury venture with small aircraft. Now, with the larger aircraft, and discounted rates, it seems to be a whole different creature than what could be envisioned with the small aircraft of the 1920s.

From Lindbergh 1928

Sources

Lindbergh, C.A.
1928 “We”: The Famous Flier’s Own Story of his Life and his Transatlantic Flight, Together with his Views on the Future of Aviation. Grosset & Dunlap Publishers: New York.

From Lindbergh 1928

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