Saturday, July 22, 2017

Some Mysteries Must Remain Mysteries

J has a framed photograph, poster size, of the famed aviator Amelia Earhart hanging on his classroom wall. It's there for the purpose of showing a person who can inspire children to be whatever they are capable of being.

This female flyer took risks and challenges during a time when it - in many circles - wasn't considered 'lady like' to venture into the heavens in small planes to outmatch, which she did numerous times, her male aviation counterparts.

Okay, not Amelia but pretty brave and risky!
In the nineteen-thirties, a woman's place may have been thought to be at home with the children, but with Amelia, her calling wasn't for such a life. Her place was to stand alongside those other adventurers and world changers who smirked at danger and were willing to risk everything to prove they were correct.

Eleanor Roosevelt as first lady paved the way for a president's wife to hold her own news conferences, write syndicated columns for newspapers, and never hold her tongue on national or international news.

A first for a First Lady
Jesse Owens - the African-American track and field star of the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, shattered Adolf Hitler's ridiculous conception of Aryan supremacy. Four gold medals later, he proved he was one of the best in the world. To this day, according to ESPN, he is considered one of the top six greatest American athletes of the twentieth century.

Thanks, Jesse 

Gertrude Stein was American novelist, poet, playwright and avid art collector. This woman almost single-handily broke the 'paper' ceiling. She hosted and inspired such notables as Pablo Picasso, 'Papa' Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, The Fitzgerald's, and others at her Paris salon.

Gertrude - couldn't say it any better
This was a time when the 'outsiders' made the 'insiders' nervous.

Amelia Earhart was such a person. Her passion had always been flying even from a young age. She was the first woman to fly a plane to 14,000 feet, setting a world record for female pilots. In 1923, she was the 16th woman to receive her pilot's license in the United States. She even went so far as to purchase a small biplane, she named 'Canary' to continue with her flying adventures.

She wanted to make it in the rare world of flyers, but she realized that her young appearance could be a hindrance at being taken seriously. She cut her hair short, as was the fashion for those few other female pilots at the time, and even slept in her signature leather flying jacket for three months to give it the appearance of a well worn old friend.

Now, that's a true flyer by the looks of her.
But sometimes reality stands in the way of immediate fame.

Sadly when her inheritance ran out, she had to sell almost everything, including the 'Canary' and she took a job as a social worker in 1925 near Boston at a settlement house. Not to be deterred, she stayed as close to the runways as she could when time allowed, to ensure she was not forgotten and was finally approached for a transatlantic flight by Captain Hilton H. Railey. He was wondering if she'd like to copy Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic.

So, in April 1928 and the young woman eagerly accepted the offer. Unfortunately, Amelia did not have adequate personal experience, so the flight from Newfoundland to South Wales was really instrument flown by Wilmer Stultz - a fellow pilot. She always felt as though she was nothing but baggage and not the woman who flew the Atlantic solo for the first time.

Fame came anyway and so did her marriage to George P. Putman - who was the one who had truly coordinated the Atlantic flight in the first place. Amelia fell in love with the book publisher and publicist whom she married in 1931. Of course, she wasn't really the marrying type and it did take Putman asking her six times before she agreed.

Mr. and Mrs. George P. Putman - but  just call her, Amelia
As a publicist, George knew a good thing when it was standing or flying in front of his eyes. With the newly married couple, there was a strategy to make Amelia a household name. They did and Amelia's influence was in the fashion industry, luggage, household products, and even Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Amelia - we're in - where next?

She was one of the most recognizable people in the world.

It even got better - she had dreamed of actually flying solo across the Atlantic and achieved that feat in May of 1932. From Newfoundland to Derry, Northern Ireland. The nearly fifteen hour flight catapulted Amelia in the record books once and for all.

After this incredible feat, she continued on breaking record after record, but the main thing for which she is remembered, is for her attempt to fly around the world. She wanted to be the first woman to fly a plane around this floating rock in space called earth. Of course, a navigator would be aboard but only to provide critical information to the pilot when needed.

Ah, Fred - maybe a left here?
Amelia would be at the controls the entire time.

The first attempt ended with the plane damaged in March of 1937. The second attempt - the one that made her more famous than she ever had envisioned, began in Oakland, California May of 1937 (that's where her plane, the Electra had been repaired from the first attempt). She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, announced in Miami, Florida that they would circumnavigate the globe, shocking the world but probably not the flying community. Anyone who knew this brave woman realized this day was bound to to come. It came on June 1st, 1937 when they took off from Miami planning to circle the planet. Twenty-eight days later the duo found themselves with only 7,000 miles left in this epic journey. The problem was it would be mostly above the wide and dangerous Pacific Ocean.

Where the Electra went down, perhaps?
What happened to both Earhart and Noonan has gone down in history as one of the greatest mysteries of aeronautics.

There were sporadic radio signals from Amelia but in the end none of those hearing the comments could be sure the Electra was on the right track. They were heading for was Howland Island.

The USCGC Itasca was stationed near Howland Island just in case the flyers needed assistance in finding this small outcrop in the Pacific. The last communication they had was near the Nukumanu Islands.

At 7:42 a.m. was one of the last, if not the last, call from Amelia to the Itasca: "We must be on you, but cannot see you - but gas is running low. Have been unable to to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

There may have been one or two more radio calls but the fact was Amelia and Noonan were in serious - make that deadly trouble. It has to be understood that the bottom radio antenna on the Electra may have been sheared off at take-off from Lae, New Guinea due to the amount of fuel the plane had to carry for the voyage. This could make accurate radio tracking signals almost impossible.

The Electra was never seen again.

One of the largest air and sea search and rescues began, but to no avail.

In the past eighty years there have been rumors, intrigue, eye-witnesses, researchers, and a host of others who have tried to solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart's last moments. Countless articles have been written spawning countless documentaries. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been published in an attempt to explain how a person so talented and accomplished as Amelia Earhart could just 'disappear' from existence and not leave one single piece of evidence.

Perplexing to say the least.

Recently, on July 5th, 2017, a photograph surfaced perhaps proving Amelia and Noonan had survived the crash and were taken prisoners by the Japanese. That rumor has been around since World War II. The photo shows a group of people on a dock in a large bay. One boat has what looks like a plane similar to the one Amelia had been flying and the woman sitting on the dock appears to be Amelia -same build and characteristic hair style. A tall man on the left of the photograph has an uncanny appearance to Fred Nooaon, her navigator. All of the others appear to be either islanders or of Asian descent.

Hmm - looks like Earhart and Noonan

Was the mystery solved?

Whoops - not so fast.

On July 11th, a military history blogger by the name of Kota Yamano declared that the photograph was taken two years earlier in Palau. He stated that the woman nor the man were either Earhart or Noonan. The blogger didn't say who the two obvious 'foreigners' were though. Those crazy bloggers!

By the way, Palau was under Japanese control during that time. And by the way again, the ship in the photo towing the plane which looks a lot like the Electra was a Japanese navy survey ship - the IJN Koshu. And by the way again, this ship supposedly helped in looking for the real Electra in 1937, but with no luck.

The Electra on the rear of the IJN Koshu - hmm, again
Coincidence? Who knows but the mystery is not solved - yet.

'Breaking news as of July 21st, the long time searcher for the truth behind Amelia Earhart's disappearance has reiterated  that the photograph from the Jaluit Atoll is indeed Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. It was taken in July of 1937. Former FBI official Shawn Henry - who starred in a History Channel documentary says he is one hundred percent certain the photograph is real and taken in 1937 showing Amelia and Fred were taken prisoners by the Japanese.'

The plot thickens. One searcher says it's her and a blogger says it was taken two years earlier. Though, this team of bloggers sees quite a resemblance there in that photo of the two missing aviators. Just saying.

So the photograph of Amelia Earhart hangs on one wall in J's classroom as a reminder to his students that they can be whoever they can - as long as they have the skills - and to never give up on their dreams.

They may succeed with those dreams.

But, sometimes dreams are mysterious things - such as in the case of Amelia Earhart.

Then again - sometimes mysteries are to remain a mystery. They seem to assist in the human condition called - imagination.

An adventurer? Yes, and an icon for such.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Miles of Smiles

One valley in the Faragas mountains
On a cool September 20th in 1974, the Transfagarasan Road was completed. It took four and a half years to carve this engineering marvel over one of Romania's highest mountains. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful highways in the world.

In fact, the popular television show, 'Top Gear' referred to this asphalt ribbon as one of the world's best roads.

We can not refute that claim.

J and L drove this beautiful landmark late June and breathtaking would be an understatement to describe this majestic highway cut through passes, valleys, and anything else that got in the way of the dream of a megalomaniac.

A bit of a winding road.

In 1970, the Communist Dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, came up with an almost impossible task. Of course, no one says 'no' to such a ruthless person as Ceausescu, and thus the idea of a road through very high mountains was to be realized. Now, it was up to the engineers in the military - isn't that always the case with communist regimes? It's up to the military to make things happen because civilians may say - 'Huh, a highway where and what for?"

Build what over what?
Ceausescu wanted to build a road between the counties of Wallachia and Transylvania in case the Soviet Union invaded Romania as they had done with Czechoslovakia in 1968. He thought if the Soviets invaded, he could command his military to secure this road and keep the Soviets on their heels. They may lose either Wallachia or Transylvania, but one would be saved. Too bad that the road is closed most of the year due to the heavy amounts of snow that build up at this high elevation, making it nearly impossible to secure any of it.
A lot of bridges over the roadway

Oh well - sounded like a good idea (not).

The road was built in a little over four and a half years using 14 million tons of dynamite and the loss of 38 military personnel. The cost of building a road - unknown tons of mountain side along with a the human fatalities. Ceausescu demanded the road and the highway was built, and so it deserves the nickname it earned from the Roma (locals): Nicolae's Folly.

It's the Communist way, but enough of the politics - for now.

Laureen feeling the power of the waterfall
The drive through the Fargas Mountains takes roughly three hours but could be less if the scenery wasn't so darn unbelievable. It truly is one of the most scenic roads J or L have ever driven. The switchbacks (a million of them if we counted correctly) make for a spectacular view at every turn. The thick green forests making visibility out either the driver or passenger window nearly impossible and then suddenly getting so high in elevation that the tree line is staring you in the face is amazing. Nothing but mountains - bare, exposed and stunning. That's where the road can really be appreciated.
John trying to help a runaway piece of glacier

Magnificent glaciers poke their iciness around nearly every bend, waterfalls pounce out of nowhere allowing the traveler a chance to hear and see one of natures most beautiful acrobatics, stunning views of nature at every inch of the highway and yes, there are also sights only humans can create.

So many sheepies and no where for them to go except the highway.

Not once or twice, but three times J and L had to stop on this highway for a time to allow sheep and sheep herders to clear the roadway. This road is the access from one side of the Fagaras Mountains to the other and the sheep herders don't mind the walk and it seemed as though the sheep didn't mind either. There was a 'baa' here and a 'baa' there and we were obliged to wait until the sheep cleared to one side or the other on the highway before we could safely to pass. No warning was needed - a sheep hood ornament was not on order for the day.

Thanks for the help. How to pass a million sheep? A sheepherder, of course.

This road had everyone, both locals and tourists, stopping to take a thousand photographs with phones, cameras, whatever was handy. No one got angry if a vehicle slowed to a stop since it only made sense to get out and breathe the fresh mountain air, and enjoy the wonder that both God and man had a hand in making.

Top Gear had it right, but perhaps the best aspect of this path through the Fargaras Mountains is how peaceful the scenery surrounding the road is. It's a highway to experience with all senses.

Our rented Audi handled the road expertly and there were times that J put his foot into the pedal - after all, sometimes a hair-pin turn needs to be tested.