June 18, 2015
Amelia Earhart: New Efforts In The Search To Know Her Fate
By Martha Irvine
AP National Writer
Oxford, PA (AP) There are many people with theories about what happened to Amelia Earhart. But few stir up more excitement—or more ire—than Ric Gillespie.
The longstanding official theory is that the famed pilot and her navigator, Fred Noonan, ran out of gas and crashed into deep ocean waters northwest of Howland Island, a tiny speck in the South Pacific that the pair missed while attempting a round-the-world flight in 1937.
Since 1989, Gillespie and The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, have been testing another theory, and they’ve headed back to the region this month. They surmise that Earhart made an emergency landing on a flat stretch of coral reef off what was then known as Gardner Island, southwest of Howland. And they’ve raised millions in private funds to finance several treks to the distant atoll, now called Nikumaroro.
Set to arrive last weekend, the TIGHAR team now wants to check an anomaly seen in sonar imaging on an underwater cliff where the reef drops off.
Could it be the fuselage of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E airplane?
Gillespie makes no promises: ``There’s no guarantee of success.’’
He’s far from the only one looking for Earhart.
An Australian researcher thinks wreckage spotted by members of his country’s military years ago on a Papua New Guinea island could be hers. Others are investigating local island lore that Earhart and Noonan crash landed on Mili Atoll, 800 miles northwest of Howland, and died in Japanese hands.
Various teams who believe the crashed-and-sank theory, an explanation supported by curators at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, have tried to find the plane using sophisticated equipment to scan the ocean floor. No one has found a verified plane part or bone fragment.
But Gillespie says he and his team are building their case, slowly but surely.
TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie
He has his admirers. In 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized Gillespie at a reception honoring Earhart. In a letter to him, she said, ``This great adventure embodies the very hope, ingenuity and boundless optimism of the American spirit’’ — a reference to the expedition that year in which TIGHAR collected several underwater sonar images.
But there’ve been disappointments and controversy, too.
There was the filing cabinet discovered on Nikumaroro that the team thought came from Earhart’s plane but later linked to a military aircraft. The team also excavated a grave that turned up bones, not of the famous pilot but of a tiny infant.
One of TIGHAR’s more controversial finds is a piece of metal, likely from an airplane, which the team found at Nikumaroro in the early 1990s. Gillespie’s latest theory is that it’s a patch that covered a window on Earhart’s plane. Many critics dispute that, though Gillespie has at least one notable supporter—MIT engineering professor Thomas Eagar who thinks it may be ``the real thing.’’
Over the years, Gillespie and his team have found other items in what they think is an old castaway camp. These, they say, aren’t as easily explained—heel fragments from a woman’s shoe, a rusted jack knife and fragments of toiletries they believe are from the 1930s. Their own expert’s high-tech analysis of an object in an old photograph of the island determined that it could be Lockheed landing gear jutting from the reef before being washed away, they say.
In England, the team also found records of human bones found long ago on the island. The bones are missing, but Gillespie says modern-day analysis of measurements indicate they could’ve come from a woman of European descent.
None of it is definitive proof, he and his team realize.
``We have compiled a preponderance of evidence suggesting—not proving—that our hypothesis is true,’’ says Tom King, TIGHAR’s lead archaeologist.
Some critics insist that Gillespie has found nothing remotely tied to Earhart—and that remnants on the island are more likely from a former Coast Guard station or from islanders who settled on Nikumaroro after Earhart’s disappearance until the mid-1960s.
Then there’s Tim Mellon, a one-time supporter and now critic, who thinks quite the opposite—that Gillespie knows more than he reveals. Two years ago, Mellon accused Gillespie in an unsuccessful lawsuit of hiding the fact that he’d found Earhart’s plane so Mellon would donate more than $1 million in stock to help fund the 2012 expedition. A judge rejected Mellon’s appeal last month, but he’s sticking to his assessment of Gillespie.
``It’s a business for him . even though he calls it a charity,’’ Mellon said in a telephone interview.
Amelia Earhart, missing since July 2, 1937
Now Mellon has filed a complaint with the IRS, claiming that TIGHAR is violating nonprofit guidelines. Already, public records show Gillespie has a state tax delinquency in Delaware for more than $55,000—an amount Gillespie’s wife and TIGHAR co-founder, Pat Thrasher, says they’re working to pay back after getting into debt to pay for a defense in the Mellon lawsuit.
Gillespie, meanwhile, says the IRS complaint is unfounded ``the pique of a pissed off millionaire.’’ Dismissing his critics, he adds, ``Amelia inspires passion. I understand that.. But my skin got thick a long time ago.’’
And so the 68-year-old pilot with a background in airplane accident investigation continues his search.
His intrigue started with Earhart’s last reported ``line of position,’’ which eventually runs past Nikumaroro. It’s continued with the purported castaway camp and shortwave radio distress calls after Earhart’s disappearance. Many have dismissed the calls as hoaxes, but he and his team believe dozens are credible.
Tom Crouch, a senior curator in the aeronautics department at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, doesn’t agree.
``We’ve argued about this stuff for 30 years,’’ says Crouch, who considers Gillespie a friend.
``But,’’ he adds, ``I could be wrong.’’
TIGHAR website (Nikumaroro theory): http://tighar.org
Crashed-and-sank theory: http://elgenlong.com/earhart/crash-and-sank.html
Papua New Guinea theory: http://www.electranewbritain.com/Page1.htm
Japanese capture theory: http://www.eartharttruth.com
Blaze Starr, Burlesque Dancer & Businesswoman, Dies At 83
By Jonathan Mattise
and Ben Nuckols
Charleston, WVa (AP) Blaze Starr, a burlesque icon and stripper whose affair with a 1950s-era Louisiana governor gained notoriety for both parties, died Monday at age 83.
Starr’s nephew, Earsten Spaulding, said she died at her Wilsondale, West Virginia, home after experiencing heart issues the past few years.
Born Fannie Belle Fleming in Wayne County, West Virginia, Starr long performed at the Two O’Clock Club in Baltimore, earning her the nickname, ``The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque.’’
She’s better known for what happened when she landed at the Sho-Bar club in New Orleans.
That’s where Starr famously had an affair with Louisiana Gov. Earl K. Long, who served in the 1940s and 1950s.
Gus Weill, one of Louisiana’s first political consultants who got his start in politics in the 1960s, said Starr was a ``knockout’’ beauty who gave New Orleans glamor. He did not know her personally.
Blaze Starr in 1950
``They had the romance and history, and she added a good dollop of glamor,’’ Weill said about her contribution to New Orleans. ``She was a wonderful dancer and much loved.’’
The flamboyant stripper who grew up in West Virginia’s coalfields also laid claim to sleeping with John F. Kennedy before he won the presidency.
Starr later migrated more toward comedy acts when she bought the Two O’Clock Club.
Filmmaker John Waters, a Baltimore native who celebrated the city’s weirdness in movies such as ``Pink Flamingos’’ and ``Pecker,’’ said he watched Starr’s shows as a teenager, though he never met her. He said her wardrobe was a major influence on Divine, the cross-dressing actor who starred in several of Waters’ movies.
``She would lie on this bench and papier-mache flames would shoot up between her legs. Other boys my age were at football games and the Orioles and the Colts, but I was thinking about Blaze Starr, and not in an erotic way, either,’’ Waters told The Associated Press on Monday. ``Just from a showbiz point of view, I respected her deeply.’’
Waters said Starr was an important figure in the history of postwar Baltimore.
``She was a stripper on The Block, which for a long time was Baltimore’s only tourist attraction, really, from the Second World War and after, that was why people went to Baltimore,’’ he said. ``I still think she was the best tourist attraction that Baltimore ever had.’’
Lolita Davidovich as Starr in the movie Blaze
He said she was ``never tawdry’’ and was able to build a diverse fan base.
``She had a sense of humor, and she turned what was once thought of as a negative career, being a stripper, into a class act in a weird way,’’ Waters said. ``No one looked down on Blaze Starr.’’
Starr co-authored her autobiography in 1974. The book was adapted 15 years later into the movie ``Blaze,’’ starring Paul Newman as Earl Long and Lolita Davidovich as Starr.
Spaulding recalled his aunt as caring, sentimental and a character.
``She was talented at anything she wanted to do,’’ he said.
She hand-made many of her elaborate burlesque outfits, was a fan of mushroom and ginseng hunting and quickly picked up how to play the banjo, he added.
The family is still working out funeral arrangements.
Alabama Earthquake Swarm Has No Clear Cause, So Far
By Jay Reeves
Eutaw, AL (AP) Jim Sterling didn’t know what had hit his 156-year-old antebellum home when an earthquake struck Alabama’s old plantation region early one morning last November. Startled, he grabbed a gun and ran outdoors.
In the pre-dawn chill, Sterling said, he found an odd scene: horses were galloping, cows mooing and dogs barking.
``I heard a boom and felt the shaking,’’ Sterling said. ``It really upset me.’’
More than a dozen weak earthquakes have followed in the seven months since in west Alabama’s rural Greene County, and geologists are trying to figure out what is causing the seismic swarm in an area of the South more prone to tornadoes than earthquakes.
``It is interesting that recently there has been more activity there than in the last four decades,’’ said Sandy Ebersole, an earthquake expert with the Geological Survey of Alabama.
Records from the U.S. Geological Survey show the first of 14 earthquakes occurred on Nov. 20, when a magnitude 3.8 earthquake was recorded about 10 miles northwest of the community of Eutaw. The second occurred in mid-December, followed by another in January and three within a few hours of each other on Feb. 19.
The tremors have continued ever since, with the most recent occurring June 6, when a magnitude 3.0 quake rattled the area. All the tremors have been weaker than the initial jolt in November, and Ebersole said some have been too slight for residents to detect.
Located about 35 miles from Tuscaloosa, the whole of Greene County has only about 8,700 residents, and the area where the quakes are occurring is sparsely populated. Farmlands and forests are dotted by hunting preserves and old homes left over from Alabama’s past as a cotton-producing, slave-holding state.
Experts have installed a seismic monitor in a field to enable them to get better information about the quakes, none of which has caused major damage. Ebersole said researchers are trying to rule out potential causes such as blasting for quarries and sonic booms. They’ve even held meetings with rattled area residents.
The quakes could be linked to underground cracks, or faults, found in the area in recent years at varying depths, Ebersole said. But just what has been causing the ground to shake is unclear.
One potential source that regulators are discounting is hydraulic fracturing or ``fracking,’’ a process for extracting underground oil or natural gas that has been blamed for earthquake swarms elsewhere, including Oklahoma. Wastewater is sometimes injected underground, a method the government has blamed for quakes.
While Greene County is on the edge of Alabama’s primary region for oil and gas production, state geologist Nick Tew said no such production or disposal work is going on in the area where the quakes are occurring.
The mysterious shaking has left residents like Mark McClelland to protect themselves in the only way they can.
``After the second or third one I went to get some earthquake insurance,’’ said McClelland. ``It’s not bad, about $150 a year.’’
The hearty construction methods and thick timbers used in his 163-old Greek Revival mansion provide some comfort to Barden Smedberg, who operates the house as a wedding venue and a bed and breakfast. One of the earliest quakes shook loose curtain rods from window frames at his Everhope Plantation, he said. But no other damage has occurred.
``This house has been here since 1852. I don’t think it’s going anywhere,’’ said Smedberg.
Even without much damage or a major shake to date, Sterling said he would still like to know what is causing the quakes.
``A lot of people are wondering what’s going on,’’ he said.