REH, Amelia Earhart and Some Fanciful Speculation

The above photo was taken on June 16, 1931 when Amelia Earhart landed her Pitcairn autogiro at Ranger Airfield in the town of Ranger, Texas, which is situated near Cross Plains. She was on a cross-country tour promoting Beech-Nut Gum. The Lone Star Gasoline Co. gave her a free fill-up of fuel before she departed, flying off to her next destination.

Here is a little history of the Ranger Airfield:

Flying across the U.S. in July 1931, Amelia Earhart graced the grass in her Beech-Nut Gum sponsored autogyro. Her visit drew a large crowd but the Great Depression was already placing a toll on the airfield. In 1937, Army Air Corps survey photos labeled the hangar “Abandoned.” But the looming war in Europe would help save the airfield. A Civilian Pilot Training Program was established in 1939 to help provide pilots and mechanics with the knowledge they’d need to fight victoriously. After WWII, the field was modernized and took the shape of a typical general aviation airport. An asphalt runway was added as well as a number of additions to the original hangar. But because of the decline in Ranger’s population the airfield was not improved or maintained thereafter.

Howard makes no mention of Earhart’s stop in Ranger in his letters, but he may have been aware of it through newspapers accounts. In 1931 Earhart’s career was taking-off (literally). She first gained the public’s attention as an aviatrix in 1928 when she flew across the Atlantic Ocean as an observer (not the actual pilot). Earhart would go on to be the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932.

She disappeared July 2, 1937 over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island on an attempted flight to circumnavigate the globe with her navigator Fred Noonan. Over the ensuing decades, much speculation has been bandied about regarding what happened to the pair of adventurers and to this very day experts are still searching for clues as to what led to their disappearance and where they ended up. Earhart searchers have turned up artifacts such as a piece of plane wreckage belived to have been from her plane, a broken cosmetic jar, possible human remains and other items on the island of Nikumaroro.

Howard wrote a story around 1928 called the “The People of the Black Coast.” The story was not published during Howard’s lifetime and first appeared in the September-October 1969 issue of Spaceway Science Fiction. The science-fantasy story includes some eerie coincidences similar to the real life story of the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan:

There were two of us, at the start. Myself, of course, and Gloria, who was to have been my bride. Gloria had an airplane and she loved to fly the thing — that was the beginning of the whole horror. I tried to dissuade her that day — I swear I did! — but she insisted and we took off from Manila with Guam as our destination. Why? The whim of this reckless girl who feared noting and always burned with zest for some new adventure — some untried sport.

The plane experienced some kind of mechanical problem, forcing the lady pilot and to seek an island to land on. Just as the aircraft fell from the sky, the pair spotted land:

We swam ashore from the sinking craft, unhurt and found ourselves in a strange and forbidding land. Broad beaches sloped up from the lazy waves to end at the  foot of vast cliffs. These cliffs seem to be of solid rock and were — are — hundreds of feet high. The material was basalt or something similar.

So the couple in this Howard story experienced the same fate as Earhart and Noonan may have. It is generally believed that the pair survived the crash and found themselves marooned on an atoll (believed to be Nikumaroro) with no fresh water or food. Of course Earhart and Noonan never faced giant, intelligent killer crabs — instead the two likely succumbed to starvation and dehydration.

Of course I am not suggesting Howard had some kind of ability to foretell the future, but it wouldn’t be the only time Howard put forth a theory that may be historically accurate. Recent findings seem to support his hypothesis regarding cataclysmic events that ended his fictional Hyborian Age some 12,000 years ago. Wm. Michael Mott delves deep into this topic in his “The Hyborian Sage: Real-World Parallels Between Howard’s Essay and Modern Discoveries” essay which appears in the current issue of the TGR print journal.

As the title of this post indicates, this is just fanciful speculation on my part, but nonetheless I have a sudden craving for Alaskan King Crab legs.