One day Joan (pronounced Jo Ann) Mims showed the Vagabond a photo of her as a baby being held under an airplane among several persons. Joan also said that one of them was Amelia Earhart. She proceeded to show me an article about the incident by Benjamin S. Bradford:
Myrtice Stanfield Brooks (the mother of Joan) bought her first purse when she married at age 17 in 1928. She kept it the rest of her life, using it as a place in which to keep mementos of special events. It was only after she died in 1992 that Joan Mims of Attalla discovered a piece of history that had been stashed away for 64 years. What Mims found was a worn photograph of several people standing near an old bi-wing airplane. She suddenly recalled a conversation that she had years earlier with her mother.
“Mother had mentioned that she had once met Amelia Earhart,” Mims said, “but I never pursued the conversation.”
After the photo was discovered, Mims began researching local archives for newspaper articles relating to the photo taken on February 29, 1936.
The fact that Earhart visited Gadsden during a leap year seems appropriate, considering the leap that she would later take into oblivion in leading to the longest and most intense searches in aviation history.
On this visit, Earhart landed at the Gadsden Airport, which at that time was located behind the old steel plant. She received a $250 speaking fee from the Woman’s Club, since the purpose of her trip was to raise funds for an upcoming flight in 1937.
Earhart spoke of her flying the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland. This trip took place on the first anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s pioneer adventure. She became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and only the second person to cross the Atlantic by air.
Earhart was not a stranger to Gadsden, as she had previously spoken to the Woman’s Club on February 5, 1934. Earhart originally was to have spoken a week earlier, but she was suffering from a severe attack of bronchitis. Her topic on this trip was on “Flying for Fun.”
When the time came, the Hotel Reich in Gadsden was packed with more than 325 people anxious to hear and meet the famous aviatrix as she spoke to the Woman’s Club. Due to the fact that so many men of the city desire to hear Miss Earhart, special arrangement was made where they could arrive at the conclusion of the luncheon upon paying half the price of a membership in the club.
The non-stop flight of this famous aviatrix from Mexico to New York was the principal subject of her discussion as she described her trip across the Atlantic to Ireland on a previous visit to the club.
In keeping with the red airplane in which Miss Earhart (pronounced Airhart) made her flight from Mexico, red and white carnations adorned the table. Miniature airplanes in the same colors marked the places of the officers and heads of departments in the club, who sat at the table with the guest of honor. Mrs. H. W. Bass, in a few well-chosen words, presented Miss Earhart to her eager audience.
The speaker told a number of humorous incidents in which she has been mistaken for various notables from Gracie Allen to the mother of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, and one instance in which a woman in a gas station had such a good time talking to her, whom she thought at first was “Amelia Earhart” until she had a good look at her. Because of her resemblance to Lindbergh, and much to Earhart’s chagrin, the press dubbed her “Lady Lindy.”
The tiny cockpit of the 550-horsepower plane in which Earhart made the flight from Mexico was described in detail, right down to the cabinet in which she carried her picnic lunch. For the entire time, almost 14 hours, which began at dawn from the bed of an ancient lake near Mexico City, over 700 miles of the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans and on to Newark, Earhart’s solid food consisted of one sandwich and a hard-boiled egg.
Hazards that she had to face on the trip, she explained, were principally the takeoff of her 7,000-pound plane at the high altitude of the Mexican plateau and the immediate crossing of a mountain 10,000 feet high, all of which were features of the first six hours. Her ship was heavily loaded with the enormous amount of fuel necessary for the non-stop flight.
A high tribute was paid to both the late Wiley Post for his courage and the great accomplishments by Miss Earhart. Along with humorist Will Rogers, Post had been killed the year before in a plane crash.
The photo of Jan Mims, her mother and Ameila Earhart was snapped at the old Gadsden Airport at the old steel plant. A friend or family member of one of the parties in the picture took it. The February weather seems to have cooperated nicely, since some of the people are wearing short sleeves.
Myrtice Stanfield Brooks, wearing a large hat in the photo, is shown standing in front of the plane. Her daughter Joan Mims is being held by an unidentified man and her legs can be seen dangling from his arms. Amelia Earhart is shown second from right. She is attired in a white blouse and slightly darker slacks, unusual for a woman to wear at the time, with her back to the camera as she reaches toward the bottom wing of the plane.
Earhart was planning to retire in 1937, but first wanted one more glorious adventure in the flight that she had worked so hard to raise funds for.
In June of 1937, she and co-pilot Fred Noonan left Miami, Fla., in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra on a flight that would take them across the globe. On the morning of July 2, at 8:45 a.m., the U.S. Coast Guard received what was to be the final message the world would ever hear from Earhart. She and Noonan then vanished with out a trace.
The search for an answer to her mysterious disappearance is still ongoing. Several times there have been intriguing clues popping up from time to time. None has been able to definitively answer the timeless question, “What happened to Amelia Earhart?”
A local newspaper wrote, “Miss Earhart is an accomplished speaker. Her charming use of words is as notable as the grace and modesty, which have won, for her the affectionate admiration of the world. In her lectures, she describes not only the Atlantic flight, but also tells of her other experiences, and of the meaning and possibilities of flying in general, especially as they relate to women. The story she tells holds a wealth of dramatic interest, always toned with whimsical humor.”