The Vagabond: Amelia Earhart in Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

Joan (pronounced Jo Ann) Mims recently showed The Vagabond a photo of herself as a baby being held under an airplane among a group of people that included Amelia Earhart. Joan provided me with an article about the incident written by Benjamin S. Bradford. It reads:

“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 her daughter, 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 some people standing near an old 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 Amelia Earhart visited Gadsden during a leap year seems appropriate, considering the leap that she would later take into oblivion and led to one of the longest and most intense searches in aviation history.

“On her 1936 visit to Gadsden, Earhart landed at the local airport, which at that time was located behind the old steel plant. She received a $250 speaking fee from the Gadsden 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 on the first anniversary of Char-les Lindbergh’s pioneering flight. She became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and only the second person to ever cross the Atlantic by air.

“Earhart first spoke to the Gadsden Woman’s Club on February 5, 1934. She originally was to speak a week earlier but was suffering from a severe case of bronchitis. Her topic was “Flying for Fun.”

“For Earhart’s 1936 visit, the Hotel Reich in downtown Gadsden was packed with more than 350 people who were 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 the speech, special arrangements were made where they could arrive at the conclusion of the luncheon upon paying half the price of a membership in the club.

“Earhart’s non-stop flight from Mexico to New York was the principal subject of her discussion. In keeping with the red airplane in which Earhart made her flight from Mexico, red and white carnations adorned the table and 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 presented Miss Earhart to her eager audience.

“Earhart spoke of a number of humorous incidents in which she has been mistaken for various notables, from Gracie Allen to the mother of Charles A. Lindbergh. Because of her resemblance to Lindbergh, the press dubbed her Lady Lindy, much to Earhart’s chagrin. The tiny cockpit of the 550-horsepower plane in which Earhart made the flight from Mexico was described in detail, even to the cabinet in which she carried her picnic lunch. For the entire flight time of almost 14 hours, which began at dawn from the bed of an ancient lake near Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey, Earhart’s solid food consisted of a sandwich and a hardboiled egg.

“Hazards faced by Earhart during the trip’s first six hours included the takeoff of her 7,000-pound plane at the high altitude of the Mexican plateau, the immediate crossing of a 10,000-foot mountain 10,000 feet high and the arid air of the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, her ship was heavily loaded with the enormous amount of fuel necessary for the non-stop flight.

“During her speech, Earhart paid tribute to the Wiley Post and Will Rogers, both of whom had been killed in a plane crash the year before.”

A local newspaper covering the event wrote, “Miss Earhart is an accomplished speaker. Her charming use of words is as notable as the grace and modesty which have won 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.”

The photo of Joan Mims and her mother and Amelia Earhart was taken by a friend or family member of one of the parties in the picture. The February weather seems to have cooperate, since some of the people in the photo are wearing short sleeves. Myrtice Stanfield Brooks, wearing a large hat, is shown standing in front of the plane. 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 dark slacks, something unusual for a woman to wear at the time. Her back to the camera as she reaches toward the bottom wing of the plane.

Earhart was planning to retire in 1937 but wanted one more adventure that she had worked 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 without a trace.

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