With the July 12th eightieth anniversary of reports of the disappearance of the world’s most celebrated pilot of the time demand news features, new biographies and TV documentaries recalling the unanswered mysteries surrounding the finish of her final flight attempting to circumnavigate the globe. Amelia Earhart in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra, with navigator-engineer Fred Noonan, short on fuel and in limited radio contact went down among small atolls in the South Pacific Ocean mostly under Japanese authority. Their demise has been energetically investigated. Theories include dying in a crash, a life-ending isolation on a desert atoll or capture and torture by the Japanese.
While new evidence may be forthcoming on her South Pacific Flight, there is no question Amelia Earhart was arrested, found guilty and fined in Blackwell, OK on Saturday afternoon, February 20, 1937, some six months before her disappearance.
Flying over Oklahoma at 12,000 feet the day before en route to Burbank, CA from their home in New York, Earhart’s Lockheed Electra, which she would use on her world circling plan, experienced propeller malfunction. She chose a precautionary landing at the modern Blackwell Municipal airport, on a typical sod field where her mechanic, Bo McKneely, could do needed repairs.
On board too were veteran-navigator Capt. Harry Manning and her husband, investor-promoter and movie producer, George Putnam. That Friday noon in an appropriately named “Terra Plane” sedan borrowed from the local Hudson dealer – the four visitors drove to Ponca City for lunch. On return, Amelia at the wheel was stopped by a Blackwell police officer; brought to the police station; booked with speeding at 50MPH! The next afternoon Judge Roy W. Cox was called to hold court where, in the interest of time, Miss Earhart confessed to Cox, saying “I was going rather faster than I should, I guess, I didn’t know you had speed laws here,” she added, saying she was “in a borrowed car.”
“Where are you from?” asked the judge. “New York City.” “Where are you going?” “California.” “In a borrowed car?” he inquired. “NO, in an airplane!” “So, you are a flier. Well, there may be no speed limit above Blackwell but here on the ground we have certain regulations.” “I was glad to see Blackwell from 12,000 feet up. I came in much faster yesterday because my plane lands about a hundred miles an hour. I guess it’s rather hard for me to control ground speed when I get into a car.” Since she was a visitor and not familiar with the regulations, Cox assessed the minimum amount – “$1 and cost, adding up to $3.50.”
Since Putnam had made a remark or two during the proceeding, Judge Cox asked “Do you assume responsibility for her?” “No,” explained her husband, “I’m just a relative and I disown her.” Thus, the truth was out. During lunch in Ponca City, he had slipped to a telephone and called Blackwell making arrangements to have her arrested for speeding as she entered city limits. Cox and the patrolman were the lone known conspirators. Perhaps feeling a knife in her back as she stood before the judge, Amelia thought of her arrival at the Larkin Hotel on Friday she was greeted by Mayor O.A. Raffety presenting a 10 foot Key to the City and a hearty welcome from Ed Martin, secretary of the chamber of commerce.
There followed a wild effort to restore favor with the demeaned national treasure. Those out of the loop, especially Dewey Mauk, manager of the airport, who had looked after the stranded aviators with every wish, “threw a hissy.” But once the prank and prankster were identified Earhart told her husband “I have a mind to take off without you,” turning to Mauk she asked, “How much is the bus fare to Burbank…for one?”