Answer Man

Amelia Earhart had an overnighter in Belleville in 1928

You’ve likely heard of the great lengths celebrities sometimes go today to elude the ever-prying paparazzi.

Well, life apparently hasn’t changed much from a century ago, my friend and area historian Bob Brunkow reminded me in an email Sunday.

Fresh off becoming the first woman to fly (as a passenger) across the Atlantic on June 17-18, 1928, Amelia Earhart was looking forward to a quiet flight back to California after being regaled as a hero at countless parades and banquets. So every chance she could, she landed quietly at out-of-the-way airports and slipped into town for a peaceful night of sleep.

Which explains how the famed aviatrix came to spend a night in Belleville on Sept. 3, 1928.

At the time, Earhart had been sort of an afterthought to make that ocean crossing. After Charles Lindbergh had made his successful solo flight the year before, Amy Guest expressed interest in becoming the first woman to fly (or be flown) across the Atlantic, but finally decided it was too perilous. So in April 1928, a Capt. Hilton Railey asked Earhart if she’d like to go down in the record books.

She agreed, even though the budding 30-year-old pilot had no experience flying by instruments. Instead, she kept the flight log as Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon piloted the plane from Newfoundland to Pwll, South Wales, in 20 hours and 40 minutes.

“Stultz did all the flying,” she said later. “Had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes. ... Maybe someday I’ll try it alone (which she did successfully four years later).”

Nevertheless, for two months afterward she was feted like a goddess wherever she went, including a two-day celebration in Chicago, where she had graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1916. So in late August when she climbed into the cockpit of her English Avro two-seater to fly solo back to California, she was looking for some downtime.

That’s pretty much what her friend Anabel Hoppe intended to give her. Hoppe was the daughter of William and Anabel Hoppe, who frequently visited Scott Field and wined and dined Scott personnel in their Belleville home at 141 N. Pennsylvania, Brunkow told me. So when Earhart landed unannounced at 4:45 p.m. Sept. 3 at Scott, Hoppe was there to whisk her away.

Earhart didn’t stay out of the limelight, however. That night, the younger Hoppe and Dr. Elizabeth Conroy, a Belleville dentist, entertained their famous guest at a dinner-dance for 18 at the St. Clair Country Club. Then after several hours of shuteye, Earhart had breakfast at the Hoppe home before boarding Friendship, her plane, at 9 a.m. to continue her journey home. She reportedly was going to stay until noon until reporters started to arrive. Determined to avoid interviews, she and Hoppe zipped back to Scott.

“I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way,” she told a Belleville Daily Advocate reporter as she sat down in front of her controls. “I’m just a tramp flier now and have no particular destination. I’m not seeking publicity.”

And with that, Earhart powered up her single-engine monoplane and took off, only to be forced down in Cuba, Mo., by mechanical problems, according to the Sept. 5 News-Democrat. Eventually, however, she made it to the West Coast to continue another decade of flying before disappearing over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, as she was on her last legs of an around-the-world flight.

The plane truth?: My column about the search for Earhart’s lost plane last Sunday brought a quick and pointed response from David Billings, of Nambour, Queensland, Australia.

Billings, who has a radically different theory of where Earhart disappeared, says he has major issues with Richard Gillespie, who founded The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and who since 1985 has been working to solve one of aviation’s most baffling mysteries. Billings, however, suggests that Gillespie is so locked into his theory that the plane went down near Nikumaroro Island that he may purposely misinterpret certain pieces of evidence that back his theory.

For example, in 2014, media across the world carried a story saying that TIGHAR had determined that an aluminum patch found in 1991 was almost certainly one that Earhart had riveted across one of her plane’s windows. But Billings says that when he convinced former TIGHAR member Jeffery Neville the patch could not possibly have come from her plane, Neville was all but forced out of the organization. Billings said much the same thing happened to another member who concluded that human remains found on the island were clearly male, not female, because of the shape of the pelvic arch.

Instead, Billings heads his own project, which is looking for an aircraft wreck in the jungle on New Britain Island in Papua, New Guinea.

“In 1945, a patrol of Australian infantrymen virtually bumped into an aircraft engine on the jungle floor and nearby was the airframe.” Billings wrote me. “It was a twin-engined, all-metal aircraft and it had been there for quite some years as the wreck was completely covered in jungle debris and plant growth.

“The wreck bore no military insignia and the engines were Pratt & Whitney radial engines. The war in New Guinea had been ongoing there for three years by the time they found the wreck. I have been searching for this wreck for brief periods over a span of 20 years, and I and the team will be going again next year, probably in June. We, as a project team, are without doubt the only search project which has direct evidence that the aircraft we seek is the Earhart and Noonan Electra 10E.

For information on Billings, go to www.earhartsearchpng.com. As for me, I just hope somebody finally turns up something concrete.

Today’s trivia

What’s the origin of the word “paparazzi,” meaning photographers (and other members of the press) who chase celebrities endlessly?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: Boy, I could have been rich. According to a new survey by Country Financial, American parents who reward their children for good grades say they give them an average of $15.58 for each A. It’s a much different story in Illinois, however. Of the 51 percent who offer monetary rewards, it’s only $7.68 per A. On the other hand, my parents, charged me for every B I made. (Just kidding.)

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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