Friday, June 28, 2013

Amelia Earhart - The Search Continues

Amelia Earhart
She was known as the "Queen of the Air" and the most famous woman of her generation. Amelia Earhart was the first woman be flown across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, and then became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic five years later, in 1932. But Earhart was not content if she couldn’t take on a challenge and spread her wings.  

Amelia Being Welcomed
In 1936, Amelia planned a trip where she would fly around the world. Her first attempt in March 1937 barely got off the ground, but on May 21, 1937 Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, set off to make history.

Fred Noonan & Amelia Earhart
The first 21 days of the flight went without too many hitches until Earhart became ill with dysentery, but the pair arrived safely in Lae, New Guinea on June 29th.

Route from New Guinea to Howland Island
After a short break for repairs and rest, they set off on the next leg of the trip on the morning on July 2nd, heading for Howland Island, a tiny isle in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This 18-hour flight would be the most difficult and longest section of the entire “Around the World Flight" consisting of 2,200 miles over the Pacific. 
They were never seen again.

U.S. Cutter Itasca
After almost 20 hours in the air, Earhart radioed the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca, waiting for her off the coast of Howland Island, "KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you...gas is running low..."

About an hour later Itasca received her final message, "We are in a line position of 157- 337. Will report on 6210 kilocycles. Wait, listen on 6210 kilocycles. We are running North and South."

U.S. Ships Search the Ocean
Once it was realized that the pair were missing, the U.S. Navy began a massive search across the ocean. After two weeks of intensive searching, the world received the grim news that Earhart, Noonan, and the Lockheed Electra had vanished.  They were never found.

President Roosevelt
Two theories have continually circulated over the years regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. The first claimed that the “Around the World Flight" was actually a cover for Earhart who was a spy, commissioned by President Franklin Roosevelt to perform surveillance on the Japanese in the Pacific Ocean.  Theorists claimed that her plane had been brought down in the Pacific.

The second theory suggested that Earhart and Noonan survived the crash but were taken prisoners by the Japanese.  Evidence was never found to support either assumption.

Then in July 2012, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) performed an underwater search with a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) off the Nikumaroro Island (formerly Gardner Island) coast. They identified a small man-made debris field at a depth of about 200 feet. 

TIGHAR has made over 10 expeditions for the Earhart Project since its inception 27 years ago. The group has recovered and verified several artifacts that suggest Earhart and Noonan may have ended up on the tiny uninhabited atoll known then as Gardner Island, about 350 miles southeast of their intended destination, Howland Island.

Items Found On Island
Other clues that they may have landed there include a woman’s shoe, a Benedictine bottle, 1930’s medicine bottles, an empty sextant box, and the remains of campfires, along with over a dozen human bones belonging to a white female approximately 5 feet 7 inches tall; all were discovered on the island in 1940.  The description of the remains profiles Earhart but the bones have since been lost.

TIGHAR Sonar Photo
In March, TIGHAR released sonar images off the island’s coast that shows a straight, unbroken anomaly about 22 feet in length that could be the fuselage of the Lockheed Electra, resting in about 600 feet of water. TIGHAR missed the area by only a few hundred feet when using the ROV last year.

Gardner Island
New Zealand Air Force

And just three days ago a set of 43 original photos taken in December 1938 were released from the New Zealand Air Force Museum that potentially show aircraft debris and places human activity had occurred on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro Island) where it is believed the Lockheed plane crashed. Did Earhart and Noonan survive a crash and live as castaways on the island, waiting for a rescue that never came?  TIGHAR will travel to New Zealand next month to investigate the newly discovered photos. 

TIGHAR has projected that it will take $3,000,000 to put together another expedition that can begin to verify and answer the questions that continue to arise. Only time will tell what truly happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, but after 76 years it seems that the time has come to discover the truth.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Remembering a Circus Tragedy

One more week before the hand brace comes off - so here is a post from 2011 about the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Tragedy, which happened 95 years ago this week.

Showmen’s Rest is the nations’ most well known cemetery for circus artists and performers.  It was created in 1916 when the Showmen’s League of America purchased a plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois for the burial of circus performers, circus hands and circus artists.  Five white elephant statues circle the plot, trunks lowered as a sign of mourning.  Burials were far between for the first two years, until that fateful morning in June when circus history was changed forever.

Wreck of the Hagenbeck-Wallace
Circus Train
It was around 4 A.M. on June 22, 1918, near Ivanhoe, Indiana when the 26-car Hagenbeck-Wallace circus train stopped to cool an overheated wheel-bearing box.  Although warning lights had been set out to signal that the train had stopped on the tracks, it was struck at full speed from behind by an empty troop train.  Three of the train cars, with sleeping circus workers in them, were destroyed by fire. Eighty-six performers, circus hands and roustabouts were killed as a result of the crash and fire. Many others injured. Fifty-six of the victims were buried at Woodlawn Cemetery at Showmen’s Rest.  The Showmen’s League of America donated the plots for the showmen’s burials.
Grave Stone for Jennie Ward Todd

Jennie Ward Todd
Among those buried were Jennie Ward Todd of the “Flying Wards.”  And the “Great Dieckx Brothers,” Arthur Dieckx and Max Nietzborn.

Row of Graves
Forty of the markers are engraved as “Unknown”  - “Unknown Female, number 48” or “Unknown Male, number 29”, and the date June 22, 1918.

4 Horses Driver & Baldy
Two performers were buried under their show names, ‘Baldy’ and ‘Smiley,’ as their real names were never known.  A few stones are marked only with the person’s job descriptions such as 4 Horse Driver, June 22, 1918.  Contrary to popular myth, NO animals were hurt or killed in the train crash.

The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was the second largest circus in the U.S. at the time.  Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey held the number one position.  Many Hagenbeck-Wallace show posters included the line “Presenting The Most Novel Elephant Acts Ever Seen.” 

Circus performers from around the country arrived to help Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus keep to their performing schedule for that season. All told, the circus only missed one performance, the night of June 22, 1918 when they were to appear in Hammond, Indiana. 

Mt Olivet Cemetery
in Hugo, Oklahoma
There are a few other ‘Showmen’s Rest Cemeteries’ in the U.S. – one is in Miami, Florida, at Southern Memorial Park.  This is the largest of the Showmen’s Rest Cemeteries, founded in 1952.  Another is located at the ‘winter home of the circus’, Hugo, Oklahoma at Mt Olivet Cemetery.  And another is located in Tampa, Florida near downtown.

International Clown Week
It is true that performers and actors never want to “leave the boards” of the stage, and at Showmen’s Rest, in Woodlawn Cemetery, that desire is understood.  Each year, International Clown Week is held in early August.  A private memorial is held during the week for the circus performers buried there.  Then, on a Sunday afternoon, circus artists from across the world perform for the public at Showmen’s Rest. The events include circus acts, death-defying feats, family entertainment and general “clowning around,” as hundreds of clowns take part each year.  The event is billed as “a loving and festive remembrance of circus artists past.”

Showmen's Rest, Woodlawn Cemetery
As a theatre performer I can tell you, this is one of the most fitting and touching tributes any performer could ask for.  The old adage, “The show must go on…” is something every true performer believes. It is wonderful to see that it still does……at Showmen’s Rest.


Friday, June 14, 2013

The History of Woodmen of America and Those Amazing Tree Stones

I am out of commission for a couple of weeks, due to hand surgery.  Today's blog post, about Woodmen of the World, was originally published in 2011.

If you visit cemeteries often, you’ve probably noticed the tree stone monuments, especially in the West, Midwest and South.  As mentioned last Friday, two organizations are given credit for their proliferation, Modern Woodmen of America and Woodmen of the World.  Today we’ll explore the group that is responsible for the sheer number of them and why.

Joseph Cullen Root
Joseph Cullen Root originally founded the first group, Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), because he wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would "bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist."  While he succeeded with MWA being that type of organization, heated arguments resulted in Root and another man being evicted from the society.

Joseph Cullen Root originally founded the first group, Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), because he wanted to create a fraternal benefit society that would "bind in one association the Jew and the Gentile, the Catholic and the Protestant, the agnostic and the atheist."  While he succeeded with MWA being that type of organization, heated arguments resulted in Root and another man being evicted from the society.

Root kept the name ‘woodmen’ because he was inspired by a sermon that talked about “woodmen clearing the forest to provide for their families.”  Root saw Woodmen of the World as being an organization that would “clear away problems of financial security for its members.”

Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle
A women’s auxiliary for WOW was known as the Supreme Forest Woodmen Circle.  It was founded in 1892.  In 1895, Root and F.A. Falkenburg took control of the Circle and reformed it into the Woodmen Circle, which was incorporated into a separate fraternal benefit society.  In 1965, Woodmen of the World acquired it.  

Neighbors of Woodcraft
Another women’s auxiliary was formed in 1897, known as the Women of Woodcraft.  This organization encompassed nine western states.  In 1917 the Women of Woodcraft changed its name to the Neighbors of Woodcraft, to reflect the fact that both men and women were accepted in the group.  Neighbors of Woodcraft merged with Woodmen of the World in 2001.

Woodmen of the World Building
Woodmen of the World occupied the tallest building in Omaha, and the tallest building between Chicago and the West Coast, (19 stories) for many years.  In 1969 their current 30-story building was constructed.  It remained Omaha’s tallest structure until 2002.

Woodmen of the World Meeting
Similar to the Modern Woodmen of America, WOW became involved in the community by routinely holding dinners, dances and society events.  The organization also provided college scholarships for high school students and held summer camps for local youth.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, WOW had close to 1-million members and over 3,000 chapters or ‘lodges’ across the country.  By the 1920’s over one-quarter of American families belonged to some type of fraternal organization or society.

WOW Radio
In 1922, WOW began it’s own radio station, WOAW, as a way to reach out to thousands of people at one time.   At that time, WOAW’s 500-watt signal reached ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  In 1926 the call letters were changed to WOW and the power was increased to 1,000 watts.  In 1935 WOW was granted the right to operate at 5,000 watts, making it one of the most powerful radio stations in the country.   

Johnny Carson
Then in 1949, the broadcasting company decided to launch WOW-TV. One of the first performers on the television station was local resident, Johnny Carson, who had a daily show called The Squirrel’s Nest.  Meredith Corporation bought out the radio and TV station in 1958.  In 1999, the Journal Broadcast Group from Milwaukee purchased the stations and the historic call letters were changed.

The Woodmen of the World organization was probably best known for its gravestones. From 1890 to 1900, WOW’s life insurance policies had a proviso that provided for the grave markers, free of charge for members.  From 1900 to the mid- 1920’s, members purchased a $100 rider to cover the cost of the monument.  By the mid-20’s, the organization had discontinued the grave marker benefit due to the increased cost of the stones.

The society designed a four to five foot high tree trunk monument pattern for adults and three stacked logs for children.  WOW would send a copy of the pattern to the local stone carver in the deceased woodman’s hometown, so that all of the tree stones would be similar in appearance.  

But other decorations were added to the tree trunk, thereby making each marker more individualistic.  Many times, the tree stone pattern was altered; sized differently, cut in a different manner, or branches were added or broken off each time a family member was buried.

Symbols found on the tree stones include axes, mauls, wedges, any type of tool used in woodworking.  (An occupation, hobby or interest in the wood industry has never been required to be a member of Woodmen of the World.) Doves became popular and are also found on many WOW tree stones. 

WOW later created a simpler template of a log that would rest atop a regular gravestone.  The WOW motto  “Dum Tacet Clamet,” meaning, “Though silent, he speaks” was inscribed on the log.  Members could order the log to be placed on a deceased woodman’s regular grave marker. A woodman emblem is now available and can be attached to a regular gravestone.

Root declared that June 6th of each year to be ‘Woodmen Memorial Day” and woodmen who had died should be remembered and honored.  As with Modern Woodmen of America, Woodmen of the World held ‘remembrance celebrations’ when a woodman died.  A parade of members would march to the cemetery where the tree stone monument would be unveiled and dedicated in a moving ceremony held by the local lodge.

Today, Woodmen of the World is one of the largest fraternal benefit society with open membership in the United States.  The organization provides not only insurance, but also investment, bonds, real estate and mortgage loans to its members. Its 2010 financial performance included gross revenue of $1.2 billion.  WOW is active in local communities, providing aid to senior citizens, the physically impaired and orphans.  Woodmen of the World has partnered with the American Red Cross to provide disaster relief nationwide. 
WOW celebrated its 120th Anniversary last year.  Its motto has changed over the years to "Woodmen of the World -With You Through Life."  Although Woodmen of the World made the tree stones popular, they were in use by the Victorian Rustic Movement many years before WOW was formed.  The Sears and Roebuck catalogue and the Montgomery Ward catalogue also offered variations of the tree stone to its customers at the turn of the century.

Even though monument benefits have not been included in the WOW package for years, the society makes sure that "no Woodmen shall rest in an unmarked grave."  A fitting tribute to WOW members, and a brilliant way to augment those striking and outstanding tree stone monuments into cemeteries everywhere.