1920s, culture, history, Inside the Gold Plated Pistol

Ninety-Nines & a Nazi Spy

It’s taken six years, but my second novel is off for publishing by a small press called DartFrog Books. It should be out on book store shelves and available on Amazon and Kindle by August. Yahoo!

Here’s a bit of recent research I thought I’d share. 

 

I was delighted to learn about the Ninety-Nines. This female group of aviators established themselves in 1929. The first president was Emelia Earhart. Not a big surprise since she was the leading female aviator in the country. Soon, her solo Trans-Atlantic flight on May 20, 1932, would make her hugely famous. Emelia and other fellow pilots sought to recruit ninety-nine women to join the club. They wanted to document their flying achievements and show the world that women were strong and smart enough to endure the rigors of flying.

After establishing the group, shortly thereafter, in 1933, the Ninety-Nines was assigned by the government the job of marking the airports. Funded by the WPA,  each state was divided into sections of 20 square miles. “Where possible, a marker with the name of the nearest town was painted on the roof of the most prominent building at each 15-mile interval. If the towns were far apart, white painted ground markers, such as rocks and bricks, were used.”  You can read more about this endeavor in Air Marking Program on the ninety-nines.org site. I had never heard about this program. The painstaking goal of marking every state with this grid design sounds daunting and impressive to me. Image result for ninety nines female pilotsI also discovered one of the more unusual females in U.S. History. Her name was Laura Ingalls. No, not the writer of Little House on the Praire fame, but the aviator. Turns out she was a distant cousin to the writer. Laura Ingalls the aviator was friends with the writer’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Anyway, the aviator was a record-breaker and a pioneer in women’s aviation. What did she do?

  • Longest solo flight by a woman (17,000 miles)
  • First solo flight by a woman from North to South America
  • First solo flight around South America by man or woman
  • First complete flight by a land plane around South America by a man or woman
  • First American woman to fly the Andes soloImage result for image laura ingalls aviator

In the shadow of Emelia’s fame and popularity, not many have heard of aviator Laura Ingalls. A strange sidenote–her brother married the daughter of J.P. Morgan.  Aside from wealthy relatives and aviation achievements, it was the other side of Laura’s personality which thwarted any fame she might have earned and raised my eyebrows with surprise.

Laura Ingalls was convicted as a Nazi spy in 1942 for two years in prison.

She had been paid for her efforts to promote the Nazi cause by Baron Ulrich von Gienanth who was head of the Gestapo in the U.S. and second secretary to the German Embassy. She was applauded as a fine orator propagating the Nazi agenda to the America First Committee. She was followed by the FBI and eventually sentenced to a woman’s prison in West Virginia.

She was paroled in 1944 and lived out her life in obscurity in California into her seventies. You can read more about her found HERE.

I tried to imagine a woman like Laura Ingalls who led a contradictory life. On one hand,  she was an admirable pilot. On the other hand, she had reprehensible political affiliations. That contrast in one woman had me put her in my novel as a bit part to one of my principal characters. Truthfully, I’m surprised no one has thought to make a movie about her. What an unusual person.

More importantly,

Happy 90th birthday, Ninety-Nines.

1920s, 1930s, adventure, authors, books, history, Read This

Beryl Markham (1902-1986)

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Getting to know British pioneer aviator, Beryl Markham, came about in a roundabout way. The first instance came this summer when I was attracted to the cover and bought a copy of Paula McLain’s 2016 best seller, Circling the Sun. Blending fact with fiction, her prose aroused the stunning setting of 1920s Kenya with authenticity.

Do you recommend 'The Paris Wife'?
Do you recommend ‘The Paris Wife’?

As I read the novel, I vaguely remembered it was based on a true person. About half way through the story, the life of Beryl Markham began to feel like an epic romance novel, something from Margaret Mitchell’s imagination, the heroine’s life too outlandish to believe. The ingredients included the British Royalty, Kenyan tribes, eccentric personalities and their parties, horse breeders, big game hunting, love triangles, Beryl’s swinging passions between horses, men, and aviation. Include other associations such as coffee-plantation owner Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke whose memoir Out of Africa(1937) inspired me long ago. It followed with the film adaptation in 1985 starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford–still one of the best films of that decade. After reading Circling the Sun, I itched to read Beryl Markham’s memoir; a colleague passed along her copy to me three years ago. West with the Night was one of those books I knew I needed to read, but it collected dust on my bookshelf instead.

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West with the Night, published in 1942 did not do well at first publication. Thanks in part to Ernest Hemingway, his praise for her writing precipitated the second publication forty years later with success. She was four when her family moved to Kenya from Britain. Raised by her father, she learned to ride and train horses and became the first licensed female to train horses in Kenya. In the 1920s, her relationship with the dashing Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford’s character in Out of the Africa) inspired her into aviation. In 1936, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east (Abingdon, England) to west (Nova Scotia).

Over the years, critics have raised doubts whether her beautiful prose was an original effort or perhaps shaped in part with her third husband, Raoul Schumacher. Regardless of the controversy, I’d like to think the descriptions and tales of Africa–the animals, the horses, and the people, like her wise childhood friend, Kibbi were expressed by her. Here is a hefty sentence, a sampling of her writing from West with the Night (160):

The shores of its lake are rich in silence, lonely with it, but the monotonous flats of sand and mud that circle the shallow water are relieved of dullness, not by only an occasional bird or flock of birds or by a hundred birds; as long as the day lasts Nakuru is no lake at all, but a crucible of pink and crimson fire–each of its flames, its million flames, struck from the wings of a flamingo. 

I remember in the film Out of Africa, the birds played a symbolic role romanticizing the beauty of Kenya. In Paula McClain’s novel, she includes this scene of flamingos, and the imagery stands out. I recommend all of it: Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun; Beryl Merkham’s West with the Night; Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you watch the film version. These leading women were fierce individualists and trailblazers.

Here’s an interesting article with Paula McClain about Circling the Sun. You can read it  HERE.

One of my favorite scenes from the film Out of Africa. It’s no wonder Beryl loved to fly. Ahh, that score by John Barry!