Documentary rekindles first-person recollections of Amelia Earhart’s last visit to Atchison, Kan.
Bob Noll – as a 9 year old - collected Amelia Earhart’s autograph during her last visit to their mutual hometown of Atchison, Kan., on June 7, 1935. CONTRIBUTED
Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra in which she disappeared in July 1937. Photo credit/Smithsonian Institute
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Eighty-two years ago, then 9-year-old Bob Noll, a son of Atchison, Kan., had the presence of mind to ask for an autograph when he met the woman who was hailed by his hometown newspaper as the most famous woman in the world.
That woman was Amelia Earhart, the guest of honor on June 7, 1935, for the Kansas Editorial Association’s convention held in Atchison. Not coincidentally, Atchison was Amelia Earhart’s birthplace.
Two years later, to the horror of millions of fans worldwide, Earhart, her airplane and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circle the globe by following the equator.
During the ensuing eight decades, Noll held onto that autograph he obtained as a boy in Atchison. On July 9, 2017, Noll watched a documentary on the History Channel regarding the discovery by the National Archives of a photo that offers evidence that Earhart and her navigator may have survived when their plane went down during a flight in 1937.
That documentary rekindled Noll’s interest in his hometown’s aviation hero, and served as a reminder of that long-ago, nearly forgotten autograph.
In 1935, “Earhart came to Atchison. They had a parade for her. My father drove the open-air sedan that she rode in. She was in the back seat.” After the parade, “I met her and asked for an autograph. She signed a piece of paper. I glued it on a page in my autograph book,” he said.
Bob was likely too young to attend the evening event when Miss Earhart spoke before an estimated crowd of 3,500 at Memorial hall, but it is probable that his parents and their contemporaries did attend. Bob’s father, Robert Noll Sr., was a personal friend with Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, who had the honor of introducing Miss Earhart during the assembly staged in her honor. The following year, Gov. Landon made a presidential bid.
During her speech, Miss Earhart discussed not only on the spirit of flight itself, but of women overcoming their own fears.
She told the gathered crowd: “It is my fondest hope that women will become more interested, as pilots or passengers, or last but not least, let their men fly. Women have been labeled the greatest sales resistance in flying. They won’t go up and they won’t let their men go up. If mother says father will stay down, father stays down.”
Earlier in 1935, Earhart had flown solo from Mexico City to Newark, N.J. She told the Atchison audience about the experience. The speech was reprinted in the Atchison Daily Globe the following day.
“The seats for six passengers I had taken out to make room for big gas tanks. There is no service station between Mexico City and New Orleans! It is a closed plane; I think I am first cousin to a pussy cat, for I like the comfort of a closed plane. Comfort definitely lessens fatigue. In the cubby hole beside me I have a large box of a radio with the dials on top. On my other side is a large compass and two pump handles to use the hand system with the gas, if necessary. By one wing I keep a supply of tomato juice and sweet chocolate. I take no tea or coffee and so I carry with me hot chocolate and water. Also, I carry a hard boiled egg and one sandwich. In the other wing I keep maps for navigation and tools, a hatchet, pencils and pads, pieces of string and rags. There is a stick for control and pedals. The instrument board has two dozen dials. The reel of the antenna is wound and unwound under the seat. I am in constant communication by radio with the people on land, as long as my plane is over land; this is by code or voice.”
Miss Earhart’s trip from Mexico City to Newark took 14 hours.
The Moberly Monitor Index of May 9, 1935, carried the following description of that trip: “She disclosed that she found the Gulf of Mexico covered by a great layer of cloud. This she escaped by soaring to 9,000 feet, only to find another great range of cloud mountains built up ahead. Between the two were a few hundred feet of clear atmosphere and for more than 100 miles she flew with clouds both above and below her. She averaged 151 miles an hour, flying slowly enough to conserve fuel and arriving with a little left in her tanks.”
Early morning interview
Miss Earhart was the guest in Atchison of her second cousin, J.M. Challiss. At 9 a.m. July 7, 1935, prior to the festivities, Miss Earhart granted an interview to Nellie Webb, long-time society writer for the Atchison Globe.
She wrote that Miss Earhart answered the door, “wearing a pale green flower negligee (almost feminine).”
During their visit, in which the newspaper reporter admitted doing much of the talking, the aviator discussed her dislike for reporters who misquote her, and then told of plans to retire the plane used for her solo flight across the Atlantic. Finally, the two talked about Miss Earhart’s personal life.
“In private life Amelia Earhart is Mrs. George Palmer Putnam of Rye, N.Y. She said this morning that she and Mr. Putnam expect to spend most of the summer at their cabin in Wyoming. When asked if her husband enjoyed flying Mrs. Putnam replied: He will enjoy it more from now on, because heretofore, when flying with me and ‘Her’ (Amelia’s airplane) he has been obliged to hold two gas tanks in his lap.” (June 7, 1935, Atchison Daily Globe)
Bob Noll, who now makes his home in Leawood, Kan., said that his older sister, Mary Moorhead, also remembers that their father took Miss Earhart for a drive around town. He was probably chose for this honor because of his close friendship with the governor. That tour passed the house where the aviator was born, located at 223 N. Terrace and overlooking the Missouri River.
Bob wishes that he could talk over Earhart’s visit with others he knew attended the festivities. But alas, most of his schoolmates are now deceased. There are few others left who remember that fateful day when Atchison rolled out the welcome mat for their hometown hero.
Barely more than two years after her visit to Atchison, Miss Earhart’s quest for breaking records came to an end, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Bob Noll, now living in Leawood, Kan., still has the autograph that Amelia Earhart signed for him in 1935, during her last visit to their mutual hometown of Atchison, Kan.