In a time when very few people had flown in a plane, much less piloted one, being known as “an aviator” actually meant something. There was a certain dash, a panache, connected to the term “aviator”; it conjured thoughts of a daring, reckless character who was able to journey to mysterious, far off lands at the drop of a hat. Very few people in those days could lay claim to the appellation, and even in that rarefied company, Amelia Earhart was something special. Prior to the Second World War, women were expected to be homemakers or, if they worked outside the home, the options were essentially limited to secretary, nurse, telephone operator, or what we today would call “customer service”. But Earhart dared to be something more, a pilot who roamed the world, and became (along with Lindbergh, Post, and Rickenbacker) one of the four most famous aviators in America.

Then, while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, Earhart vanished without a trace over the Pacific Ocean.

It’s the “without a trace” part that people find so intriguing. Despite a determined search effort, nothing was ever recovered of plane nor pilot. There was not even an oil spot on the ocean’s surface to mark where Earhart’s plane might have gone down. The theories as to what happened are many and varied, ranging from a simple crash or forced landing on a remote island to UFO abduction to a faked disappearance (Earhart, tired of being in the public eye, assumed a new identity). By far the most popular theory is that she was “captured” by the Japanese (despite the fact that the U.S. would not be at war with Japan for another four and a half years).

You’ve perhaps seen the latest “evidence” supporting the latter theory: a photograph which has been circulating online for the last ten days or so:

The seated figure (with back to camera) is reported to be Earhart, while the man at the far left is said to be her navigator, Fred Noonan.

My first though when I saw the headline was, “This again??!!??” I hate to break it to you, but a photograph showing a group of random Japanese people standing on a dock does not constitute evidence of the survival and capture by the Japanese of the famed female aviator. A fresh photograph “proving” Earhart’s capture isn’t even a new thing: a newly discovered one seems to pop up like clockwork every ten or so years throughout my lifetime.

As it turns out, the theory has been around even longer than my old bones. As I was reading a comic book three days ago, I was surprised to see this pair of panels:

It Really Happened #5, October 1946

These panels are from a comic book published in 1946. You’ve read that correctly: in 1946.

The panels are from It Really Happened #5, cover dated October 1946. It Really Happened was published by the Better/Nedor group. Four issues saw print in 1944. The title was relaunched with #5 is 1946 and lasted for exactly one year with new eight issues seeing the light of day during that time. It Really Happened was an anthology title which published several short features, mostly biographical, in each issue. The portrayals were mostly historical although one or two contemporary figures, usually World War II heroes, seemed to pop up in each issue. The people profiled ranged from the “usual suspects” (Benjamin Franklin, Kit Carson, Teddy Roosevelt) to some very eclectic choices (I was genuinely startled to see Baron Henri Antoine Jomini profiled in its pages – you’ll definitely see a post regarding him very soon, being as I’ve read his work).

The theory regarding Earhart’s capture by the Japanese is generally regarded to have started in the mid-1960’s, but these panels from a 1946 comic book show that the story had already started to get traction at least two decades before.

The page scans are courtesy of Comic Book Plus. For a larger view of a page, right-click it and open it in a new browser tab.

It Really Happened #5, October 1946

It Really Happened #5, October 1946

It Really Happened #5, October 1946

It Really Happened #5, October 1946

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2017, Steven A. Lopez. Al rights reserved.

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