EUREKA, Juab County — An avid newspaper reader, John Schmitt of Springville has spent the past 29 years researching his family roots in this historic mining town and in towns where they originated.
During his research, the retired schoolteacher came across a long-forgotten story that recalled an incident in the Tintic Mining District near Eureka and the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
On Sept. 30, 1928, Earhart's biplane developed engine trouble as she flew over Utah on her way from Glendale, Calif., to Salt Lake City and was forced down, landing in a farmer's field. The plane's wheels dug into the soft earth, and the craft nosed over, breaking the propeller.
"Where am I? What place is this," she said to Jim Maxwell, a miner and one of the first people to respond to the downed plane, according to local lore, Schmitt said.
The incident and Earhart's Utah visit were reported in the Deseret News, the Eureka Reporter and the Salt Lake Tribune.
Schmitt pieced together her stay, including a couple of days she spent with Maude Fitch Hillsdale, a decorated ambulance driver during World War I.
Earhart was due in Salt Lake City for a public-relations tour arranged by her husband, George Putnam. Meanwhile, she wired to New York for a new propeller and, while waiting for it to arrive, gave speeches to various groups, including students at West High School. And she toured the area, paying special recognition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Relief Society, the Deseret News reported.
The incident was also mentioned in Susan Butler's biography about her, "East to the Dawn." The movie "Amelia," based partly on Butler's book, hits theaters Friday with two-time Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank as the famous aviatrix.
On Sept. 9, the New Yorker published a piece by Judith Thurman titled "Missing Woman," which also credits "The Sound of Wings" by Mary Lovell and "Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved," by Elgen M. Long and his wife, Marie K. Long, as inspirations for the movie.
Those books, and another, "Finding Amelia," by Ric Gillespie, have just been republished, Thurman writes, illustrating the resurgence of interest in Earhart and her never-solved disappearance.
Earhart was on a round-the-equator flight with navigator Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937, when her twin-engine Lockheed Electra vanished over the South Pacific near Howland Island, between Australia and Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a friend, authorized a major search, but she was never found.
However, Schmitt's old newspaper-reading habit helped him discover a clip from the Vernal Express dated Aug. 19, 1937, that brings the tragedy a bit closer to home. A sailor from Vernal had been on that search, which historians dubbed the greatest search party in flight history.
Dean D. Peterson was home on leave when a reporter caught up with him. Peterson was serving on the USS Lexington.
Old newspapers are a treasure trove of hidden information for researchers, Schmitt said.
"I've relived my parents' lives through the newspapers," he said.
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