By Dennis Flynn
The sale of a very old cap in an online auction might not seem to be terribly exciting news. But it wasn’t sold for a song, and it wasn’t just any old cap. It was an identifying piece of aviation history, and its record-setting sale sent ripples of nostalgia all the way to two small towns in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In an article dated March 1, 2022, the Smithsonian Magazine reported, “A brown leather cap, worn by famed aviator Amelia Earhart during her record-breaking flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, has sold for $825,000, according to the Heritage Auctions website. The leather helmet was expected to sell at around $80,000, according to CNN, but on Saturday [February 26, 2022], an unnamed buyer purchased the cap at nearly 10 times the amount. Heritage Auctions president Chris Ivy tells CNN in a statement that one of the highlights of the item is that it is easily identifiable in images of Earhart. ‘The cap has an amazing, stirring story to tell. And not only does it have outstanding provenance, but irrefutable photo matching as well.’”
Earhart, sporting that very cap, drew fascinated crowds in Trepassey, NL, in June 1928, when she arrived with pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Lewis Gordon aboard the Friendship. After several days in town waiting for good weather, they took off on July 17; about 21 hours later they landed in Burry Port, Wales, and Earhart became the first female passenger to fly across the Atlantic. She returned to Newfoundland almost four years later. This time she was in Harbour Grace, NL, preparing for her record-setting attempt to be the first woman to pilot her own aircraft on a solo flight across the Atlantic. She took off from the Harbour Grace airstrip on May 20, 1932, and landed triumphantly near Londonderry, Northern Ireland, almost 15 hours later.
Amelia Earhart’s touchdowns and takeoffs left an indelible mark on these two communities. In Harbour Grace, a commemorative plaque on the grass airstrip reads: “On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart Putnam became the world’s first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The flight, in a Lockheed Vega, originated at the aerodrome here in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.” There are several older monuments at the airstrip mentioning Earhart, including at least one placed by The Ninety Nines, an international non-profit organization of licensed women pilots from 44 countries with thousands of members around the globe. Founded in 1929, in Long Island, New York, Amelia Earhart was elected their first president. The organization’s name refers to the first 99 female pilots who were charter members. At a waterfront site near the Harbour Grace tourism chalet, there is a striking bronze statue of Amelia Earhart designed by Lorne Rostotski and sculpted by Luben Boykov.
In Trepassey, a corner of the restaurant in Edge of Avalon Inn is named Earhart’s Pub. Its proprietor, John Devereaux, has a direct link to the famous aviator’s time in his hometown.
“Amelia actually stayed for around 12 days at a house which is still standing in Trepassey. It belonged to my relatives, and a fun story is that my grandmother [Laura Devereaux] was a young girl at the time, and she was fascinated with a hat that Amelia wore. There is a wonderful documentary done locally about Amelia’s time here in Trepassey called “Amelia Earhart: A Woman in Pants.” It was written and directed by Lorne Warr, and my grandmother appears in it talking about the cap. I guess my grandmother had much better taste in headgear fashion than we realized.”
Hats off to this collector
The Smithsonian Magazine story of the 2022 auction goes on to say that Anthony Twiggs, a 67-year-old retired photographer in Minnesota, put the leather helmet up for auction after experts confirmed its authenticity, comparing it to the one worn by Earhart in photos taken in Trepassey. Twiggs inherited the helmet 20 years after his mother, Ellie Brookhart, died. She claimed she got it from a friend in 1929, following the first Women’s National Air Derby in Cleveland, Ohio, in which Earhart finished third. Earhart was talking with reporters after the race when a boy, who had a crush on Brookhart, spotted the cap on the ground. He presented the leather helmet - with the name “A. Earhart” printed inside - to Twiggs’ mother, hoping to win her over. Sadly for him that did not happen; Brookhart was far more interested in the hat than the young man.
The final selling price of US$825,000 (approximately C$1.1 million) makes the hat far and away the most expensive Amelia Earhart artifact ever sold to date.