Kropf column: Bower book offers unique take on Earhart mystery

Sep 17, 2015








I don’t remember the first time I met Barry Bower, who at the time was a Batavia city councilman.

I do, however, remember the first time we talked about Amelia Earhart.

It was during the first airshow at Genesee County Airport, and Barry sought me out to ask if I knew warbird editor Michael O’Leary was there from California.

I didn’t, and then Barry asked if I had read a recent issue of “Warbird Classics,” in which a story appeared by a retired Air Force colonel Joe Gervais. There was a picture of a woman who had lived in New Jersey, who some people speculated was Amelia Earhart.

Then Barry went on to say he was visiting his wife’s cousin in New Jersey during the late 1970s and they attended a party at a neighbor’s house. It was the home of Irene and Guy Bolam — the woman some claimed was Amelia.

Barry said during the evening he wondered off into the library when the hostess walked in. She was wearing a pin with three oak leaves and a Distinguished Flying Cross — medals known to have been earned by Amelia.

Barry said she turned the conversation to flying, but as he had not yet become interested in the mystery, he had no reason to be curious. He did remember she said she had the third flying license ever issued to a woman.

This planted the seed which eventually led to Barry devoting the last years of his life hoping to do what no one since has been able to do — solve the mystery of the disappearance of Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan.

When Barry knew he had to have surgery a year ago, he made sure his book was complete. He died unexpectedly after surgery, but not before his family at his bedside promised to finish his task.

After his death, wife Suzanne and daughters Lynn Riccobono of Batavia, Wendy of Pennsylvania and Lynn’s daughters Amanda and Jennifer all kept their promise to Barry.

In the middle of July, the family traveled to Atchison, Kan., for the Amelia Earhart Festival, where they launched Barry’s book, “The Amelia Earhart Saga: Plausible Suppositions.”

To back up a bit, Barry never thought about Amelia after that visit to New Jersey. Nor did he become obsessed with her after reading the article in “Warbird Classics.”

But something did happen which made a profound impact.

He had visited his local YMCA, where there was a poster on the wall of Amelia. Her eyes were staring straight out of the poster and as Barry became mesmerized, he said it was like he got hit with a ton of bricks. He swore Amelia said to him, “Get off your butt and tell my story.”

Barry’s research put him in touch with government officials; Gervais, who wrote the book “Amelia Earhart Lives” with Joe Klaas; Ann Pellegreno, a pilot who in 1967 traced Amelia’s path around the world; and numerous other Earhart researchers.

What he uncovered is mind-boggling. If it isn’t scientific fact, there are enough coincidences to justify what Barry called “plausible suppositions.”

It starts with Irene Bolam’s likeness to Amelia. Then there are the pin and Distinguished Flying Cross she wore. There is the fact Amelia taught English at Harvard, and one of her pupils was Yamamoto. It was reported they became good friends. There are the visits to the White House and a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and the president. And why would the government spend millions and send warships to search for Amelia if this was a normal civilian flight?

More interesting still is a set of stamps released by the Marshall Islands Postal Service in 1987 — the 50th anniversary of Amelia’s flight. The four stamps show two natives in the jungle looking at a downed Electra in the water, another shows a tall woman and a man standing there and another is a Japanese carrier with a crane off the back on which is hanging the Electra.

Barry suggests there is sufficient evidence to believe Amelia detoured on her flight around the world to spy on the Japanese in the Howland Islands at the request of President Roosevelt. Barry believes Amelia was taken to Yamamoto and then “imprisoned” at the Imperial Palace to insure the safety of Hirohito.

Barry also said the United States had no official spy network in place prior to World War II, so often used the Vatican. He said there is documentation that Cardinal Spellman visited the Imperial Palace on several occasions during the time Amelia was allegedly housed there. A newspaper article obtained by Barry quotes a soldier who said he was wounded and in the hospital in Tokyo, which was near the Imperial Palace. From his room, he said he saw a tall, manly woman come into the courtyard of the Palace with a book every afternoon, and several times she was visited by a figure who was most certainly a cardinal.

Amelia was also a close friend of Howard Hughes, who had designed a plane he wanted the government to build. When Roosevelt turned down the plans, Barry thinks Amelia was in possession of them, and eventually helped Japan develop them into what would become the Zero. There are also insinuations Amelia might have been “Tokyo Rose.”

There are many more astounding facts and suppositions documented in Barry’s book, such as the statement by Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, commander of the naval forces in the Pacific during World War II. Upon retirement, he said, “When the truth is revealed about Amelia Earhart, it will stagger the imagination of the American people.”

Barry had visited Amelia’s hometown of Atchison, Kan., where he believed two mounds in the cellar — covered with mesh and cement — are the graves of Amelia and Noonan.

Farfetched?

Maybe, but entirely plausible knowing the information Barry has put together.

Just as astounding as the implications in Barry’s book is the commitment Barry’s family exhibited to his memory, by proofreading and finding a publisher.

There could be no more fitting tribute to their husband, father and grandfather.