As a young girl, I spent hours poring over the family scrapbooks that my mother had begun to assemble. For the next 60 years, she lovingly put together photographs and newspaper clippings along with her own memoirs and family stories. Most of the albums cover the end of the 19th century and much of the 20th, although some of them go back to early ancestors. And it's the photographs that bring the stories alive!
The meticulously-preserved books abound with stories of expansion and exploration, trauma and triumph, in the lives of famous or near-famous people of the time, lives that were only one or two degrees of separation from our own.
An example of this is the never-ending public fascination with the life of Amelia Earhart (see "Amelia Earhart's Prenup Is Remarkably Modern," posted Dec. 11, 2012). Growing up, I was aware of Amelia's story in a close-up and personal way.
To explain that, I have to tell you a little bit about my family. My father, born in 1887, was the son of John Davey, the "Father of Tree Surgery," who developed the science of saving trees around the turn of the 20th century. Following in his footsteps, my father and his three brothers built the Davey Tree Expert Company, the first of its kind.
Always the adventurer and explorer, my father and his first wife, Mary, traveled the entire world researching trees. He became the era's foremost authority on the subject, and was often at the forefront of the expanding new world of foreign travel. Simply put, he was one of the major explorers of the first third of the 20th century, long before the world became so homogenized.
So what does this have to do with Amelia Earhart?
My father married Mary Binney, heiress of the Binney and Smith Crayola Company in 1916, and they settled in Greenwich, Conn., close to Mary's parents and sisters. Mary's older sister, Dorothy Binney, had married George Putnam in 1911.
George was the grandson of the man who founded the century-old G.P.Putnam & Sons, the oldest and largest publishing house in the world. Its authors included Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. For his part, George specialized in publishing books about travel and exploration.
Exploration was George's passion, and he had several notable Arctic adventures to his credit. He also backed a number of history-making aviation events. His wife Dorothy was an equally avid traveler, as well as a celebrated hostess to the most stimulating and celebrated adventurers of the day -- for example Admiral Richard Byrd, pioneering American polar explorer and aviator. In fact, the Putnams were so well known for entertaining famous adventurers that Will Rogers -- much-loved American actor, humorist, and social commentator in the 1920s and 1930s -- joked that you couldn't snare an invitation unless you had conquered some uncharted territory.
So this was the world that my father inhabited.
Both George and Dorothy Putnam were fascinated with the new advances in aviation, and George was the lucky publisher who signed an agreement with Charles Lindbergh to publish his first book, We. It was George who mentored Amelia Earhart in her career as an aviatrix and writer, and later, under the glare of tabloid publicity, fell in love with her. They later married, after George and Dorothy's 1928 highly-publicized divorce.
If you are interested in the real story about George and Dorothy and Amelia, I highly recommend that you read Whistled Like A Bird: The Untold Story of Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam, and Amelia Earhart (1997), written by Sally Putnam Chapman, Dorothy's granddaughter. Dorothy wanted to set the record straight, and gifted Sally with her intimate diaries. In the book, my father (Jim) and his wife Mary are mentioned as being present when Dorothy and George were in the process of making the final painful decision to divorce.
Which brings us to the point of the new book that I'm writing, Horizons Unlimited: True Stories of Trauma and Triumph. I feel so fortunate that my readers have traveled with me as I've posted blogs about not only the history of Pan Am, but my own personal adventures as well. Pan Am employees know that we took part in history-making events, and we often felt like Forrest Gump, thrust in the middle of the most important world news of the day.
But our experience pales in comparison to the grand adventures of my father and other relatives. Now I'm inviting you to go on this new journey with me -- true stories about real people -- who have some connection to my family, or just one or two unbelievable degrees of separation from us. I'll be posting some of these stories as I go along.
As a psychoanalyst, I'm always struck by the fact that truth is much more fascinating than fiction. The real story of Dorothy and George Putnam and Amelia is a poignant, heartbreaking, and absorbing tale about real people living amazing lives.