It had become increasingly and finally unbearably warm in the plane’s cabin.
That was the first sign of trouble aboard the Douglas Sleeper Transport DC-3 traveling from New York to California.
Sure, the plane was due to touch down at Nashville’s Municipal Airport within 30 minutes but, as anyone who’s spent time in a hot, windowless room can tell you, 30 minutes can seem like an eternity.
Where was the stewardess?
This was August 7, 1940 and one of the advantages of flying aboard these (relatively) new luxurious American Airlines Flagship planes was their revolutionary air conditioning system.
Standard procedure then was for cool air to be pumped into the plane before the flight and the cabin’s temperature was regulated throughout the journey by stewardesses.
|Cool air being pumped into the Flagship prior to take-off|
But the plane’s lone stewardess Rosemary Griffith hadn’t been seen for “some time.”
A sweaty passenger eventually knocked on the door leading to the cockpit to lodge a complaint.
Captain James. E. Stroud’s answer to this problem was “Where’s the stewardess?”
She couldn’t have gone far and it didn’t take long to locate her.
Two of the female passengers, Mrs. James Orr of Hingham, MA and Mrs. James Faye of Richmond, VA were the first to see her.
According to the August 9, 1940 edition of The Tennessean newspaper:
Mrs. Faye had discovered Miss Griffith’s hat, pocketbook and one shoe lying on a small shelf in the women’s lounge before the stewardess had been found.
She went back up front and asked Mrs. Orr to accompany her on a further search. Mrs. Orr pushed open the door into the baggage/mail room and saw the stewardess laying face down, doubled up in a knot and unconscious, officers said she told them.
|Schematic for the Flagship Tennessee –
The Tennessean – August 9, 1940
Rosemary was unresponsive. Her stockings and the left sleeve of her jacket were torn. A button from her jacket had been ripped off.
She had a cut lip, plus scratches on her face, left hand and right leg, as well as a head injury severe enough to render her unconscious.
Here’s more from that same newspaper article:
Eugene Meacham, a Washington attorney, said they brought the stewardess up to seat No. 10 on the plane and he held her during efforts to revive her.
He told officers she remained unconscious and that her pulse dropped as low as “30 or 40 per minute” during the 20 minute ride into Nashville.
When the plane landed, he said he shook her and talked to her until she revived and that she then stood up and whispered in the ear of one of the co-pilots.
(Upon landing) She was carried from the ship into an office for questioning by Borum, Meacham said.
Chester Borum was the superintendent of the Nashville airport and the chief of its police force.
Meacham said he thought he was the last person to see the stewardess before she was found unconscious.
“I ate lunch late and asked her to serve my dinner last,” he was quoted as saying by officers. “She did not bring my dinner until she had cleared away the plates from everyone else and served them mints.”
Mr. Meacham commented that the stewardess had failed to bring him his mint after clearing away his dinner plate.
I don’t think that’s him griping, rather he’s providing a timeline and a window of opportunity for a possible attack on the stewardess.
|A key similar to one missing –
Nashville Banner photo
Adding to the confusion was the disappearance of the small key needed to unlock a variety of doors on the plane including the baggage/mail bag compartment and cockpit.
This key, like many things aboard the flight, was the responsibility of the stewardess.
Part of her job was to safeguard the US Mail.
Paul Stanley, a Nashville American Airlines sales manager, would theorize early on to reporters that Rosemary might have been jostled as the plane hit some rough weather and she simply lost her balance and sustained those varied injuries while on the way to the floor.
Yet, passengers would remember the flight as being remarkably smooth.
Rosemary had regained consciousness by the time the plane touched down and she was taken to St. Thomas Hospital as soon as possible.
|Nashville Banner photo – Aug 8, 1940|
Rosemary would spend the next few days answering endless questions posed by both in person and via long-distance phone calls.
Eventually the newspaper reporters would be allowed access to Rosemary but not until she’d been examined by doctors and spoken with a Deputy US Marshal, a Civil Aeronautics Board inspector, postal inspectors, her American Airlines supervisors and scores of other officials.
The passengers, three women and ten men, who were probably anxious to move on to their next destination would experience a four hour delay.
Arrangements would be made for a for a plane other than the Flagship Tennessee to fly them to their next destination. The Tennessee would be grounded until a team of investigators could go over it with their fine-toothed combs.
Meanwhile, investigators wanted to speak to the passengers because either one of them was responsible for the state in which the stewardess had been found or perhaps someone saw something suspicious.
Clues, they needed clues. Rosemary was in no fit state to provide any.
One disembarking passenger, Richard Marvin, the radio director of the William Esty Company, went on his way completely unmolested by investigators.
Reached later at Nashville’s luxurious Hermitage Hotel, Marvin said had heard the commotion stemming from the discovery of the unconscious stewardesses but didn’t think it was a big deal especially as no one made any attempt to stop him or anyone else from leaving the airport.
Unfortunately, the passengers could shed little light on the incident. Of course, that fact didn’t stop reporters from pumping them for information and printable quotes.
From assorted newspapers we learn the following:
James Faye told investigators that the stewardess looked as though she was not feeling well throughout the trip. The aforementioned, Mr. Meacham couldn’t second that opinion as he hadn’t noticed anything amiss in Miss Griffith’s appearance or her behavior.
|Helen Gahagan Douglas|
Renowned stage actress, opera singer, wife of Melvyn Douglas and at that time the Democratic National Committeewoman Helen Gahagan said “We found the stewardess in a little compartment where the women’s coats are kept. She was unconscious and we carried her out.”
With regards to Rosemary’s outward appearance during the flight, Helen said of the stewardess, “She served dinner and seemed in the best of health and spirits. When she was found unconscious we were all frightened – afraid she would die in the air.”
Three other passengers, Lieut. John Oman III and two radio entertainers, who surprisingly wished to remain anonymous, stated emphatically that Miss Griffith was found not in the lounge but in the baggage compartment.
Lieut. Oman, then a member of Nashville’s 105th Observation Squad of the National Guard, stated that during Rosemary’s absence from the cabin he had tried without success to adjust the thermostat himself.
Nobody was officially detained but it wasn’t until 3:26 a.m. the following morning that all those who wished to continue their journey westward boarded a different plane. Again, nearly 4 hours after landing in Nashville.
Authorities had their names and addresses should anyone need to be questioned further. They asked that the passenger list be kept secret.
Chester Borum boarded that same plane as the passengers and continued to question them as they flew to Texas. He returned a day later and claimed to have learned nothing of any importance. “It’s a complete and complicated mystery.”
Also occupying a seat on the plane carrying the passengers from Nashville onto their final destinations was Thomas Cotton, attache of the local postal inspection office.
Unlike, Borum who stepped off the plane in Texas and returned to Nashville non the wiser, Cotton continued on to Los Angeles and upon his arrival ordered that all mail from the Flagship Tennessee be impounded.
This was done even though, according to Roy Mitchell, assistant operations manager for American Airlines in charge of personnel, the compartment nearest the attack contained only “passengers’ baggage and ‘local’ mail destined for Memphis – unregistered mail whose contents would be known only to the mailers.
|Pilots J.E. Stroud and W.A. Gillett –
Nashville Banner photo
“There was nothing of special value, as far as I know.” Mitchell summed things up by saying “It’s still just a big mystery.”
The three other American Airlines employees who worked that flight also met with detectives.
These men were James E. Stroud, the pilot, W.A. Gillett, the co-pilot and J. C. Rose, a first officer who was learning the route by observing but not participating.
For them, the flight had seemed routine until the knock on the door by a passenger complaining about the temperature.
Pieces of broken glass, thought to be a watch crystal, were collected by Airport Officer Tom Phelps and retained as evidence.
Had anyone left the Flagship with a broken wristwatch?
Officer Tom Phelps and Chief Chester Borum had received praise four months earlier when they arrested a young man who was found at 2 AM on April 15, 1940, “tinkering around” in the hanger that housed a B-18 Bomber Plane.
|Nashville Banner –
April 15, 1940
The 25-year-old man gave his name as James Corrigan and he certainly seemed suspicious.
Rather than one home address, he supplied several, from locations as far apart as San Antonio, Texas and Rochester, New York.
Corrigan was held on a vagrancy charge, questioned at length then turned over to federal authorities.
This seems significant because although the United States wouldn’t officially enter WWII until December 7, 1941, there was a war on in Europe and in September 1939, President Roosevelt began pushing for a re-examination of three previous Neutrality Acts (1935, 1936 and 1937).
FDR argued that American neutrality laws as they stood in 1939 may actually give passive “aid to an aggressor” while denying help to victimized nations.
On November 4th of that year, FDR signed the Neutrality Act of 1939 which ended the arms embargo and allowed the US to assist Great Britain and France while still remaining neutral.
Was James Corrigan a saboteur?
As Tom Phelps would later learn, Corrigan was actually a 19-year-old youth offender who had escaped from a NYC House of Corrections on January 19, 1940. Corrigan had been incarcerated five years earlier for his part in a break-in.
Prior to being arrested by Phelps and Borum, the Louisville, TN police had Corrigan in custody for two weeks then released him without checking his record.
On April 23, 1940, NYPD officers were dispatched to Nashville to retrieve the wayward James Corrigan.
Newspapers played up the fact that a Nashville taxicab driver, Woodrow Woods, transported one of the Flagship’s male passengers to Union Station not long after it landed.
Nashville Banner –
Aug 8, 1940
The man was described by Woods as being around 5 feet 11 inches in height, “of a build where he could do anything he wanted to,” and wearing a straw hat.
Woods said, “he was dressed like any ordinary businessman but he didn’t look like a businessman.” Woods continued “He was apparently 37 years old and was rather brusque in his talk. He could have been a foreigner.”
Woods, perhaps already suspicious and trying to gather clues for the police, was making conversation with his fare and asked the man if he had heard about the stewardesses injuries. The reply was “Oh yes. She passed out.”
According to Woods, “the man seemed quite nervous” and wouldn’t let anyone handle his luggage.
To the Nashville Banner newspaper, Woods described the two pieces of luggage as a white bag of light construction which appeared rather heavy and a smaller bag.
Woods was sure he would recognize the man if he saw him again. Woods even told police where to look. Woods believed the man had planned to board the 10:45 PM train to Birmingham, Alabama.
Observations by Woods were certainly take into consideration but rumors that the man bound for Birmingham was in any way involved were dismissed quickly.
Investigators know of whom Woods spoke and were aware of the man’s anxiety to catch the train and make a business appointment that night but noted the man had “stood around” the airport for 15 minutes before leaving. The man’s name was not released and he was not considered a suspect.
Investigators would focus on locating physical evidence.
Fuston Sander (left),
Ed Burgess (right),
A blood spot, found on Rosemary’s jacket was to be analyzed.
Nashville’s detective bureau fingerprint expert Inspector Ed Burgess was called in to dust the ladies’ lounge and baggage compartment.
The FBI, while claiming not have any jurisdiction in the matter, was rumored to have been consulted.
While some were quick to dismiss what had happened to Rosemary, clearly the event was being thoroughly and seriously investigated. And why not?
Maybe authorities were recalled the baffling and tragic final flight four years earlier of American Airlines Flight 1?
On January 14, 1936, American Airlines Flight 1, a DC-2 named “The Southerner,” was making a scheduled domestic passenger flight from New York to Los Angeles when it crashed into a swamp near Goodwin, Arkansas.
They were only 20 minutes into the Memphis, TN to Little Rock, AK leg of the journey.
The plane’s landing gear was retracted and its motors turning at full speed.
All aboard died – three crew members and seventeen passengers.
To this day the cause of the crash is undetermined but one theory still being floated around in 1940 was that a demented passenger shot the pilots from behind.
|The wreck of American Airlines Flight 1 (1936)|
Besides, Rosemary had been with American Airlines for three years and her career was unblemished.
Rosemary was, as was expected and required of her, a “clear-thinking” individual.
Surely, her account of what happened in the lounge area should carry some weight.
Despite the glamorous or decorative ways in which airline hostess were often presented, it took more than a pretty face and fine figure to be a stewardess. Air hostesses were saddled with some real responsibilities during the flight.
The first question asked of a woman when she applied for the position was “Are you a registered nurse?” If the answer is “no,” she was turned away.
Yes, the women also needed to be between the ages of 21 and 26 years of age, weigh between 105 and 120 pounds and be no taller than 5 feet, 5 inches. And, no doubt, a pretty face might give you an advantage over some of the more plain applicants.
An article appearing in several newspapers throughout April 1938 detailed the arduous four to six week training course the applicants endured and stated that only 1 in 55 women are selected to serve.
And as difficult as it was to find the right applicant, it was even tougher keeping the women on the job.
Most stewardesses, routinely exposed to a steady stream of eligible bachelors on a daily basis, quit once they were married; their employment usually spanned between one and five years.
Rosemary Olive Griffith, 24-years-old at the time of the attack, had been with American Airlines since July 1937.
|Rosemary Griffith –
Nashville Banner – Aug 9, 1940
Following her graduation from Classical High School in Springfield, MA in 1933, Rosemary attended American International College in 1934.
She entered the nurses training school at Springfield Hospital in 1934 and graduated as a registered nurse in 1937.
Prior to joining American Airlines, Rosemary, an expert swimmer, worked as an exhibition high-diver.
Testimonials and words of support were quick to come.
“She is a grand stewardess,” said Newton Wilson, American Airlines supervisor of passenger service operating out of New York.
In the August 9, 1940 edition of the Pittsburgh Sun newspaper, Hoyt Griffin, Jr., 22-years-old, described his older sister as “fearless and courageous” then backed this up with a story from 1936 when Rosemary was studying nursing at the Springfield, MA City Hospital.
According the Hoyt, Jr., Rosemary quickly beat out a flame caused by an explosion that occurred in the operating room during a major operation.
“Regardless of the circumstances, she’s equal to the occasion,” Hoyt Jr. stated.
Back at 36-11 Bowne Street in Flushing, NY (on the corner of Bowne Street and Northern Blvd.), Rosemary’s roommates and fellow stewardesses were anxious for news of her condition. Neither Helen Button, Ruth Arnestad nor Laura Cooke had been permitted to speak with Rosemary.
According to Helen, “Rosemary was regarded as ‘the intelligent one’ of us. She was a quick thinker…a smart thinker.”
These comments would prove insightful…if Rosemary’s version of events was to be believed.
Once Rosemary was finally given permission to speak to members of the press her story was full of intrigue.
There was a reason no one could find the key to the baggage room. X-rays taken at the St. Thomas Hospital bore this out.
Rosemary said she had swallowed the key when a man grabbed her from behind and gruffly demanded she turn the key over to him.
Rosemary Griffith conducted interviews from her hospital bed.
Here is Rosemary’s story as reported in the August 10, 1940 edition of The Knoxville News and August 11, 1940 edition of The Tennessean Sun :
“I boarded the plane at La Guardia field on Wednesday for my regular run. We left at 5:25 p.m., made a stop at Washington at 6:40 and went on to Nashville. All the seats were taken. There were 13 revenue passengers and a company employee, a first officer who was learning the route. Our ship was due at Nashville at 9:54 p.m. but we were running early.
“I had finished dinner shortly before 9:15 p.m. when the attack occurred. All the passengers were still awake. No berths were made up. We were due in Nashville in about 30 minutes. I started cleaning up the plane and went into the powder room to clean it up.
“Intending to put my own handbag in a low compartment, I bent over. Then I heard a man whisper, ‘Give me the key to the baggage compartment.’
“I started to turn around but was grabbed from behind. The man said, ‘Give me the key or I’ll slug you.’ He did. I fell to the floor.
“The key was in a pocket in my jacket. Naturally I was scared stiff, more scared than I’ve ever been in all my life. I remember swallowing the key because it practically came up and I had to swallow my gum to keep it down.
“It seemed about the best thing to do. I don’t know though if I thought much about it at the time.”
When pressed further about her instinct to swallow the key as she fell to the floor, Rosemary wondered aloud if it wasn’t the memory of something she’d seen in a movie once. A pirate movie.
“It seemed the best thing to do,” she said. “I saw a movie once, where one of the pirates in a gang that had captured a lot of loot wanted a ring. The captain of the pirates started to take it away from him but the pirate swallowed it. In the movie they cut him open to get the ring. Maybe that picture was in the back of my mind.”
Newspapers can be forgiven for assuming and reporting that Rosemary was talking about a movie based on a Rafael Sabatini story because several of his swashbuckling pirate tales had been filmed by then, most notably “The Sea Hawk” (1924) and “Captain Blood” (1924 and again 1935), but I believe she’s remembering a scene from the action-packed Douglas Fairbanks silent movie “The Black Pirate.”
No doubt, if Rosemary had seen “The Black Pirate” at the time of it’s release, March 1926, it would have made quite the impression on the then 11-year-old girl.
“The Black Pirate” was only the third film to use a revolutionary two-tone technicolor process.
While viewers never actually see someone’s belly being cut open, when the pirate who was sent to retrieve the ring re-enters the frame he’s holding a knife, stained bright red with the other man’s blood.
|Screen capture from “The Black Pirate” (1926)|
Rosemary’s inability to describe her attacker, he supposedly struck Rosemary down before she had a chance to turn around, coupled with the sheer improbability of the attack left many skeptical including the victim.
Rosemary was quoted as saying, “I know it sounds impossible. I still can’t understand how it happened. There are a million theories and I wish someone would explain it all to me. I can’t explain it.”
There was no clear evidence that any piece of luggage or any mail sack had been either tampered with or removed. Still observers were impressed.
|headline from The Santa Rosa Republican
August 8, 1940
Curiously, the door to the baggage room was unlocked despite the key being in Rosemary’s stomach.
“I know that it is all a mystery and I would clear it up immediately of I could,” she stated.
Rosemary often said that when she heard that whispered demand from behind she was “more scared” than she had ever been in her life.
Unfortunately for Rosemary’s reputation and credibility, The Nashville Banner quickly decided the whole thing was a hoax fabricated by Rosemary to gain the attention of a man.
And judging by who was permitted access to the patient, they even knew who it was.
|Silent friend of Miss Griffith –
Nashville Banner photo
A quiet, handsome young man who had refused to give his name to members of the press was present in Rosemary’s room as she was interviewed by reporters.
When these same reporters asked Rosemary for the man’s name, she said “Why, I’ve never seen him before in my life.”
One intrepid reporter from The Banner noticed an identification bracelet on his right wrist that read “W.C. Jakeman.”
American Airlines confirmed that there was a pilot on their New York to Los Angeles run by that name.
Sources said William Carter Jakeman had been employed by American Airlines for eight months, was a former football player and a “very intimate friend” of Miss Griffith.
The headline splashed across the Nashville Banner on August 9, 1940 was:
‘Attack’ of Air Stewardess Declared Hoax
‘Lovers’ Tiff’ Is Reported Cause of Mystery Tale
In the accompanying article, they claim they had it “on good authority” that Rosemary had argued with Jakeman prior to leaving New York on August 7th.
Supposedly, this same source told a reporter for the Banner that shortly before that fateful flight Rosemary had a “premonition that something might happen.” This feeling so unnerved Rosemary that she told her sweetheart, “You may not see me again.”
The paper also said Rosemary was prone to “fainting spells.”
Rosemary was shown a copy of the paper and her reaction was one of anger and indignation. She demanded to know who wrote it and said something unprintable by 1940s standards. Fill in the blanks with whatever expletive you feel is appropriate:
“Where is the ______ _____ lying reporter who wrote that story?”
“Why are newspaper people such low-lifers? This story is all a dirty lie. Where is that lying _____?”
Rosemary asked aloud, “If that reporter has got to make up a story why didn’t he tell the truth?”
“Why did he (the reporter) have to drag Bill into it? He’s liable to lose his job over this publicity; we’re both liable to lose our jobs. This is the _____ _____ _ ____ things I ever saw. I wish I could wring his (the reporter’s) neck.”
Rosemary was probably worried about their employer’s policy that forbid fraternization between pilots and stewardesses.
She didn’t deny that it was William Jakeman who drove her to La Guardia Airport on August 7th but she insisted they’d not had a fight beforehand.
“Sure, I go with Bill just like I go with lots of other fellows. You can say that I’m not engaged to him or anyone else,” Rosemary said.
“This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen,” she continued. “It’s a pure falsehood.”
With regards to her premonition of danger, Rosemary cleared that up.
She said she’d written a number of letters to friends before leaving New York and in one of them, to a man in Chicago, she’d jokingly said that she might not look the same when he next saw her.
This referred to the fact that she had broken her nose when she was thrown against the dashboard in an automobile accident several weeks prior.
What about her frequent fainting spells?
Rosemary was quick to tell reporters –
“You know that that is silly – I have to take a full physical examination and be 100% perfect every six months; I have never fallen down yet.”
When pressed further about the events leading up to her swallowing the key and her motivation for dong so, Rosemary attempted to clarify what had been reported previously. Here is her account –
“I was in the ladies’ lounge cleaning it up. Someone came up behind me and asked for the key. I thought it was one of the pilots who had come back to the men’s lavatory and had mislaid his key and couldn’t get back to the cockpit. When I started to turn around I was grabbed by the shoulders from behind and someone said, ‘Give me the key or I’ll slug you.’
Rosemary tried to wrench herself free but was struck “above the left ear.”
“I started falling and when I got to my knees I grabbed the key from my blouse pocket and swallowed it. That’s the last I remember.
“I just thought that nobody had any business with it and it was instinctive to do that. I didn’t think of any specific reason for swallowing it.”
When it was pointed out to Rosemary that despite her best efforts to keep someone from obtaining the key, the baggage compartment was indeed open when she was found.
“I certainly didn’t know it was open, and if was was it’s just too bad.”
She pointed out that every member of the crew carried the same master key but as far as she knew the compartment was not opened during their last stop in Washington, D.C..
Reporters asked Rosemary if it perhaps someone had stowed away in the compartment but the stewardess dismissed this as unlikely. She’d never heard of that happening before.
Then the newsmen asked her to reveal what she’d been seen whispering to one of the pilots.
“I simply leaned over to him and whispered that ‘something is wrong in there, don’t let these passengers get away.'”
William C. Jakeman also challenged the authenticity of the Banner’s article and their assertion that it was all a hoax but perhaps less colorfully than Rosemary.
Bill came across rather protective when he said of his friend, “she has been through enough the last two days, so you fellows give her a break.”
However, reporters were still looking for insights into Rosemary’s personality so they jotted down and published the names of the books of Rosemary’s bedside table: “Joseph in Egypt” by Thomas Mann and a collection of short stories by Guy de Maupassant.
Make of that what you will.
On August 10, 1940, Rosemary boarded an early morning flight back to La Guardia. It was agreed that she would take a few days off before returning to work.
|Rosemary, with her head bandaged, is
released from St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville
and is waiting to board a New York bound plane –
August 10, 1940
Acme Newspapers, Inc photo
With no evidence of wrong-doing, aside from Rosemary’s version of events and the opinion of her doctor that “Miss Griffith could not have been injured in an accident – it had to be an attack,” the matter was swiftly dropped and the case was officially closed.
N.B. Isom, senior carrier inspector of the Civil Aeronautics Authority, said “It looks like the only clues in the case would have to come from her and it doesn’t look like she can give us any.”
An unnamed airline official put forth the opinion that perhaps Miss Griffith was holding the key in her mouth, possibly while changing her uniform, then involuntarily swallowed it and concocted her story of an attack to satisfy professional pride.
Rosemary never backed down from her version of events and she would soon resign from American Airlines.
William Jakeman likewise left American Airlines; he found work as a commercial pilot in Central America. I believe he began working for Avianca Airlines.
Two months later William and Rosemary announced their engagement.
|W.C. Jakeman –
Daily News photo,
Nov 3, 1940
William’s mother Alma believed it was Rosemary’s bravery during the incident aboard the Flagship Tennessee on August 7, 1940 that made Bill realize Rosemary was the girl for him.
According to Alma, her son had little patience with the clinging vine, sit-by-the-fire type of girl who demanded a pampered and sheltered existence. He admired men and women with courage.
Rosemary and Bill had met on the job in February 1940 when they both worked the same flight.
They’d hit it off immediately but work ironically kept them apart.
When Rosemary was attacked, Alma said, “Bill rushed to her by plane. He couldn’t get there fast enough.” According to Alma, Bill “declared himself at her sick-bed.”
In a letter to his parents, Bill wrote “I’m engaged to the bravest girl in the world” and although he forgot to say that the girl was Rosemary, Alma and Dr. Harry Jakeman knew who Bill meant.
Alma invited her future daughter-in-law to spend a few days in Watertown, MA prior to the nuptials so they could become better acquainted.
Naturally, when the two women got together, Alma was anxious to hear all about “The Above The Clouds Mystery.”
“Where is the key now?” was Alma’s first question.
“Doctors removed it,” she was told.
I did wonder the same thing myself. I had assumed it passed naturally.
Rosemary maintained that she never saw her assailant but she still believed he was after something in the baggage room then crept back to his seat after knocking her to the ground.
Alma seemed impressed and told reporters “It was a horrible experience for her but she came through with her chin up, her splendid spirit undaunted.”
Rosemary and Bill sailed to San Jose, Costa Rica and tied the knot on November 1940.
They had two sons together, William, Jr. (b 1950) and Geoffrey (b 1951).
Passenger manifests, which have been archived online, allow me to see that family did quite a bit of traveling over the years. Tough to tell how much of that was work-related.
After 16 years of marriage, Rosemary and Bill divorced. The paperwork was filed in Dade County, Florida in January 1957.
Within months Bill married again.
This time the bride was Miss Margaret Marcy, Coral Gables, FL native. The ceremony took place in the home of Bill’s sister Bethia, in Upper Montclair, NJ on April 8, 1957.
The wedding announcement indicated Bill and Marcy would make their home in Afghanistan and that Bill was a pilot working in the State Department Technical Assistance program.
On April 17, 1961, in Miami, Florida, while on leave from Pakistan, Bill died. He was 48-years-old.
Bill’s obituary does not list cause of death but it does acknowledge the Canadian-born Jakeman’s service in the US Naval Reserves. Bill was employed as a Pan Am test pilot and technical engineer at the time of his death.
Bill’s buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. If there is a headstone, I haven’t found a photo of it.
For those interested in such thing – some of the more famous burials at Mount Auburn include actor Edwin Booth, chef Joan Chen, mental health advocate Dorothea Dix, Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy, cookbook author Fannie Farmer, architect Buckminster Fuller, museum founder Isabella Stewart Gardner, sportscaster Curt Gowdy, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr, artist Winslow Homer, Julia Ward Howe of Battle Hymn of the Republic fame, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
I’ve yet to find out what happened to the second Mrs. W.C. Jakeman. If I eventually crack that nut, I’ll update this story.
Less is known about Rosemary’s life post American Airlines. I suppose she was busy being a wife and mother.
Following the divorce, Rosemary and the two boys made their home in Florida but there are still clear indications of at least one pleasure cruise to the Bahamas in 1961 for the three of them as well as a trip to Cuba that Rosemary took with her mother Margaret in 1958.
Rosemary Olive Jakeman nee’ Griffith died on April 17, 1990, in Seattle, Washington. She was 74-years-old.
Rosemary’s youngest son was living in Washington at the time of his1993 death so perhaps that’s why we find Rosemary there as well.
I haven’t found an obituary for Rosemary so I can’t provide either cause of death or final resting place and I’m not entitled to a copy of her death certificate.
I’ve searched for Rosemary in the findagrave database but she isn’t in there.
When researching these stories, I always like to look into the lives of the minor characters.
Here are some of the triumphs and tragedies –
|James E. Stroud|
Sadly, Captain James E. Stroud was killed when the DC-3 he was piloting, American Airlines Flight 9, traveling from New York to Los Angeles, crashed into the side of Glade Mountain in Virginia on February 22, 1945. There were 17 fatalities and 5 survivors.
Here’s some information from the accident report:
The airplane crashed on the wooded summit of Glade Mountain killing fifteen of the nineteen passengers and both pilots. The four remaining passengers and the hostess received serious injuries and the airplane was demolished.
The wreckage was strewn over a path of 450 feet and was not found until it was sighted from the air at 1240 on February 23. A rescue party arrived at the scene shortly thereafter.
|photo from page 1 of The Bristol Herald Courier – Feb 24,1945|
Subsequent investigation disclosed that the first impact evidently occurred as the airplane was in approximately level flight and proceeding straight ahead at cruising power. From the first point of impact and for approximately 425 feet in the general direction of the course, trees were broken at decreasing heights until the plane struck the ground. Parts of the airplane were strewn along this whole path. A check of the airway radio facilities indicated that no irregularities prevailed at the time of the accident.
Passengers later testified that the plane had been passing through rain and clouds and encountering considerable turbulence for some time prior to the crash. Competent testimony as to the current weather supported the passengers’ testimony. Survivors also stated that a freezing rain fell soon after the crash occurred.
John Oman III, who you may remember was the passenger who tried to adjust the Flagship’s thermostat himself in 1940 when he couldn’t find the stewardess, also later died in plane crash.
|John Oman III|
John Oman III was an experienced pilot but he’d met bad weather on March 20, 1960 during a flight from Alabama to Nashville.
John was attempting an instrument landing during light snowstorm when his twin-engine seven-passenger Aero Commando crashed and burned.
John, then heading up the Oman Construction Co which specialized in building highways and airport runways, was 53-years-old at the time of his death. He was survived by a wife and four daughters.
Also dying in the crash was a 47-year-old Oman Construction company employee Sam Menzies. Sam left behind a wife and three children.
John’s body had been thrown a distance of 100 feet from the crash. Sam was still strapped into his seat.
Both bodies were badly burned.
Rosemary’s former Flushing, NY roommate, Helen Button began to wonder if the apartment she shared with fellow three stewardesses – Rosemary Griffith, Laura Cooke and Ruth Arnestad – might be jinxed.
The first to suffer a misfortune was Rosemary. On August 7, 1940 she had been assaulted mid-flight.
Four months later, poor visibility had caused Ruth Arnestad’s American Airlines flight to miss the runway at the Lambert–St. Louis Municipal Airport and smash into a creek bank.
|Ruth Arnestad walked away from this crash but would her luck hold out?|
Ruth Arnestad probably felt like she’d dodged a bullet when she walked away unscathed from this December 11, 1940 accident. If only she could have been so lucky.
This was but a brush with death. The real thing would happen less than a year later.
Meanwhile, on January 26, 1941, Laura Cooke was in a horrific taxi cab accident.
Laura had just finished working an American Airlines New York to Nashville flight and was on her way to the Hermitage Hotel when her taxi collided with another car.
Laura’s scalp was torn from her skull, two front teeth were broken and a bone in her foot was fractured.
Her driver, John L. Reynolds was held responsible and charged with driving at a reckless speed.
Laura reportedly received a $10,000 insurance settlement then resigned from American Airlines, choosing to focus on her fiance and her nursing career.
On October 15, 1941, Laura married Dr. Raleigh Howard ‘Pete’ Lackay in Honolulu, where he was stationed.
|R. Howard Lackay, M.D.|
Seven weeks later, Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Laura’s husband witnessed the actual attack coming over Kole Kole Pass and the bombing of Hickam and Wheeler Air Force Base. He sent out the first ambulance response to aid the wounded after the attack.
Laura also sprang into action following the attack by helping her new husband care for the wounded at Schofield Barracks Hospital until the American Army nurses could take over.
Laura and Howard enjoyed a 63-year-year marriage until his death in 2004, at the age of 92.
She followed him into death 5 years later, on July 27, 2009, also at the age of 92.
They are both buried at Arlington National Cemetery. They had two children.
in her AA uniform
As I’d warned you earlier – Ruth Annette Arnestad’s good fortune was a temporary respite from what Helen believed was a curse upon all who dwelled at 36-11 Bowne Street.
Ruth’s career with American Airlines came to end in Chicago, IL on November 29, 1941 when the horse she was riding reared up and threw her to the ground.
|Ruth Arnestad’s 1935
HS yearbook photo
Her back was fractured; she died 4 hours later.
Ruth was 24-years-old.
Ruth’s Duluth, Minnesota yearbook describes her as “ravishing” and “agreeable.”
Never married, Ruth was survived by her parents and three sisters.
She is buried at the Maple Hill Cemetery in Duluth, Minnesota.
|Helen Button’s 1934
By the end of 1941, Helen Button had found a new place to live. She was two blocks away from her previous location and had two new roommates.
“We simply didn’t know what we were getting into when we took that place,” Helen said.
Information on Helen after 1941 is tough to find and perhaps that’s a good thing. No car accidents, assaults, plane crashes, etc.
Perhaps the curse was lifted. Or perhaps the death of Helen’s mother in 1918, when Helen was two-years-old was tragedy enough.
Or perhaps, as we’ve seen in countless horror movies, the curse was transferred onto a loved one.
|Donald M. Farrow’s
1935 HS yearbook photo
Helen’s first marriage was to Donald M. Farrow on January 8, 1942, Dade County, Florida.
The marriage license lists Donald’s profession as pilot and Helen’s is nurse, not airline stewardess.
Then, on November 6, 1943, in Columbia, Florida, Helen married Frederick G. Dustin.
Did Helen’s first marriage fail or was Donald a war casualty? I don’t know.
What I do know is this –
There is a “Donald M. Farrow” listed as ‘civilian casualty’ the U.S. Roster of WWII, 1939-1945 but details are few.
A newspaper article dated February 1, 1942 stated that Donald M. Farrow, then a co-pilot for American Airlines, would soon be “flying war materials over newly established lines to the combat zones.”
Is this Donald the same man who was Helen’s first husband? I don’t know.
Is this Donald the same man listed as a civilian casualty? I don’t know.
However, I do know that I haven’t found a divorce record for Helen and Donald.
I do know that Helen and her second husband Frederick were together until his death on November 24, 1987.
Helen died on September 2, 1991, one week shy of her 75th birthday, in Boston, MA. Her obituary lists one daughter and three grandchildren.
This update on taxi driver Woodrow Woods is one that I’m not 100% sure of either. I suppose it depends on whether or not you, like me, think these two men are one and the same.
I’ll put them side by side and let you decide for yourself.
I think the photo of Charles Woodrow Woods (left), which appeared in a 1950 newspaper, is a younger version of taxi cab driver Woodrow Woods (right), who was featured in the Above the Clouds Mystery 10 years before.
We don’t learn much about Woodrow’s personal life in his 1940 interview with the United Press reporter. The focus, quite understandably, was on Woodrow’s suspicious passenger and not his personal history.
If I’m right and these two people are the same man, it’s interesting to note that on April 20, 1950, 35-year-old Charles Woodrow Woods committed suicide.
Mr. Woods parked his car on Whoopee Trail (now Mohawk Trail), off Neelys Bend Road, in Madison, TN. He attached one end of a tube to the car’s exhaust pipe, fed the other end into the rear window of the vehicle, got back inside and left the car running.
He died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Beside Woods on the front seat were two letters dated April 19, 1950.
One letter was addressed to his estranged wife Ruth, then living in Florida with their two children.
The other letter was addressed to a close friend, Patrolman W.R. Smith of the Nashville Police Department.
In these letters, Woods described unbearable head pains he’d been experiencing for some time and listed that pain as a major force for his actions. Although, those who saw him leaving his taxi stand arounf 11 PM this night before said he seemed “in normal spirits.”
He offered his body to Vanderbilt University Hospital for experimental purposes, after which, he instructed, it should be cremated.
I don’t think either of this wishes were fulfilled because on April 22, 1950, he was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville, TN.
In Woods’ right hand was a gold chain bracelet inscribed to “Ruthie.”
Helen Gahagan Douglas ultimately left the acting world behind her in favor of politics.
Travel abroad had opened her eyes to what was happening outside of her bubble and she felt compelled to make a difference, if she could.
Helen later said, “I became active in politics because I saw the possibility, if we all sat back and did nothing, of a world in which there would no longer be any stages for actors to act on.”
She was elected to the House of Representatives in December 1944 and served three terms in Congress (1945-1951).
There are two aspects of Helen’s political career for which she is most fondly remembered – her close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt (which Douglas chronicled in her 1963 book “The Eleanor Roosevelt We Remember”) and how she famously clashed with Richard Nixon.
It was Helen’s compassion for migrant workers during the Dust Bowl years, her strong anti-Nazi stance before and during WWII and her sharp criticism of the House Un–American Activities Committee had many believing she was a Communist.
Richard Nixon used that misconception to his advantage in series of smear campaigns when he and Helen ran against each other in the 1950 Californian Senate race.
Nixon announced she was “pink down to her underwear.”
Gahagan Douglas returned the favor and referred to Richard Nixon as “Tricky Dick.”
The name stuck and it would follow him all his life but she did ultimately lose the election to Nixon.
When the Watergate scandal broke in 1972, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Helen Gahagan Douglas” bumper stickers were all the rage in California.
The loss to Nixon disappointed Helen but she bounced back with plans to return to stage work.
She had always felt her acting and singing careers had simply been on pause during her years on Congress.
However, Helen was now much more in demand as a public speaker and she only made two more appearances on the stage.
Helen Gahagan Douglas died on June 28, 1980, a victim of breast cancer. She was 79-years-old.
Helen Gahagan made one film only in her varied career and it was the 1935 adventure “She.”
Helen based her decision to accept the role on the fact that she had enjoyed the H. Rider Haggard book when she’d read it as a young girl.
Eagle-eyed Disney fans may recognize the look of “She Who Must Be Obeyed.”
Yes, “Rumpole of the Bailey” fans, the phrase stems from Haggard’s 1887 novel and not Rumpole’s beloved Wordsworth or Shakespeare.
This costume worn by Gahagan in “She” would serve as the inspiration for the Evil Queen in Disney’s 1937 movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
While the people associated with the “Above The Clouds Mystery” have died, the plane remarkably lives on. The Flagship Tennessee has it’s own following and even a dedicated Facebook page.
This Douglas Sleeper Transport DC-3 was built in 1936 and delivered to American Airlines in July of that year.
It has had various aviation call signs (c/n1499, N133D, NC16005) and looks over the years. During WWII it functioned as a troop and cargo transport vessel.
Ownership of the plane has, naturally, changed several times in its 84 years. The current owner is hard at working restoring it and he hopes to have it back in the skies.
Here’s some even more trivial and coincidental information which I found on imdb.com regarding the plane: “In the 1940 movie ‘Too Many Husbands’ – Bill is seen getting off an American Airlines DC-3/DST-144, registration NC16005 named “Flagship Tennessee.”
In the movie, ‘Bill’ is played by Fred MacMurray but the other male lead in this film is none other than Melvyn Douglas whose wife Helen was aboard the August 7, 1940 flight and was served her dinner by Rosemary Griffith. Talk about real rabbit hole information.
While researching this story, I also learned that one of Rosemary’s five siblings was a published author. I was intrigued.
|Alice Griffith, 1936|
Alice Griffith Craft, older than Rosemary by a year and a public school teacher (according to the 1940 US census), wrote a short story about two sisters called “Revenge.”
It was published in the March 1951 edition of Good Housekeeping Magazine.
|Good Housekeeping, 3/51|
Naturally, I tracked it down on the off-chance that it might have some bearing, if only marginally, to what Rosemary had experienced in 1940.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t track at all but I don’t regret the effort involved in finding it or the $11 that I spent to purchase a copy of the magazine.
Not only do I now have a number of recipes from 1951 that I’m considering trying but “Revenge” was an interesting read.
I’ll gladly make scans of the story available to anyone who would like them. Email me at WBSCheck@gmail.com
To further amuse myself, I cobbled together a companion video for this story.
It has a running time of 7 minutes 38 seconds and includes the scene from “The Black Pirate” that I’ve described.
You can find the video on the As Close to Crime YouTube channel.
Here’s the link – https://youtu.be/-0ToC-FBgKg