I have put off writing about Annie Oakley (born August 13, 1860 – November 3, 1926 Leo/Artemis) for some time now because I wanted to feature other Ohio Women in History that most people did not know about. Annie was one of the first superstars or famous actresses of her time. I read about her in a short biography by Chuck Wills for DK Biographies, so that it is more of a children’s reader. I’d love to find something more about her life but it appears that this was not her priority until after retirement and writing just wasn’t in her. She was only able to pen a few pages. Also, being a celebrity, more fiction was written about her than non-fiction.
(November 22, 1925 – September 30, 2014: Sagittarius/Artemis)
Forget Amelia Earhart, who was the first woman to fly solo across the ocean, Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly solo AROUND THE WORLD! Yet no one really knows about her, save for flying enthusiasts. In fact, I wonder if we would even know about Amelia, had she not died in mysterious circumstances and become a legend. And as the author Nancy Roe Pimm points out, in the book “The Jerrie Mock Story,” when Jerrie made this harrowing journey, fraught with many obstacles along the way, too many other important events overshadowed a first for women. Would this have happened in today’s society? Probably not. Women who were the first to do things in the past, were heroines but it was not quite as fascinating then as it is now. Books were rarely written about them and when they were, they faded into the back of the shelf, until now, when so many women are trying to dust off their jackets or create them from scratch.
Nancy’s book did justice to Jerrie’s flight because she really makes it exciting for a person to read and feel that they are a part of the journey. While it is a biography for young readers, I didn’t get the sense that it was for a kid. I mean I didn’t feel like one reading it. It actually reminds me a little bit of a Nancy Drew story, except the heroine isn’t fictional and there is no mystery, just a lot of complications which create suspense. The latter is what captivated me about Jerrie’s story. I had to keep telling myself “She makes it, don’t worry.” I was able to read the story in one day which is the nice thing about a 113 page book for young readers. It reads like a short story. Nancy also puts little snippets of information in the book, right when Jerrie is in that part of the world, so you can learn additional information. I had no idea that there were once seven wonders of the “Ancient World.” Only one is still in existence. I knew there was “seven wonders of the world,” but not an ancient world. She also provides a timeline at the end of the book, which is helpful for someone wanting to write a blog article and not wanting to search through the book all over again for dates.
It is also interesting because Nancy wasn’t shy about telling us about the disgruntled relationship between Jerrie and her husband Russ. You can imagine that whenever a woman is in the limelight, it is going to frustrate their partnership on some level, especially in 1964. I wondered where this was going and the author was careful with this by noting that while Jerrie was upset, she pointed out that she also missed her husband. I can empathize with the situation. If it weren’t for Russ pushing Jerrie and remaining focused on her journey, she might not have been the first woman to fly solo around the world. Many times when people are on a long trek to become a first at something, they often have coaches to keep them on track. This generally causes a lot of friction. While I have never been a pilot, I have ridden up to sixty miles on a bike and with a lot of people. I know how you can get upset with your coach when you are tired, cranky, hungry, physically exhausted; naturally you want to slap them sometimes. It can be a testimony of a really good relationship when it can withstand such pressures as she went through like this with her husband. When I looked at the timeline in the back of the book however, Jerrie and Russ would end up divorcing fifteen years later. Since her daughter would have been around 18 years old at that time, she obviously waited until all her children were adults, which was the “right” thing to do at that time.
Her husband Russ was apparently more competitive about this journey than Jerrie. As you read the story, you find that Jerrie would have liked to have spent a lot more time in some of the places where she landed. It was her first time to be around the world (which also makes this solo flight all the more spectacular in that she didn’t practice) and she really wanted to take in a lot more scenery than she was able to. Had Russ not pushed her, she may not have won the race. I have not mentioned before but at the same time she was in the air, a woman from California was also doing the same thing. She was Joan Merriam Smith who was 27 years old to Jerrie’s 39. Joan was taking the exact same flight that Amelia Earhart took and she did succeed but only returned to California a few days after Jerrie. Unfortunately, Joan died in an airplane crash one year later.
So what kind of obstacles did our heroine endure? At the onset of her flight, just as she went into the air from Port Columbus, she hears the traffic controller state that this will be the last we ever hear of her. What a terrible thing for him to say but thank goodness, she had a strong constitution and didn’t let this sway her. If that weren’t bad enough, every leg of the journey, some idiot journalist was asking her stupid questions about Amelia Earhart – even wondering if she were afraid she would die too. Just like today, the poor woman had to suffer the endless throngs of insensitive reporters who have never learned tact and decency among celebrities. In Cairo, she was stalled by a ticket agent who didn’t believe she had her own plane and wouldn’t let her through. Naturally, this would be straightened out after a couple of phone calls.
The technical issues began immediately. First there was a radio transmission failure as well as brakes that didn’t work. Unfortunately, it sounds as if the latter were probably sabotaged. I thought it was quite funny to realize that the radio transmission for long distance was a cable of 100’ which Jerrie had to drop from the plane, allowing it to hang, in order for it to work. Another obstacle was assuming she was landing in Cairo, and as her wheels touched the ground she was greeted by the military who weren’t too excited to see her. This was because she flew into a secret Air Force base accidentally. Mid-way over the South China Sea; there was the smell of gas. This required switching gas lines and it sounded like turning the engine off for a bit, which was a very risky undertaking. I kept wondering why things kept going wrong, though I also realized this was 1964 and planes were different than.
The nice thing about every stop along her journey was how wonderfully she was treated in each of the countries she would land in. I was the most surprised about this as I couldn’t imagine this going so well in today’s difficult world. Of course, each stop included ambassadors, statesmen, people who had been alerted long before she left home and who had already approved her stop over. Her journey was charted out by a retired military general and between him and the other people, including her husband, who were anxious to have a successful voyage; the trip seemed as if it was meant to be.
The funny thing about choosing to write about Jerrie for this blog is that I am afraid of flying. It is no accident that I purchased this book, well over a year ago, while meeting the author at Ohioana book festival. I had put off reading it because I was afraid I would be sick as I usually am when I am anywhere near an airport. I haven’t even flown since 9/11, which I never make a secret about, though I began getting sick on flights way before that. Fortunately, as I read this book, I felt very calmed by her spirit, which I felt was captured in this book. It reminds me of a couple of flights I have been on in the past, where the pilot was very re-assuring and as a result made the journey very enjoyable. I know if I had been in Jerrie’s shoes, hearing all that stuff about Amelia Earhart would have grounded me for sure. I would have panicked and seen it as an omen – that the topic kept being brought up. That kind of negative talk can cause many people to self-sabotage but Jerrie Mock was undeterred because she was that kind of woman. She was strong, brave, and yet modest and confident. Unlike Amelia, she didn’t have that egotistical side to her nature. While she relished the limelight, she wasn’t caught up in it. I don’t see this as a coincidence. Jerrie was very careful along this journey and did not take any risks with weather. She trusted her instincts, which is pointed out a couple of times in the book. On one such occasion, pre-solo flight, the trip she turned down with other pilots ended in a disaster.
What I see that appears to compare quite frequently with the Ohio women that I write about, is the spiritual side of their natures. When I think of all the women I have read about, from around the world, until I took on the task of writing about the Ohio Women’s History, I didn’t even think about the spiritual component as I read their stories. Yet, time and time again, I continue to read and to have the sense that the Gods were working in sync with them. Perhaps it is our culture, here in Ohio, or the authors of the books or a little of both. Grandma Gatewood, Jerrie Mock, Sarah Worthington, and others, I feel as if their journey was guided by a higher power. Was it them or were they chosen to do what they did?
Post-script: There are plenty of YouTube videos about Jerrie Mock and even another book that I learned about while watching a video. “Three-Eight Charlie,” was written by Jerrie Mock and more recently was enhanced as a special 50th anniversary commemorative edition. The newer version is thanks to graphic designer Wendy Hollinger and artist Dale Radcliff who along with publishers Phoenix Graphix included maps, weather charts and additional photos.
I am including this video below which is an interview with Jerrie Mock by Carol Ann Garratt for Women of Aviation Week 2014. Jerrie died later that year on September 30th in her home in Florida; at the age of 89. She was survived only by her daughter Valerie, the last of her three children (I assume there were grandchildren as well but I am thinking of those who were alive when she took this voyage).