Saturday, February 4, 2012

Clara and Amelia

Here they are, two of my favorite people. Clara Adams and Amelia Earhart. Together in one place, in fact on the same sunny porch. Of course they are both better known for being up in the air than on terra firma.

One of these fascinating women happens to be the first woman to go all the way around the world by air. And that person is NOT Amelia Earhart, although she has many aviation "firsts" to her credit. No, it is Clara Adams who has the distinction of being the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air.

She did it not as a pilot, but as a passenger.

Clara Adams (1884 – 1971) was known as "The Maiden Lady of Maiden Flights" as well as "Historic First Flighter", "Perennial First Flighter" or just "First Flighter". Clara had the desire and the wherewithall to book passage on maiden flights of airships and airplanes of note. Think Pan Am Clipper. Think Graf Zeppelin. Think the Hindenburg.

Clara Adams has a central Florida connection. Her first of her many flights as a passenger took place at Lake Eustis, in Tavares, Florida, a place I have posted about in the past. That was in March of 1914. The plane was a seaplane, one of the first--a Thomas Flying Boat. At the controls was U. S. Army Captain Walter Ellsworth Johnson (1889-1962). Captain Johnson held the 1912 record for fight time aloft--nearly four hours (3 hours, 51 minutes and 15 seconds). He operated a flight school in Livonia, Michigan, in mild weather and at Tavares during the winter season.

Remember Wilbur and Orville had their first flight only 11 years earlier. Flying, whether as a pilot or a passenger, was not an everyday, ordinary, go through the scanner and take off your shoes kind of an affair. It was truly an adventure of the first magnitude.

All it took was that first flight; Clara was hooked. She went on to have many firsts, including being the only woman to book passage on the maiden voyage of the Graf Zepplin from Germany to the United States in 1927. She flew westward from New York to China in 1936 on the maiden flight of Pan Am's "China Clipper" and then returned to New York by air. In July 1939 Clara went one better, and flew round the world in 16 days, 19 hours and 4 minutes, setting a new passenger record for circumnavigating the globe and at the same time becoming the first woman to fly round the world. Clara also was on the first transcontinental flight of the TWA Stratoliner in 1940 (New York to Los Angeles in a mere 14 hours and 8 minutes).

A wealthy widow from Tannersville, PA, Clara was also related to Paul von Hindenburg through her paternal grandmother who shared that same surname. Clara Adams (nee Grabau) was born in Cincinatti, Ohio, Dec. 3, 1884 to Walter and Ida Grabau. Walter was from Germany and Ida from Ohio. Walter was the son of Ferdinand C. Grabau and Augusta von Hindenburg, both from Magdeburg Germany. Clara's papers are housed at the University of Texas in Dallas. Per her wishes, her ashes were scatted over the oceans she so frequently flew over.

Ameila Earhart is (rightly) the celebrated stuff of legends. She was the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air (in 1928 as a passenger). A remarkable and remarkably lovely woman, she disappeared on a round the world flight attempt in 1937. But before that time she had set many firsts, all of which you can read about here:

Amelia Earhart

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