Erie Times News article published Feb 17, 2008
Zipper links Earhart to Meadville
Crawford County Historical Society's help enlisted in search for missing aviator
By Tim Hahn
MEADVILLE -- Amelia Earhart set off an international mystery when she disappeared over the central Pacific after setting out on the final leg of an around-the-world flight in 1937.
An international group devoted to finding and preserving pieces of aviation history believes it is close to solving the mystery. They need the Crawford County Historical Society's help to do it.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery has called on the society for help in determining the date of a small brass zipper pull made by Talon, a "hookless fastener" company that set up shop in Meadville in 1913 and was based there through the late 1980s.
TIGHAR members found the pull in 2007, when they spent three weeks scouring Nikumaroro, a coral atoll in the western Pacific Ocean.
The island, formerly known as Gardner Island, is part of the Phoenix Islands. It sits along the flight path from New Guinea to Howland Island that Earhart was following when her Lockheed Electra disappeared on July 2, 1937.
TIGHAR members theorize that the plane crashed on or near the island and that the world-renowned aviator, 39, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, 44, spent their final days there. The zipper pull is one of many small artifacts the group has gathered from the island.
"This is exciting stuff," said Ric Gillespie, executive director of the Delaware-based TIGHAR. "Now we have this site on the island that is producing artifacts that speak of an American woman in her 30s, and the only one missing out there is her. So, this is solid stuff."
The artifacts, according to Gillespie, include pieces of bones found in the early 1940s, parts of a woman's shoes, shards of glass thought to have come from a woman's compact and "little wafers of red-colored stuff" that appear to be makeup.
The zipper pull can't be definitely linked to an article of women's clothing. But TIGHAR members would like to know when it was made to see if it was on the market when Earhart disappeared.
They ruled out the possibility that it could have been manufactured during World War II, Gillespie said.
"Brass was a controlled metal during World War II. Starting in 1941, zippers were made of steel with a nickel coating," he said.
TIGHAR officials then turned to Meadville for help, contacting Anne Stewart of the Crawford County Historical Society in summer 2007 and sending photos of the zipper pull.
Stewart said she learned, after talking to a former Talon salesman who is in his 90s, that the company didn't begin stamping only "Talon" on its products until Jan. 24, 1937.
"It always said 'Hookless' on the tab with 'Talon' until then," Stewart said.
Stewart perused a product pamphlet that the company produced for its sales staff and found lists of aviation clothing for men and women.
The society also has a copy of a book published in 1963, "Talon Inc.: A Romance of Achievement," that contains a drawing of a woman in aviator clothing, she said.
Talon began manufacturing zippers for aviation gear after World War I.
"The whole thing was, they wanted something to replace buttons, which were a pain in the neck for pilots," she said. "So Talon did have a head start in aviation clothing."
Stewart said she isn't yet convinced that the Talon tab that TIGHAR members found came from clothing worn by Earhart.
Stewart said she is skeptical in part because Col. Lewis Walker, who brought Talon forerunner Automatic Hook and Eye Co. from Hoboken, N.J., to Meadville, actively promoted his product. He would probably have capitalized on the publicity from Earhart's use of his product, yet there is no evidence he did so, she said.
"I would say that it is quite possible that Amelia Earhart was wearing a suit with a zipper on it. I'm just not willing to say that the one they found was one of them," Stewart said.
The search for better clues is not over, however. Stewart said a lot of Talon information is scattered about the area. That information needs to be researched before she is ready to give Gillespie a final report.
Gillespie said he's ready to fly to northwest Pennsylvania to collect Stewart's report as soon as she gives him the word.
"What I really want to do is come out to Meadville with our zipper and do one-to-one comparisons with the stuff that they have archived and see how conclusively we can identify this thing," he said. "What we're hoping is that we have a pre-war Talon brass zipper."
@ Information on the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery and its search for clues to Amelia Earhart's disappearance can be found at http://www.tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/AEdescr.html.
TIM HAHN can be reached at (814) 724-6979 or by e-mail.