Local historian Matt Holly found the source of the photo of the Jabor, Jaluit dock which went viral around the world last week, after a US-based researcher claimed the photo was taken in July 1937 and included lost aviator Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan on the Jabor dock, and their aircraft loaded nearby on a barge behind a vessel claimed to be the Koshu Maru.
Holly found the source photo was included in a collection of photographs taken by a Japanese traveler on a NYK vessel touring from Japan through Micronesia in 1935. The 1935 date thus eliminates the photo as a source of the 1937-based Amelia mystery.
The photos were incorporated into a “coffee table” style photo book, with descriptions of each site listed, all in Japanese. “But the year number 1935 stood out in the listings in the database, plain as day, even within the Japanese text,” he said.
This is where some intrigue comes into play, as Holly called everywhere looking for a person who could read and translate this older Japanese text Tuesday night. Matt says he contacted a Japanese research historian on Facebook, Rieko Hayakawa, and told her he had found this photo and asked for her help in translation. It was Hayakawa who broke the story to news outlets four hours later.
Matt claims he never gave her a copy to translate, “but surely, my information about having the photo in my hands and being in Japanese stimulated her research skills.” He presumes Hayakawa swiftly searched the National Diet (Parliament) Library, within their Digital Collections, and found the same photo he had located.
By midnight Holly said he’d located software to translate each caption, one page at a time, and worked through the night to verify both the 1935 date and the accuracy of the photo collection. “There are seven Marshallese photos in the collection, plus photos of Nan Madol and the Spanish Wall at Pohnpei, the phosphate works at Palau, Saipan and assorted people and cultural photos,” he said. “But when I woke up at seven, the story was out and being repeated across the web. I had hoped we could sell the photo to CNN or someone, and donate the money to our Alele Museum.”
Holly thinks the US Office of Naval Intelligence acquired the raw undated photos as part of its research prior to the invasion of the Marshalls by US forces, or possibly after the war. But in either case did not have the photo book he discovered or the information contained in it to apply the proper date stamp of 1935 to these photos.
This led to the claim the photo was taken in 1937 and included Earhart, Noonan and the aircraft, also a claim made in local Mili and Jaluit lore. “The National Archives, without all the legacy information, had to apply the best guess to determine the age of the photos,” he said. “They simply made a mistake.” Holly also claims that even without this photo, researchers would have sooner or later found the names and shipping schedules of the larger vessels in the photo to conclude it was taken in 1935 “Amelia Earhart researchers never let go,” he added.
Read more about this in the July 14, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.