TRACY, Calif. (CBS13) – Talk about an incentive to clean out the attic.
A Tracy woman, looking to clear out space in her rented storage unit, came across a manila envelope in a box tucked in a corner of the tiny room that she initially tossed in the trash.
“I thought at the time it was just old papers that weren’t needed anymore,” says Diane Brown. “But something said not to [throw it out]. I don’t know why, but something just kept telling me, ‘get that back out of that bag’.”
Inside, Brown found 18 original, never-published photos of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, believed to be publicity shots taken before what was to become her final flight. The pictures show Earhart getting ready for a flight — signing autographs, getting a haircut, and in various poses in the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra
The box was among belongings Brown inherited from her mother, who passed away in 1972. Brown, now 66, moved them to the storage locker a few years ago, largely untouched. She remembers seeing the photos as a child but was not allowed to touch them.
“We didn’t ask about those things back then,” says Brown. “We didn’t get involved in grown-ups’ business.”
In May 1937, Earhart set out from Oakland, along with navigator Fred Noonan, to be the first person to fly around the world at its widest point, close to the equator. But after making it three-quarters of the way around, her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean on approach to Howland Island. It was never found. Earhart and Noonan were declared legally dead more than a year later.
Brown believes the photos were a gift to her mother from Earhart, but doesn’t know how the two might have met.
“Amelia Earhart inspired my mother to fly,” she says. “She loved to fly and was a huge proponent of women pilots.”
Brown contacted the Antiques Roadshow to find out how to have the photos appraised. The program put her in touch with Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Ca. Her message landed on the desk of Furniture and Decorative Arts Specialist, Marcus Wardell, who called her immediately.
“She said, ‘I have Amelia Earhart photographs’ — so I hopped in my car and drove to he storage facility. I was extremely impressed with the condition, considering they had disappeared all these years and were being kept in a manila envelope and that they’d just been left in a storage locker.”
The fact that the photos have never been seen, and that Earhart remains such a popular cultural icon, could have collectors and museums jumping at the chance to buy them — maybe for as much as a thousand dollars apiece.
“There are treasures every where,” laughed Wardell. “You just have to look in your home — or your storage locker.”
Clars Auction Gallery has paired the set of photos — which will be sold individually — with goggles that once belonged to Earhart. The auction will be advertised worldwide, with a preview online (www.clars.com) a week before the sale.
Brown says she’s trying not to get too excited about the price the photos might bring. She does plan to have surgery on her hand that has prevented her from working — and maybe find a nice apartment.
“If i can do that, i can work again, do my crafts again, be able to live again.”
The pictures go up for auction on September 11.