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    Follow the Stories | Palm Springs, California (2009)

    Will Rogers & Wiley Post Memorabilia


    • Ted (right) is the inheritor of a group of remarkable photographs and autographs, valued at up to $20,000 by Rudy Franchi at the Palm Springs ROADSHOW event in June 2008. The collection documents the final hours of Will Rogers and Wiley Post, Rogers' friend and pilot, before their plane crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska, on August 15, 1935. When Ted pointed out that Rogers and Post's sudden deaths brought about a "national mourning era," he does not exaggerate. Rogers' death in particular was a terrific shock to his fans and readers — practically the entire American public.

    • One of the most fascinating items in Ted's collection is a photograph showing Post standing on the front of the floatplane docked on the Chena River at Spencer Landing, on Ted's family's property near Fairbanks, while a mechanic inspects the cockpit just before Post and Rogers took off for Point Barrow. Post is signing an autograph book for a gaggle of siblings gathered around. Ted's father is the second boy from the left, wearing overalls. The book Post is signing is the very same one Ted still treasures as part of his collection of mementos.

    • Will Rogers — who also signed the autograph book — was the youngest of eight children, only half of whom would survive into adulthood. He was born in the Indian Territory in 1879 to a fairly prominent family: his father was a judge and a senator. But Rogers himself would take a different path to success, and dropped out of school when he was a teenager to learn the craft of being a cowboy: riding horses, using a lariat, and roping cattle. He parlayed his showmanship into a spot with the Ziegfield Follies, thereafter landing numerous film roles.

    • Rogers was an early advocate for developing the new technologies of aviation, both for use in war and in civilian transportation, but he was not himself a pilot. However, his friend Wiley Post (shown here) had risen to acclaim as the first man to fly solo around the world. Like Rogers, Post was stupendously famous, beloved by the country for his daring and inventiveness.

    • Post and Rogers set out towards Alaska from Seattle in early August. Prior to their departure to Alaska, Post had been trying to obtain pontoons for use in landing the single-engine Lockheed Orion on water; unfortunately, the ones he ordered were not the ones he received, and when he installed them on the plane he and Rogers would be traveling in, he discovered that the already front-heavy plane was now dangerously so. To compensate, Post had Rogers sit as far to the rear of the plane as possible.

    • The weather in the days leading up to the crash was bad; observers commented that not even locals were flying, and that Post anyway didn't appear to be as adept a seaplane pilot as he was of those equipped with standard landing gear. In the fog, flying over unfamiliar terrain, Post got lost. He circled for hours, finally landing to ask directions from those on shore. After getting pointed in the right direction, Post and Rogers re-ascended into the fog. At about 200 feet, the engine cut out and the plane plunged into the water, head-first.

    • The news of Post and Rogers' deaths broke too late for most American newspapers' morning editions. But by the next day, the accident was front-page news all across the country.

    • Will Rogers' impact on popular culture was enormous. In fact, his fame and popularity up until his death are difficult for contemporary Americans to take the full measure of. Much of this is due to the transformation and even disappearance of the institutions and culture in which he thrived. He grew up in Indian Territory that would later become Oklahoma; he rose to prominence as a cowboy entertainer in the obsolescent milieu of vaudeville; he was a columnist in the golden age of newspapers; he advocated for aviation when it was in its infancy. And he was a humorist in a now bygone vein, conversational and gentle.

    • Today, Ted finds himself in an enviable position as a collector. Not only is he in possession of a unique window on American popular culture, but the authenticity of Post and Rogers' autographs, and the tragic day on which they were signed, is iron-clad. Yet even with the potential of a $20,000 price tag, Ted intends to hold on to the collection for sentimental reasons, saying he's just glad the story has had another chance to reach a wider audience. Watch the full appraisal of this item in our ROADSHOW Archive. You can also watch an interview with Ted following his taping for ANTIQUES ROADHOW.
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