This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for September 6, 2015: Another Life

Sep. 6, 2015: on this day: Beryl Markham flies solo across the Atlantic

British aviator Beryl Markham flew alone across the Atlantic from east to west on this date in 1936. She was the second person, and the first woman, to cross the Atlantic in that direction; flying east to west meant flying into the wind, which took longer, used more fuel, and was more dangerous. She made the journey in a blue monoplane dubbed the Messenger.

Markham took off from Abingdon airfield in England, intending to fly to New York. She lost her chart half an hour into the flight, when a gust of wind took it out the window. She had no radio. She ran into bad weather on the crossing, with periods of low visibility, and used more fuel than she had planned on, but she made it across the Atlantic before the fuel ran out. She managed to bring her plane down in a bog in Nova Scotia, within 10 miles of the spot from which Charles Lindbergh had taken off to make the crossing in the other direction. She suffered only minor injuries, walked three miles to the nearest farmhouse, and later hitched a ride on another plane to New York City, where 5,000 people greeted her.

A blond, athletic wife and mother described at the time as a “society matron,” Markham was no stranger to adventure. She grew up in Kenya, still a British colony at that time. Her father was a well-known trainer of racehorses, and when she was a young woman, she became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya. She later became a bush pilot. After she gave up flying, she returned to Kenya and spent the rest of her life training horses.

Markham wrote a memoir of her adventures, West with the Night (1942). Ernest Hemingway was a fan of the book, writing in a letter, “I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers.”