Friday, April 16, 2010

Space Coast Polymath

Space Coast Polymath

Born near Panama City about 1910, Jacqueline Cochran was a reporter and owned a cosmetics firm. She was also a test pilot: the first woman to break the sound barrier and fly a bomber across the Atlantic, and the first civilian woman to win a Distinguished Service Medal. Later, for her work training Venezuelan postal flyers, she received a medal from the Venezuelan Government. They erected a sizable statue in her honor at the coastal town of Coro. In 1977 she was elected to the Aviation Hall of Fame. She held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other pilot. She was a Florida Women's Hall of Fame inductee in 1992. Her obsessive love for all things aeronautical extended to many ideas: making space travel more economically viable by privatizing outer space; the aerodynamics of water fowl, and the possibility of life beyond Earth.

Polymath Jacqueline Cochran amassed a collection of photographs, navigation charts and instruments, optical devices, books, drawings and the like. She dedicated her years to flying machines, business, and the rigors of professional advancement. By the time of her death in 2008, she suffered from delusions and paranoia attributed to her many hours flying at supersonic speeds and regular exposure to high altitude hypoxia. Her surviving family knew of her contributions to Florida history and sought a permanent home for her collection to honor her legacy. They contacted the Society for the Preservation of Lost Things and Missing Time and we aided them in locating the storied collection. She had left a map indicating the burial site of her precious optics, snapshots, books and instruments. They were entombed in a gold-covered box beneath a shack her father built behind the family’s Cape Canaveral, Florida, home when he returned home from World War II.


A model of the shack behind the family home and the chamber beneath where Ms. Cochran’s treasures were buried.

Jacqueline Cochran’s optics were assemble as gifts received during the entire course of her life, from childhood to death. She acquired the first one from her grandmother, the American biologist Rosa Smith Eigenmann (1858-1947) and the last in 2003 from her friend, biologist Martha Chase.

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