Robert Matzen twitter

Marathon

Here we are on Sunday, January 18, 2015. Seventy-three years ago today, Sunday, January 18, 1942, recovery teams were combing the unforgiving mountainside of Mt. Potosi, Nevada at the site of what one Civil Aeronautics Board investigator called “the most completely destroyed airplane I have ever seen.”

This year of 2015, the events covered in the book Fireball occurred on the same days of the week as they did in 1942, which led me (after the germ of the idea was hatched by Carole Sampeck) to launch a Twitter effort to replay key events in Carole Lombard’s last days in real-time, as they happened, beginning at 1:35 P.M. Central on Thursday, the moment Lombard and her party—including her mother Elizabeth Peters (“Petey”) and press man Otto Winkler–were greeted at Union Station, Indianapolis, by the Indy mayor and other officials. I then followed her progress through the day, which included five big events and interactions with at least 20,000 people, and her sudden decision made on Thursday night to fly home instead of take the train.

This past Friday, two days ago, the Twitter reports transitioned to updates from TWA as Flight 3 progressed across the country.

I learned a couple of things through this Twitter campaign. First, I learned how many people still care. The effort drew many new Twitter followers who were eager to participate. Second, I was struck by how fast events transpired for 19.5 hours, from the moment she stepped off the train to the moment Flight 3 struck the mountain. She was in almost constant motion one way or another. For example, from the train station at 1:35 she was driven to the state capitol for a speech and flag raising at 2:00, a bond sale from 2:30 to 3:30, another flag raising at the Claypool Hotel at 3:45, more driving to the governor’s mansion for a tea and reception from 4:15 to 5:30, private dinner with VIPs back at the Claypool at 6:30, a bond rally in a local civic center before 12,000 at 8:30, and a private reception for her friends and family once more at the Claypool at 10:30. Then did she retire for a long sleep? No, of course not. After midnight, Carole, Petey, and Otto packed up for a trip to the airport to wait for a flight that came in late, and you know how easy it is to catch a few winks in an airport terminal. The travelers didn’t board until 5:00 A.M. and then proceeded through a day of hops from city to city on a DC-3 (an uncomfortable plane to fly in) that ranged from the shortest of 1 hour, 11 minutes to the longest of 2 hours, 56 minutes in duration. During the Lombard portions of Flight 3’s intercontinental progress, the plane took off seven times and landed six. Get off the plane, climb on board. Get off the plane, climb on board. For any of us today, one layover is too many and two is torture. But six?

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Detail of one of Myron Davis’s photos for Life, this one taken at the governor’s mansion, shows Carole Lombard with her guard down for a moment and already exhausted–hours before beginning her cross-country trek. Was she capable of rational decisions by the time she ordered Winkler to book plane reservations?

The first landing out of Indianapolis was into a bad weather situation in St. Louis that caused a two-hour delay in a crowded terminal. Living that in real-time was difficult (because I wanted to get on with the story), but I was sitting at my computer after a good night’s sleep. Imagine those two hours when you’re on Coca Colas, snack bar sandwiches, and upright naps all night and through the morning. Another weather delay followed at the next stop in Kansas City and this one made the local papers because of so many delayed flights and stranded passengers. From there the plane dragged its passengers to Wichita, then Amarillo, then Albuquerque where what was left of Carole Lombard was told she must vacate her seat and wait for another flight.

As I tracked events real-time, I realized that any human—even good-hearted, down-to-earth Carole Lombard—would snap. She must have been seeing polka-dotted koala bears by this time when all she wanted to do was get home.

Many have asked the unanswerable questions: Why was she in such a rush? Why did she drag her companions on a plane when both expressly wished to avoid the dangers of air travel? Was it all about her husband Clark Gable cheating on her? Or was there something more than this? It’s been hypothesized that Carole believed, or had it confirmed in Indianapolis, that she was pregnant and wanted to rush home to tell Gable. This explanation would solve the problem of obtaining the buy in of her companions to get home ASAP. But after at least two miscarriages and a procedure at Johns Hopkins to “clean her out” in efforts to get pregnant, would she put her reproductive system through this particular 19.5 hours of hell? We will never know the answers, assuring that this aspect of the mystery of Flight 3 will remain.

I ended my Twitter effort on Friday night with TWA Control cutting off any further public information about Flight 3 when it was clear that the plane had crashed. Several people confirmed for me later what I already knew: Those last moments are chilling to re-live, no matter how often we do it.

Some people heard of the real-time Twitter feed and signed on after events had transpired, so I have been issuing sporadic updates about goings-on at the scene and thinking about the fact that when Carole Lombard’s marathon ended, Clark Gable’s began. With no warning what was coming or how brutal it would all be, Gable never had a chance.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

I hate the sound of bagpipes. To me the sound of bagpipes is more torturous than the squeal of a feedbacky microphone, or the wail of a screaming baby, or the pounding and grinding of a dumpster being emptied in the middle of the night. It’s the top reason I’m not a fan of St. Patrick’s Day. I’m also not a fan of people going out and getting drunk obnoxiously when they could just as easily, no, more easily, stay home and drink in silence. So where have I been the past few days, you ask? I was waiting out St. Patrick’s Day in the Cone of Silence and now it’s the day after, and safe to come out.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

My idea of hell.

I need to know. Do you people tweet? Do the cool kids these days tweet? It seems as if people must sit around watching TV with the remote in one hand and a phone in the other so they can report their thoughts in real time, and maybe if you’re a great pundit who has thoughts in real time that would be desirable, but if you’re just a guy or a girl and go reporting on how the ref made a non-call in a basketball game, is this a good thing?

My housemate has been railing for years that there’s too much communication in the world today, and the emergence of “Twitter wars” seems to bear this out. Someone disrespects someone else on Twitter, and suddenly a snarkfest is unleashed, often with no winner but just a lot of nasty messages hanging in the ozone. To me, Facebook is a fine thing and allows me to keep people at the far end of arm’s reach while still learning of their comings and goings. Facebook is perfect for the reclusive introvert, which I’m one of. I care about my friends, which doesn’t necessarily mean I want to talk to them all the time. Now I don’t have to: there’s Facebook.

But Twitter. Quite some time ago, Basil Rathbone authority Neve Rendell encouraged me to start tweeting. I thought, what the heck, why not, and I signed up on Twitter and got my handle (@robertmatzen) and guess what. I have only tweeted I believe one thing in my entire Twitter career, and that was a funny little something to a co-worker. I just couldn’t bring myself to tweet because who cares what I have to say? Why is my viewpoint important? Does the world need to know that I hate bagpipes? RT if U h8 bagpipes 2.* NO! I can’t murder the king’s English that way. I can’t go against the grain and reveal my loathing of an “instrument” played at heroes’ funerals!

I have seen an effective use for Twitter, and that’s to build a brand. If I were a comic attempting to build my brand, RT if U h8 bagpipes 2 would actually make sense. As a matter of fact, comedian Stephen Wright used to talk in tweets long before Twitter was born. But even if I were building a brand, I can’t see myself shamelessly self-promoting because reclusive introverts aren’t made that way. Ironically, I am building a brand and can’t make my thumbs use Twitter! You can see my conundrum.

Besides, with a subject matter like vintage Hollywood, my tweets would just be a litany of sadness.

Shirley Temple dead. Bummer.

Sid Caesar gone. Nooo!

Harold Ramis passed. Can’t B.

Robert Matzen, angel of death.

So please tell me, do you tweet? Are you on Twitter? Should I do this or not do this? I’d love a pro or a con from you, the most influential people in my life (other than she who lives with me). And most importantly, would you have RTed that U h8 bagpipes 2?

*RT = ReTweet