De­tec­tive work, and the find­ings

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Much of the work Boak and Bartram did, and much of the book’s story, in­volved track­ing down the other sig­na­tures. It was like mod­ern foren­sics.

“The sig­na­tures were very, very dif­fi­cult, and there was a lot of what I call re­verse en­gi­neer­ing,” Boak said.

Us­ing a graph­ics tablet and laser en­grav­ing, he inked each sig­na­ture and was able to mag­nify them.

“There was a tiny sig­na­ture on the front of the ukulele, and I could see it from the high­res­o­lu­tion pho­tog­ra­phy there clearly was an ‘A’ at the be­gin­ning, and it was an un­usual ‘A.’ ” Boak said. “After the ‘A’ looked like an ‘L,’ and then at the end of the first name I saw an ‘A.’ … And then the first let­ter of the last name, I could clearly read was an ‘E.’

“So I said, ‘Could it pos­si­bly be Amelia Earhart?’ So on­line, I looked up her sig­na­ture, and I saw that her ‘A’ was ex­actly the same as the ‘A’ on the ukulele. And then know­ing it was prob­a­bly Amelia’s sig­na­ture, I could kind of see the rest of the let­ters,” he said. “And I have to tell you, that hap­pened sev­eral times.”

Di­rectly above Earhart was an­other prob­lem­atic sig­na­ture, with a first word that “was ei­ther Ma­jor or Mayor,” Boak said. “The first name seemed to be Edw---. Well, it sounded like Ed­ward. And the mid­dle ini­tial was H, and the first let­ter of the last name ap­peared to be an L.

“So I Googled ‘Maj. Ed­ward H.L.’ and noth­ing came up. I Googled ‘Mayor Ed­ward H.L.,’ and im­me­di­ately a pic­ture of Amelia Earhart came up from Med­ford, Mass. And stand­ing next to her was Mayor Ed­win H. Larkin, the mayor of Med­ford, where Amelia Earhart lived. And that’s why their names ap­peared to­gether on the ukulele,” he said.

Boak and Bartram got a grant from the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tute and the Na­tional Ar­chives to use a mul­ti­spec­tral process to see sig­na­tures that had faded from vis­i­bil­ity un­der nor­mal light. They also were able to go through Kon­ter’s pa­pers, which he do­nated to the Na­tional Ar­chives, and some of Byrd’s pa­pers, as well.

They also vis­ited Kon­ter’s step­daugh­ter, Boak said, and spoke to her “about ev­ery­thing about his life and about their life to­gether and about his ver­bal rec­ol­lec­tions about the ex­pe­di­tion and ev­ery­thing. And about his per­sonal friends, many of whom were mem­bers of the Ukulele Cho­rus.”

Boak said he and Bartram even un­cov­ered some things likely un­known.

“The story of the Byrd ex­pe­di­tions has been told and re­told in many, many dif­fer­ent as­pects,” he said. “But we dis­cov­ered that [Kon­ter] was a re­mark­able pho­tog­ra­pher, and his pho­to­graphs added a tremen­dous amount to the whole Byrd story. A lot of pho­to­graphs had not been seen be­fore. Some had been sent to Byrd and lost.”

Boak also said they learned through cor­re­spon­dences be­tween Kon­ter and Byrd that there was a fall­ing out be­tween them. Boak said Kon­ter be­came de­pressed, then “re­ally in­censed and an­gry and de­cided he didn’t want to have any­thing to do with Byrd ever again.

“But I think he came out of that de­pres­sion. … That was in­for­ma­tion that no­body ever would have known with­out go­ing through Kon­ter’s pa­pers. I don’t any­one had ever gone through them be­fore,” he said.

They also learned that Kon­ter tried to get Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s au­to­graph, which Roo­sevelt typ­i­cally didn’t give, Boak said.

“Roo­sevelt sent a let­ter to Byrd say­ing, ‘Hey, I got this let­ter from Kon­ter, who wants me to sign his ukulele. Is this im­por­tant?’ And Byrd an­swered back and said, ‘It’s up to you whether you want to sign. Many im­por­tant peo­ple have.’ And Roo­sevelt con­se­quently didn’t sign the ukulele. Which was very dis­ap­point­ing to Kon­ter,” Boak said.

There re­main a hand­ful of sig­na­tures that have evaded iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, es­pe­cially some on the back of the ukulele, “which tends to have peo­ple who are less fa­mous,” Boak said.

He said he hopes “to fig­ure this out in the next decade. … We think that prob­a­bly will hap­pen.”

In the mean­time, C.F. Martin cre­ated a replica of the ukulele that it is sell­ing for $2,499. They are made to or­der, and at last check 46 have been sold, Boak said.

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