Detective work, and the findings
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.