Another Agreement - This One Left Undone... ?

The Family & Wm. J. O'Dwyer
Original Content Is © 2013 - 2014 Carroll F. Gray

      Stella Randolph maintained an active interest in Gustave Whitehead for well over 40 years, and during the mid-1970's she passed the torch to Maj. William J. O'Dyer, USAFR. Randolph was an attorney and wanted to be certain that the ultimate disposition of the material she had been given custody of by the Whitehead family in the 1930's was handled in an orderly manner. Randolph never assumed the stance that she actually owned the material which the Whitehead family had passed to her, she saw her role, quite clearly, as that of a custodian.

      Major William J. O'Dwyer, on the other hand, appears to have taken a very different view, perhaps more along the lines of 'possession is 9/10ths of the law.'

      After O'Dwyer and Randolph's 1974 trip to Leutershausen, Germany (Gustave Whitehead's birthplace), Randolph suggested to the Whitehead family that a formal agreement with O'Dwyer about the "Whitehead memorabilia" would be the best way to proceed.

      The subtext to the discussion between Randolph and the Whitehead family appears to have been concerns by both Randolph and the Whitehead family about O'Dwyer's perspective on the "Whitehead memorabilia." In the course of the discussion, Jacqueline Baker, Gustave Whitehead's granddaughter, wrote a letter to Randolph, dated April 14, 1975, responding to Randolph's suggestion.

      Jacqueline Baker had discussed it all with the living close descendants of Gustave and so made the point that she was writing on behalf of the Whitehead family.

      "Regarding the control of the Whitehead memorabilia, we have fully discussed this arrangement among the remaining Whitehead children, Charles, Lillian and Nell, and are in agreement that Major O'Dwyer become the custodian of the memorabilia when you choose to give it up. This, of course, must be done by drawing up a legal contract listing all the various items of memorabilia and with the full understanding statement that if the project were abandoned or if anything should happen to Major O'Dwyer that the memorabilia be immediately returned to the Whitehead family, the family consisting of Charles, Lillian + Nell and their heirs if any become deceased.

      "Also, a clause should be included in the contract that the family could recall this memorabilia at their option if the activities become questionable.

      "We have wondered why the family has never been approached by Major O'Dwyer in the past related to my grandfather's activities, etc.

      "No contact has ever been attempted and this is what took considerable discussion when deciding the future course of the memorabilia. Conclusion was reached that if a chance existed to expose the truth regarding his achievements, possibly Major O'Dwyer could help to accomplish this. You have been wonderful in all this, Stella, and we sincerely appreciate all you have done and are still doing.

      "I must make mention here also that because of my uncle's religion, he requests that no reference to the military be made to any of my grandfather's achievements.

      "Also, before leaving on that memorable trip to Germany, you made mention that if we (the family) composed a letter to the Burgermeister of Leutershausen that he would in turn write to us (the family) acknowledging the letter, etc. We have never received any word from Germany nor addresses of anyone there. Could you please enlighten us on this ?"

      Stella Randolph's files apparently do not contain any subsequent "contract" between the Whitehead family and William J. O'Dwyer. Further, no evidence can be found of an inventory of items as requested by the Whitehead family. So, precisely what constituted the totality of the "Whitehead memorabilia" is not known, although certain items are known to have been in the group described by the phrase "Whitehead memorabilia," such as the five Buffalo Public Library aeronautical books taken by Whitehead in November of 1897.

      It now appears that a large portion of the "Whitehead memorabilia" - including the five books public library books - was given over to the Deutsche Flugpioniermuseum Gustav-Weißkopf in Leutershausen, Bavaria, Germany, on the 1974 trip made by O'Dwyer and Randolph, and referenced in the April 14, 1975 letter, above.

      It's striking to consider that on the trip to Germany, material was "given" to the the Deutsche Flugpioniermuseum Gustav-Weißkopf - apparently without the consent of the remaining members of the Whitehead family, who owned it all (except for the five Buffalo Public Library books - still the library's property to this day).

      It is, perhaps, even more remarkable that prior to and even after the trip to Germany, Maj. O'Dwyer had still not yet made contact with the Whitehead family. Had he wanted to reach the Whitehead family, he could have easily done so through Stella Randolph. It appears as though Maj. O'Dwyer had little interest in contacting the Whitehead family, for whatever reason or reasons.

      Stella Randolph, in stark contrast to O'Dwyer, was in close touch with the Whitehead family, and seems to have kept them informed at each step. However, there is no mention made to the Whitehead family - at least, none that can be found in the files which have been reviewed - of the agreement between Randolph and O'Dwyer dated March 10, 1964.

      The end result was that the all or some of the "Whitehead memorabilia" seems to have been left in Germany at the Deutsche Flugpioniermuseum Gustav-Weißkopf in 1974, and the Whitehead family seems to have been left wondering why Major O'Dwyer and the Leutershausen museum honoring their family member had failed to get in contact with them.

      A few thoughts about "Whitehead memorabilia" ending up in the Deutsche Flugpioniermuseum Gustav-Weißkopf… it's appropriate that Gustave Whitehead's birthplace have a museum in his memory, but the thought does come to mind as to whether or not the Whitehead family has seen any material gain, as they ought to have, from the fundraising and other revenue activities of the Deutsche Flugpioniermuseum Gustav-Weißkopf.

      The Whitehead family apparently never gave up legal possession of Gustave Whitehead's "memorabilia," and under the terms of clause #3 of the March 10, 1964, agreement between Stella Randolph and Maj. O'Dwyer, "Any financial return from any use of the Whitehead memorabilia in any way will be shared equally with the Whitehead family."

(See Article # 14 - The Five Agreements — Disagreements Over Agreements)


Posted: 11:30am, August 15, 2013
Updated: 10:30pm, August 15, 2013 - material added, typos corrected
Updated: 8:30pm, August 16, 2013 - material added