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Death on a coin toss

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Why Did It Happen?

In the early morning hours of January 16, 1942,  only 13 minutes after refueling in Las Vegas, Nevada,  a Transcontinental and Western aircraft crashed into the 8,300 feet tall steep side of Mt. Potosi in the state of Nevada. The crash killed 22 people including a famous female movie star. The mystery lies in why the crash occurred. The skies were clear, the aircraft was new, only 10 months old, engines functioning well, and the pilot was a consummate professional. Why then, did it happen? And since some of the people aboard were originally booked with seats on a train, why did they not use those tickets?

Fate, Destiny or Coincidence?

Is it fate? Is it destiny? Or is it coincidence? Who knows when and how our actions and decisions will affect our demise? A much admired Hollywood star, Carole Lombard, took a chance on fate that cost her life. It also plunged another star, her husband Clark Gable, into grief so profound it took him years to recover and some say he never really did. Simply tossing a coin to make a decision started a chain of events that would affect many people’s lives ever after.

Just a coin toss away from death

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Tickets For The Train Went Unused

Lombard wanted to get home quickly to her husband. She missed him and he misssed her. They weren’t used to being separated. The train tickets went unused because the three, Lombard, her mother Bess Peters and her agent Otto Winkler, agreed to abide by the coin toss. It’s never been known whether Lombard called heads or tails, but she won the toss and was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her husband the next day. With her mother and her agent beside her, though less enthralled at the outcome, they boarded a Transcontinental and Western Air flight in the early hours of January 16, and settled in for the trip. The rest of the story is history.

Mt. Potosi, Near the Fatal Crash Site Area

Mt. Potosi, NV, where Carole Lombard lost her life along with others aboard.

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Photoplay Magazine Cover 1940, Actress Carole Lombard

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Carole Lombard, a full of life, successful Hollywood actress of the 1930s-1940s, was on a war bond rally in her home state of Indiana along with her mother Bess Peters and her husband’s press agent, Otto Winkler. Lombard had helped to raise a record amount of over 2 million in defense bonds in one single evening on this trip. No one had an inkling on the night of January 15, 1942 that her death was near. The events of the day would end any further defense bond rallies for her country, but also her career and her marriage too. She only wanted to quickly return to her husband’s arms.

The Aftermath

The Gable-Lombard Interment

Gable is interred beside Lombard. Her mother and his last wife, Kay Gable is also there.

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Carole Lombard

Lombard is buried in Great Mausoleum, Memorial Terrace, at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park  in Glendale, CA., beside her mother. In December 1943, the United States Maritime Commission announced the launching of a Liberty ship named the SS Carole Lombard. Clark Gable attended the launching on January 15, 1944, the two-year anniversary of her record-breaking bond rally. The ship was involved in saving thousands of lives in the Pacific theater of the war. Lombard’s home in Fort Wayne, Indiana is designated as a historic landmark. the nearby bridge over the St. Mary’s River is now the Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge. The American Film Institute ranks her 23rd on its list of 50 Greatest American Female Screen Legends.

Clark Gable

Lombard’s husband, Clark Gable was inconsolable. He was flown to Las Vegas to claim the bodies of his wife, mother-in-law and agent/friend. It is said that in his grief, he decided to do the thing she’d asked him to do that he’d been considering: he joined the United States Army Air Forces (precursor of today’s U.S. Air Force) During his service time he headed a six man motion picture team attached to a B-17 Bomb group in England to film aerial gunners in combat. He also flew five missions himself. Gable died on November 16, 1960 from a heart attack. Although he was married twice more after her death, per his wishes, he was laid to rest beside Lombard in Great Mausoleum, Memorial Terrace, at Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.

Actor, movie star, husband of Carole Lombard

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Why Was She So Anxious To Get Home?

Rumors were rampant for many years that Lombard and Gable had argued before she left for the bond rally and she wanted to get back quickly to make up. Others said it was because they wanted to collaborate on a new film and she was anxious to get started. Even more stories spread that either she or he was having an affair, and she wanted to catch him, or he was angry with her because he had already caught her in the middle of said affair. None of this was ever proven true. In any event, Gable’s enlistment in the Armed Services caused some to speculate that she’d been pushing him to do so, and he was dragging his heels. The fact that he enlisted almost immediately after her burial gave some credence to this story. But no one will ever really know the entire truth. He was obviously the love of her life and she was his. Their wishes to be buried next to each other were not frivolous and were carried out as they wished.

The Command Post For Searchers for Carole Lombard’s plane.

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The Pioneer Saloon, Goodsprings, NV

Goodsprings Nevada is a town with a population usually under 300. It’s a tidy, well kept community away from the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas. The Pioneer Saloon, shown above, in Goodsprings was the command post for many of the search and rescue teams looking for the wreckage of the plane in which Carole Lombard perished. It still has the old west flavor and is known as Nevada’s oldest saloon. You can go to their website here at Pioneer Saloon. 

Pioneer Saloon has a Lombard Gable Memorial Wall if you have a mind to drop in.

The Memorial Room in the Pioneer Saloon, in memory of the day Carole Lombard died in a plane crash on Mt. Potosi.

You can also find more information about Goodsprings at Goodsprings, NV

For more about Carole Lombard or the crash that took her life, you might like these books.