The Safari Museum

This entire journey started because of this man.  I barely remember him from my childhood, and yet I drove half way through this nation to go to a museum in Kansas where I could learn more about his life.  You may recall a page called “Who Is Jim Laneri”— Well, I learned he was a pilot, a friend to many here an abroad, and an adventurer.  He was contacted by Osa and Martin Johnson to pilot a flight to Borneo for one of their many adventure films.  Osa and Martin Johnson were the first to shoot National Geographic type films.  They were the pioneers of the wildlife movies we all flock to today.  Their early works centered mainly around Africa, where Osa’s spunky personality, and Martins amazing photographic abilities brought areas like the Congo to life for American’s during the 1930’s.  In spite of the Great Depression, they were able to gather funds from people on just their word that they would come back with something great.  And they did. 

As a teen, Martin was inspired by reading Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and wrote to him begging for a job on an expedition.  He was hired as a cook, as a teen, and set out on adventure to the South Pacific.  Great sickness caused the boat to have to turn around, and Martin never was able to finish that trip.  However, he discovered his thirst for adventure.  A great love story between him and Osa happened, and they eloped when she was 16.  The two set out to bring these unseen areas to life by joining Vaudeville, and charging people on the streets to hear their stories and see their photos. 

They produced many films in Africa, including living within a cannibal tribe, meeting Pygmies, and filming the great animals of Africa.  Martin’s father owned a photo shop and because Martin grew up there he was very good with the camera.  His pictures are crystal clear, and stunning...yet, there were no zoom lenses or high speed shutters. 

After their success on the African tours they set forth to Borneo, another undiscovered gem.  This is where my uncle comes in.  An accomplished pilot, he was hired by the Johnson’s to be their pilot.  He flew a very rare plane called “The Spirit of Africa” which was a completely amphibious plane.  It could land on water and on land, and Jim had the ability to land both.  Hearing stories in the museum of the hairy landings he made under, shall we say, ‘less than ideal’ conditions gave me goose bumps!

I had made contact with the Safari Museum’s curator, Jacque, after receiving information from my great aunt in November.  We developed a correspondence, and I started making plans in January to visit the museum as part of a ’South Eastern US Tour’ with the kids.  It was my own adventure.  She gave us access to many of his photos on display, but also off display at the museum.  She showed me the start of a diary he had written before he passed in 1985.  They she took us through the museum highlighting his contributions.  When we left, she gave me a disc with the photos (below) and a copy of their last picture, Borneo.  Martin Johnson died shortly after a commercial plane crash on his way to edit this film.      


The Spirit of Africa was the plane.  Jim Laneri was rarely seen without a pipe, or a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

The plane was held together by rivets.  In the hairy landings, these could have come loose.  Jim would spend hours a day going over every inch of the plane making sure these rivets were all in place and accounted for.  Also, Martin and Osa Johnson were the first to fund their very popular film series by advertising.  You may notice the SHELL gasoline placed conveniently so the label can be read!

This is the plane on its ‘strip’ located at the Borneo camp.  The Johnsons never wanted to disturb their world, so when they left they would completely dismantle and destroy the camp so hunters and others would not inhabit it.

It is hard to tell from this photo, but the tallest tree is that lollipop looking one.  In recent years some history buffs tried to locate this camp.  They eventually found it because of that tree.  It was the only one left tall so Jim would know where to land.  Closer investigation led them to find the concrete plane slip in the photo above! 

It is amazing to me to think that tree is still standing!  To the left you see my uncle coming in for a beautiful landing.

The Johnson’s have made many contributions to American science, especially zoology.  During this time in American zoo’s the keepers would let the male and female ostriches frolic together until the nest of eggs was laid.  Then the zookeepers would remove the male.  Time and time again the nest of eggs would die.  Osa discovered that ostriches are one of the rare birds in which the male sits on the nest!  Passing this onto the zoo’s she helped them be able to rear their own eggs! 

The best story about my uncle is this one:  There was an orangutan raised by a Borneo man from an infant.  He had grown quite large and  was hard to control.  The man gave the ‘tan to the camp hoping he could be released.  He had a trick where he would lure you close and then hook your pants with his long finger and rip your pants off.  My uncle decided he was misunderstood and he was going to friend him.  After a long ‘courtship’ he one day got too trusting and the ‘tan grabbed him.  He punched the ‘tan twice and got him in a headlock.  From that moment on, the ‘tan saw Jim as a

Friend, and they spent many days playing together in the jungle.  Since he could not be released, he was one of a few animals brought back to the US.  He lived in San Diego zoo, and was incremental in the US breeding program.  Today, 1/16th of all ‘tans in the US carry his DNA!  Cool huh???

Below:  Look!  My uncle has something in a museum!!!  Nah-nah-nah na naaaaaa!