It is a 70-year-old mystery that began in the Midstate and just this week, halfway around the world, it began to yield clues.
An excavation site in Italy turned up remnants of a plane and remains of a pilot believed to be Captain Arthur Halfpapp of Steelton.
Halfpapp was in the Army Air Corp and was piloting a P-47 Thunderbolt in April 1945 when he crashed in the Po River Valley.
Halfpapp and the plane were never recovered. Until now, according an Italian blog post that posted photos of the site and its findings including Halfpapp’s dog tags.
So much discovery a half-world away got us in the sleuthing mood, so we visited the Historical Society of Dauphin County in Harrisburg.
Janet Bowen is its curator who was up for the challenge.
Halfpapp was was 23 when he died in 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II. We guessed that he would’ve graduated around 1939 or 1940 and looked for high school yearbooks.
“We have a 1939 one,” Bowen said pulling it from a shelf of maybe two dozen different yearbooks.
We thumb through the pages and stop on photos of the seniors.
“Here he is,” I said excitedly. “It says here he’ll pilot a plane.”
“So, this was really his dream,” Bowen said, thrilled that our first attempt at finding information was successful.
Puzzle pieces scattered 70 years ago begin to fall into place.
As a boy, Art dreamed of flying. As a man, he lived that dream.
“He died doing what he was passionate about so there’s something romantic about that,” Bowen said.
Bowen then grabbed a 1939 Steelton city directory. It showed Art Halfpapp, student, at 421 Main Street. It was on Steelton’s west side but no longer exists. Both Main Street and Art’s homes were casualties of Hurricane Agnes in 1972.
His house has been gone for four decades and he vanished seven decades ago, but Janet hopes Halfpapp’s long journey will end in the Midstate.
“Generally, the idea is you want to bring the remains home if possible,” Bowen said.
The U.S. government still must authenticate the Italian claims. It will do intense research. Janet says she will, too. She’s suddenly fixating on a guy she just met in a 1939 Steelton yearbook.
“He’s nicknamed Art so there’s a little bit of playfulness, going by a nickname. I have an insane amount of curiosity so I won’t let go,” she said.