Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Remember Her?

     There is a dormitory named after her at Purdue University. In 2007, the U. S. Navy named a cargo ship for her. There's a dam named after her on the Mystic River in Massachusetts, and a bridge that crosses the Mississippi at Atchison, Kansas.

     Several schools in California are named in her honor. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver inducted her into the California Hall of Fame in 2006. And several movies have been made of her life and times.

Bridge across the Mississippi
     Who is she? She wrote several bestselling books; worked for a time at Cosmopolitan magazine; and was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

     She came from a wealthy but troubled family. As a young girl she lived at her maternal grandparents' house in Atchison. Her grandfather was a judge, then became president of a savings bank. Her father was a lawyer.

     She was her parents' second child -- the first one died in childbirth -- and when she was two years old she was joined by a younger sister. She and her sister, nicknamed Pidge, were both tomboys. The two girls were home-schooled first by their mother, then by a governess.

     When she was ten years old, her father took a new job with a railroad. Her parents moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and left the two girls behind at their grandparents' house. Two years later, the girls joined their parents in Des Moines, and for the first time they attended a regular public school.

     The father was eventually discovered to be an alcoholic. He lost his job, underwent some treatment and eventually found work in St. Paul, Minn. This time the parents took their girls with them. But the parents soon separated, and the girls moved to Chicago with their mother.

     The older sister graduated from Hyde Park High School and went to a junior college in Pennsylvania. During Christmas vacation she visited a relative in Toronto, where she saw soldiers returning from war. She decided to train as a nurse and began working in a Toronto military hospital.

     She caught pneumonia and sinusitis, a condition that plagued her for the rest of her life -- especially when, a few years later, she started a new career. She spent about a year convalescing, part of the time with her sister in Massachusetts, then moved to New York City to further her medical career. But she didn't last long in New York, and soon moved to California, where her parents had reunited and were now living.

     The turning point in her life occurred in December 1920, when her father took her to a local airfield and she took her first ride in an airplane. "By the time I had gotten two or three hundred feet off the ground," she later reflected, "I knew I had to fly."

     She took her first flying lesson in January 1921 at Kinner Field near Long Beach. In order to reach the field she had to ride the bus to the end of the line, then walk four miles to the airfield. She cropped her hair short, in the style of other pioneer female fliers. And six months later she bought a used Kinner Airster biplane. On Oct. 22, 1922 she piloted the plane up to 14,000 feet -- then a record for any female pilot.

     Are you getting a sense of who she was? In 1924, after her parents finally got a divorce, she flew with her mother from California to Boston. She settled down in the Boston area, flying out of Quincy, Mass., working as a sales representative for Kinner aircraft and writing newspaper columns (and later for Cosmo) promoting flying.

     After Charles Lindbergh flew to Europe in 1927, a group of aviation enthusiasts became interested in sending a woman across the Atlantic. They called Amelia Earhart.

     The project coordinators, including George P. Putnam, a wealthy publisher and promoter, recruited a crew of three people to make the trip. The trio departed on June 17, 1928 and landed in England a little over 20 hours later. Amelia Earhart did not pilot the plane. When asked about her role in the cockpit, she scoffed, "I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes." Then she added, "Maybe someday I'll try it alone."

     After she returned home, she became a celebrity, thanks largely to the efforts of George Putnam, who she married in 1931. And in 1932 she fulfilled her ambition -- she became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.

     Amelia Earhart went on to set several speed and distance flying records -- she was the first person to fly solo from Honolulu to California, to fly from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and from Mexico City to New York.

     Then in 1937 she set out to circumnavigate the globe. In March she took off from Oakland, Calif., and flew to Honolulu. But there was an accident on take-off from Honolulu. The plane was damaged, and the trip was cancelled.

     Her second attempt came less than three months later, but this time, because of a change in wind patterns, she headed east, from Oakland to Miami, accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan.

     The duo departed Miami on June 1. They stopped in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, arriving at Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937. They had flown about 22,000 miles, with 7,000 to go.

     What happened after they took off from Lae, on July 2, bound for Howland Island in the Pacific, has forever been a mystery. They got about 800 miles into the flight; they were low on fuel; radio contact sputtered, then they lost contact.

     Search efforts began only an hour after the last radio transmissions were received. Ships and airplanes crisscrossed the area for more than two weeks, but no physical evidence of Earhart, Noonan or their airplane was found. Subsequently, husband George Putnam launched a private search effort, to no avail. Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939.

     Of course we all know that wasn't the end of it, as theories abounded about what happened to the famous female flier, and people are still fascinated even today, 76 years later. The most logical explanation is that the plane ran out of fuel, crashed, and sank without a trace, killing the two fliers. But some researchers believe the duo made it to uninhabited Gardiner Island (now Nikumaroro Island), where they landed safely and survived for some unspecified period of time -- lost to the world like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.

     Still others believe that Earhart, who was a friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and knew the president, was spying on war-mongering Japan. They hypothesize that she was captured by the Japanese and met her demise on Saipan Island. An early movie starring Rosalind Russell followed this storyline back in 1943. The latest to advance the theory is Mike Campbell, who published Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last in 2012.

     There was no paucity of other rumors as well. She supposedly took a turn as Tokyo Rose, broadcasting propaganda messages during World War II. She somehow made it home and lived out her life undercover, as a banker in New Jersey.

     Your guess is as good as mine . . . unless you have some inside information? But we sure do remember her, and probably will for as long as it takes to find a definitive, conclusive answer to the 20th century's most enduring mystery.


Stephen Hayes said...

I hope her plane is never found. Some mysteries should remain unsolved. On another note, I think my dad was secretly in love with Amelia.

Knatolee said...

I named my adventurous hen after her! :)

DJan said...

I hope she survived and that one day we will know that. But she is a legend, and she will always be an adventurer most excellent to me. :-)

Douglas said...

As soon as you mentioned flying, I knew who she was. I have never believed the spy story (though I am sure the US government would have loved to debrief her had she returned from that flight) nor that the Japanese executed her. And the mystery of her disappearance may be on its way to being solved:

Olga said...

I knew who it was when you mentioned Pidge. I don't know how or why I remembered that. said...

My second oldest grannddaughter is named Amelia after the famous aviator. Very fascinating recounting of her life. Thanks, Dianne