What is the big mys­tery sur­round­ing Amelia Earhart?


Spe­cial to the Whig

Dear Li­brar­ian: What is the big mys­tery sur­round­ing Amelia Earhart?

Dear Reader: There has al­ways been a bit of a mys­tery around Earhart, due to the fact that she dis­ap­peared along with her nav­i­ga­tor dur­ing an at­tempt to be­come the first woman to fly around the world. There are many the­o­ries about what hap­pened on that flight, but Earhart is fore­most re­mem­bered for her courage and ground­break­ing achieve­ments, both in avi­a­tion and for women.

If we go back to when Earhart was a young girl in the 1900s, she al­ways fought the oc­ca­sional dis­ap­proval of be­ing a bit of a tomboy. She loved to climb trees, “belly slam” her sled down­hill, and she hunted rats with a .22 ri­fle. Even at a young age, she felt de­fi­ant about what was ex­pected of her and kept a scrap­book of clip­pings about suc­cess­ful women in pre­dom­i­nantly male-ori­ented fields.

Earhart first felt the pull of the sky in her teens, when she at­tended a stunt-fly­ing ex­hi­bi­tion with a friend. A pi­lot spotted them and thought he’d give them a thrill… div­ing his plane down at them on the ground. Earhart stood her ground and she said later, “I did not un­der­stand it at the time, but I be­lieve that lit­tle red air­plane said some­thing to me as it swished by.”

On Dec. 28, 1920, pi­lot Frank Hawks gave her a ride on a flight. That for­ever changed her life and she knew she had to fly.

She fi­nally took her first fly­ing les­son on Jan. 3, 1921, and in only six months’ time she man­aged to buy her first air­plane, a sec­ond-hand Kin­ner Airster. It was a bright yel­low two-seater bi­plane and she named it “The Ca­nary.” She set her first women’s fly­ing record in it by fly­ing at an al­ti­tude of 14,000 feet.

In April of 1928, a group that in­cluded book pub­lisher Ge­orge P. Put­nam asked Earhart if she’d like to be the first woman to fly the At­lantic. She im­me­di­ately jumped into the project. Her team in­cluded pi­lot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and co-pi­lot/me­chanic Louis E. “Slim” Gor­don. They left New­found­land, Canada, in a Fokker F7 on June 17, 1928, and ar­rived in Wales about 21 hours later. Their suc­cess was hugely cel­e­brated with a tick­er­tape pa­rade in New York and a re­cep­tion by Pres­i­dent Coolidge.

Earhart went on in May of 1932 (five years to the day af­ter Lind­bergh took his his­toric flight) to be­come the first woman and the sec­ond per­son to fly solo across the At­lantic. Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in “jobs re­quir­ing in­telli- gence, co­or­di­na­tion, speed, cool­ness and willpower.”

As Earhart neared her 40th birth­day, she was ready for her big­gest chal­lenge: she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. On June 1, 1937, Earhart and her nav­i­ga­tor, Fred Noo­nan, left from Mi­ami and be­gan the 29,000 mile jour­ney. By June 29, when they landed in New Guinea, they had com­pleted all but 7,000 miles of the trip. Their next hop to How­land Is­land was the most chal­leng­ing and it was dur­ing that flight that con­tact was lost with them. The res­cue at­tempt was the most ex­ten­sive air and sea search in naval his­tory at that time.

In a let­ter to her hus­band be­fore her fi­nal flight she wrote, “Please know I am quite aware of the haz­ards. I want to do it be­cause I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their fail­ure must be but a chal­lenge to oth­ers.”

Last Week’s Trivia Ques­tion: When did “lunch” be­come known as a mid­day meal? An­swer: In the early 1900s, women had for­mal lun­cheons. It was not un­til 1945 that lunch be­came an in­for­mal mid­day meal.

This Week’s Trivia Ques­tion: Which of Amelia Earhart’s air­planes is on dis­play at the Smith­so­nian Air & Space Mu­seum in D.C.?

Up­com­ing Event: You can “meet” Amelia Earhart at 6 p.m. on April 20 when Mary Ann Jung brings to life the fas­ci­nat­ing story of Earhart in this spe­cial, af­ter-hours event. Call 410-996-1134 to regis­ter for “His­tory Alive — Fly­ing High with Amelia Earhart.”

What Peo­ple Are Ask­ing runs weekly in Jump­start and is writ­ten by li­brar­i­ans at the Ce­cil County Pub­lic Li­brary. Ques­tions? Visit your lo­cal branch, email ask@cc­plnet.org, call 410-996-5600 or visit www.ce­cil. ebranch.

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