A new idea about Amelia Earhart’s dis­ap­pear­ance

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Garrison Keil­lor

At the age of 75, I’m com­ing to re­al­ize that I may never know for cer­tain what hap­pened to Amelia Earhart and her nav­i­ga­tor Fred Noo­nan on their round-the-world flight that dis­ap­peared in the South Pa­cific in July 1937. I have been in love with her for­ever and it’s painful to have no res­o­lu­tion, only the same old the­o­ries. Like Hansel and Gre­tel dis­ap­pear into the woods and some think they got baked by the witch and oth­ers think they were deadly al­ler­gic to gin­ger­bread con­tain­ing glutens. I like to think Amelia was res­cued by Howard Hughes and lived with him se­cretly at the Royal Flush in Las Ve­gas, had a child, and gave him up for adop­tion by my par­ents John and Grace Keil­lor in Anoka, Min­nesota, but it’s a the­ory based on al­ter­na­tive facts and has been sup­pressed un­til now.

A re­cent TV doc­u­men­tary tries to prove she crashed and was cap­tured by the Ja­panese and it brings forth a blurry pho­to­graph of a dock on Jaluit Atoll in the Mar­shall Is­lands and a slight wo­man with short-cropped hair sit­ting, her back to the cam­era, a hun­dred feet away, who pur­port­edly is our Amelia. We want it to be her, but it could also be your Aunt Sadie of Sch­enec­tady.

It is hard to be­lieve one of the most fa­mous women in the world could walk away from a crash in a pop­u­lated area, then van­ish with­out any­one tak­ing note.

I can live with the mys­tery of Jimmy Hoffa’s dis­ap­pear­ance — he’s gone, it’s done, bada bing bada boom. I don’t care about the iden­tity of Jack the Rip­per. I am sat­is­fied that Lee Har­vey Oswald fired the shots that day in Dal­las. It mat­ters lit­tle if Ed­ward de Vere or Christo­pher Mar­lowe or the Duke of Earl wrote Shake­speare’s plays, let’s just en­joy them. My faith in the Res­ur­rec­tion does not de­pend on the au­then­tic­ity of the Shroud of Turin. Big­foot is a fake, ditto the Loch Ness Mon­ster. D.B. Cooper died; para­chutes are no cinch for jump­ing out of a jet­liner and into a na­tional for­est. Stone­henge is a cir­cle of an­cient stone blocks erected by some peo­ple for some pur­pose, prob­a­bly re­li­gious: I don’t need to know any more.

But I need to know about Amelia. She was a sweet­heart, a Kansas tomboy who was not out to make a state­ment so much as she sim­ply loved to fly and feel the wind in her hair. In news­reels, she grins as she climbs out of cock­pits, a dash­ing fem­i­nist in the Age of Dowa­gers. She wore pants. She was lithe and lim­ber. She en­joyed her fame. She flew solo across the At­lantic, solo from Hawaii to Cal­i­for­nia, she was the fore­run­ner of the spir­ited fem­i­nists we’ve known and loved, who bore no grudge against men but pre­vailed thanks to wit and smarts and per­se­ver­ance and a ter­rific smile.

OK, she was not a great pi­lot. She was care­less at times. She was a self-pro­moter who mar­ried her pub­lic­ity guy and agent. She used her fame to pitch Lucky Strike cig­a­rettes, Beech-Nut chew­ing gum, Longines watches, Mo­bil Oil and her own line of women’s cloth­ing.

I for­give her all of that for her gump­tion, her ebul­lient spirit in the midst of the Great De­pres­sion, and also for the fact that, in 1913, when she was 17, she lived in St. Paul, a few blocks from where I live, and at­tended Cen­tral High, as her al­co­holic fa­ther strug­gled to hold onto his job at the Great North­ern Rail­road.

In fact, 1913 was the year my dad was born. I am not putting forth the the­ory that the 17-yearold Amelia moved to St. Paul to hide her preg­nancy and that she gave up the boy to my grand­par­ents Dora and James Keil­lor of Anoka, but the truth is that Dad was more glam­orous than any­one else in his fam­ily, ob­vi­ously an im­port. He had a big ro­mance with my mother and they eloped in 1937, the year the plane went down. Mere co­in­ci­dence? We may never know for sure. The past is wreathed in shad­ows as we fly on into the mists, look­ing for an is­land that ac­cord­ing to our maps is some­where out ahead and if not, we will be swal­lowed up by his­tory. May it be kind to us all.

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