Amelia, we just can’t get enough of you.
Eighty years after her July 2, 1937, disappearance over the Pacific on an attempted flight around the world, we’re all still puzzling over what really happened to the most famous daughter of Atchison, Kan. On Sunday, the History Channel commemorated the anniversary with its much-hyped new special, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence.”
The documentary pored over a newly unearthed photograph that purported to show the indistinct figures of Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan and the Lockheed Electra aircraft on her global voyage. The show advances the theory that the image offered evidence the pair had survived a crash in the remote Marshall Islands, about 2,000 miles northeast of Papua New Guinea, where they were captured by the Japanese and taken to Saipan until their deaths.
It was a tantalizing new hypothesis, until it was almost certainly dashed to bits two days later. A Japanese history blogger discovered another copy of the photo — in a book published two years before Earhart’s flight.
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Everyone loves a good mystery, and the one surrounding Earhart’s fate is juicier than most. But as the decades have passed, haven’t we really let the intrigue surrounding the aviator’s demise grow to overshadow her significant real-world accomplishments?
Because in word and deed, Earhart was a woman way ahead of her time.
On July 24, 1897, she was born into an America where women would not even win the right to vote for another 23 years. Yet she marched headstrong to the beat of her own drum right from the start. How many 9-year-olds ask for a Hamilton .22 under the Christmas tree so they can exterminate rats before they spread bubonic plague? Amelia did (and she bagged a biggie before a worried grandparent confiscated her rifle).
She became a bona fide celebrity in her long pants and short hair, unabashedly touting women in traditionally male roles. Although she boasted numerous “first woman to…” titles, she also set several records for anyone, period: highest altitude in an autogyro in 1931, first to fly three long-distance routes solo in 1935.
And Earhart flouted societal norms in her personal life. After finally acquiescing to marry publisher George Palmer Putnam in 1931, she wrote him a letter outlining her expectations: “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” Talk about libertine candor.
May those words be a lodestar to a new generation of young female pilots, scientists and entrepreneurs. That fearless fortitude is Amelia Earhart’s true legacy.