In a world where mysteries continue to keep us up at night, even years after they occur, there is one that still manages to shake us to our very core. When a female pilot and trailblazer disappeared, Amelia Earhart, the world was at a loss. The answer could have been simple, but the evidence proved otherwise.
Amelia Earhart had become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, making history for her efforts. The world was thrown for a loop when they learned that her nearly-perfect trip around the world had turned into one of the biggest hunts for a missing person in history.
Her Passion For Aviation Was Contagious
Earhart began flying planes in her twenties, as her passion for aviation and adventure began at a young age. She grew up between Kansas and Iowa, places where she was able to make the most of the landscape and reach new heights that no one had before.
She was passionate enough about flying that she even became instrumental in the founding of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. The group still exists today, and through the years has provided networking, mentoring, and flight scholarship opportunities to recreational and professional female pilots. Without pioneers like Earhart, it may not have ever been created.
Her Early Days Encouraged Her Future Successes
Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas to Samuel “Edwin” Stanton and Amelia “Amy” Earhart. She was born on July 24th, 1897 in the home of her grandfather, a former federal judge. Her family had not known that they had just brought a pioneer into the world.
Her family’s custom was to name their first-born children of either gender after her grandmothers, Amelia and Mary. She was often nicknamed “Meely” by friends and family and was a natural-born leader. She was nearly always the ring leader in her adventures with her sister.
Her Intellect Sprung From Her Curiosity
Being more of a “tomboy” in her era was not standard, though she ultimately used it to her benefit. She had fashioned an old tin roof into a sled that she rode down a snowy hill, and though she may have ended up with a bruise, it encouraged a life of exploring physics and aviation.
She was educated by her mother and a governess at home, which provided a great foundation for her later studies and curiosity. As she gained notoriety in her field, she would go on to teach others about the wonders of aviation. She became a lecturer in aerodynamics at Purdue University. She continued to serve in this role until her disappearance in 1937.
Her Path to Aviation Wasn’t Straightforward
The financial crisis in the 1920’s caused Earhart’s hefty inheritance from her grandmother to dwindle. After trying to set up a photography company, she felt she needed to try something new. She had used some of the money to purchase a car that she would use to drive with her mother across the country, eventually ending in Boston.
She had begun her studies at Columbia University, but after moving up to New England, she planned to enroll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, her mother’s dwindling financial strength kept her from continuing her studies and ultimately brought her back to Boston for the foreseeable future. While in Boston, she found work at a boarding house. Her first role was as a teacher, which turned into a career in social work.
Her Passions Began to Take Flight
It was while living in Medford, Massachusetts that her interest in aviation grew greater and greater. She joined the American Aeronautical Society’s Boston chapter and was elected as the organization’s vice president. She had truly piqued her interest in becoming a pilot after one particularly showy experience she’d witnessed.
She and her friend had been watching World War I aces zip through the sky at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, Canada. An overconfident pilot spotted Earhart and her friend sitting in a field, watching from afar, when he decided to zip his little red plane down over their heads. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper,'” she recalled. “I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”
Working For Her Pilots License Was No Easy Feat
While spending time with her parents in their home in California, after they reunited, Earhart and her father were taken on a ride that would change her path forever. They visited Daugherty Field, where her father paid $10 (which would now be roughly $150) for an airplane ride with Frank Hawks. Hawks would soon become a famous air racer, and also inspired the next leg of Earhart’s life.
“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly,” she said. From there, she worked any and all jobs possible to save up the $1,000 needed to take flying lessons. She had her first lesson on January 3rd, 1920 and learned from a fellow female pioneer in aviation. Arriving with her father, she approached instructor Anita “Neta” Snook with a single question; “I want to fly. Will you teach me?”
The Journey to Her First Airfield Was Physically Grueling
After approaching her new teacher, she learned that the airfield where she would learn was quite the trek away. To reach the airfield, she had to take a bus to the end of the line, then walk four miles before reaching her destination. Earhart didn’t mind, though, because it would help her accomplish her dreams of taking flight.
Her mother partly contributed to the hefty $1,000 fee – something that she would later say went against her better judgment. She saw the passion and drive that her daughter was feeling and wanted to let her explore that, but she didn’t know what the cost would be in the long run.
She Began Dreaming Bigger
Part of Amelia Earhart’s journey to success as a pilot was material. She changed her appearance slightly to match other female pilots, cutting her hair to a shorter length than it already was. She even purchased a leather jacket and slept in it for three nights to give it an authentic “worn” look.
That’s not where she stopped, though. She was determined to put her brutal flight training schedule to good use, and she felt it would be in her best interest to buy herself a little plane. After six months of training, she purchased a secondhand bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane, which she named “the Canary.”
She Had a Special Arrangement Set Up With Her Husband
Earhart and her husband, George Putnam, joined together in matrimony in 1928. She had previously been engaged to a man named Samuel Chapman, but she broke off the engagement for one reason or another. Rather than just a typical marriage of the time, she referred to their relationship as a “partnership with dual control.”
Her letter to her husband on their wedding day was ahead of its time, setting up their expectations for marriage. “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval ode of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” She continued, “I may have to keep someplace where I can go to be by myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.”
Husband George Putnam Was a Secret Feminist
First, Putnam agreed to the terms of the marriage that Earhart wanted. The two had agreed that if after a previously specified period of time they might feel the marriage wasn’t strong, or if married life just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be, they both had an easy out without things getting too messy.
Beyond that, the pilot constantly found herself defending her name, and her husband came to her defense. When people called her Mrs. Putnam, she corrected them; he even decided to go by Mr. Earhart! That’s some serious progress for an era like the 1920s. There may have been a reason why their relationship was so relaxed, though…
She Was the Suspected Mistress of the First Lady
It was believed that Amelia Earhart’s sexual identity was rather fluid. Though she was married to a man, it is widely believed that she might have preferred the company of women more than men, and just married because of societal expectations. She reportedly engaged in several affairs over the years with notable women in society.
She was reportedly engaging in not-so-secret relations with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor. The First Lady and the aviation pioneer had reportedly gone on secret dates; even some that weren’t so secret. They reportedly really loved to go to town on each other, but that’s a secret they took to the grave. Additionally, Earhart had inspired Roosevelt to work on her pilot’s license.
Did The President Know Of Her Suspected Affair When He Sent This Letter?
President FDR sent Amelia Earhart a letter congratulating after for her amazing work and successful journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The former President of the United States sent a personal letter from the White House to wish her his best after she made history.
He congratulated her for defying gender norms and proving that, basically, anything boys can do, girls can do better. Well, you know what we mean. He congratulated her for blazing the trail, but we can’t help but wonder if he knew that the trail she was really interested in blazing was the one to her bedroom with his wife.
Ambitious Dreams Required Ambitious Efforts
Amelia Earhart was not a person who would not take action. She was determined to gain her post as the first woman to cross the Atlantic, as the pilot herself. As you can tell by the letter from FDR just above, she happily accomplished it, but she had to keep pushing.
As the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic, Earhart received many awards and honors through the years. She earned the Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States Congress, the Cross of Knight of France’s Legion of Honor, and the National Geographic Society’s Gold Medal, to name a few.
Her Anticipated Route Around the World
While on faculty at Purdue University, she advised female students on their path to working in the field of aerodynamics. She wanted to break records and do what no one else had before, and Purdue University was willing to finance those goals. A Lockheed Electra 10E was built specifically for Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan.
The two would set off on their journey to fly around the world, starting in Oakland, heading to Honolulu before running into problems. Their plane was shipped by sea to a repair facility, and the two started off flying to Miami, before heading across the Indian subcontinent and through Lae, New Guinea. Their next stop was Howland Island, halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Unfortunately, they would never see this stop.
She Was Warmly Welcomed After Flights, But Wouldn’t See Her Final Welcome Committees
Earhart and Doonan ultimately had to turn their trip around. Though Earhart ran into technical problems on her way over to Honolulu, Hawaii from Oakland, California, she was still met warmly by the Hawaiian people. This warm welcome was one of a kind… or was it?
On her original groundbreaking flight, she stopped a bit earlier than intended in a town called Culmore, in Northern Ireland. After 14 hours in flight, weather conditions finally forced her to land in a pasture in the area. Her landing was witnessed by two men, Cecil King, and T. Sawyer. When a farmhand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America”.
What She Heard Still Haunts Her Today
Have you ever realized that speaking up about something might have made a difference in someone’s story? Well, what this elderly woman heard on her radio at home continued to shake her throughout her life. Betty Klenck Brown was just a teenage girl when she heard Earhart’s plea for help.
She was so moved that even at 84 years of age (at the time of the interview), she still remembered what she had heard. She was certain that the voice she heard, looking for help from a South Pacific island, was Amelia Earhart. She instantly wrote everything she could down, to chronicle what she’d heard.
She Wrote It Down, Just In Case
As she heard everything over her short-wave radio, Betty Klenck rushed to her notebook. She heard distressed calls and recorded what she heard. The transcript even recorded a man speaking on the radio with her and asking her to take the radio and continue to call for help.
She heard the name Amelia multiple times, which is just an eery feeling if you think about it. It seems like this event had enough of an impact on her so far into the future. “I remembered it every night of my life,” she told the Oregonian. Those words would follow her to her grave after she passed away at the age of 92.
The Pilot Who Forgot Her Passport
Years after her disappearance into thin air, Earhart’s family donated more than 500 items that formerly belonged to her to Purdue University. The university obtained flight logs, a draft of a premarital agreement proposed by Earhart to Putnam expressing her “reluctance to marry” and adhere to the institution’s “medaeval [sic] codes,” and one other important document.
The university also obtained a passport document the pilot had to pick up in Paris after her first transatlantic flight. Why did she need to make this stop, anyway? She had simply forgotten to take this crucial key to travel with her. In it, she lists her profession as a “flyer.”
Some Believed She Survived and Continued Living Under a Different Name
This theory was quite a tall order but is worth at least mentioning. Some believed that Earhart had crash-landed and survived and that she was captured by Japanese forces. She disappeared as World War II began and it was plausible that she was held as a prisoner on Saipan Island.
Some went as far as believing that US forces had found her and brought her back to the states, but also that she had lived under an assumed name in New Jersey. There was a hole in this theory, though; the woman with the name she was believed to be living as refuted the claims herself.
Was She In This Wreck?
It was hard to say for sure if her crashed plane had ever been found, even in parts. There was enough reason to believe that parts of a plane wreck could have been recovered in the South Pacific Atoll. Though broken pieces of glass might not be enough, it might have been something.
Ultimately, even if she had recorded crashes in flight, there was never a physical crash site for investigators to check out. With that, there was certainly not a place to determine whether or not an unidentified plane crash might have been a spot where she ended up.
Were Those Her Skeletal Remains?
Photographed below is Earhart looking at maps and blueprints for her giant flight around the world. Little did she know, she might have been mapping her route to her final resting place. It wasn’t until another important piece came to light that her case would gain some serious headway.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery took dogs to parts of the South Pacific to see if they could find skeletal remains. Some were found back in the 1940’s on an island now known as Nikumaroro, along with a jar of freckle cream she was known for preferring.
Is This the Proof We’ve Been Looking For?
Back in 2007, Ric Gillespie, executive director for The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, managed to recover a piece of plexiglass and a shoe heel from a recovery site on Gardner Island in the South Pacific. This island was a site believed to be where Earhart might have crash-landed.
One theory previously appeared to push the idea that she and her navigator may have crashed and sunk into the water. Finding these pieces could prove that the two might have crash-landed and lived as castaways for a time; or at least that they were there.
Not Every Flight Attempt Was Smooth
On a flight to Honolulu, Earhart had completely cracked up her plane. Parts needed to be replaced and that attempt at flight could have ended up much worse. It’s impossible to say all these years later whether or not she had an attempted takeoff or landing that suffered the same fate.
This could very well account for any existing crash-and-sink theories that still existed. Without a plane, a crash site, or any kind of confirmed remains, it’s impossible to really know what transpired when she disappeared into thin air. The world will continue to be spooked in the meantime…
Will We Ever Know For Sure?
Though experts have been close, they haven’t quite gotten the answers they were looking for just yet. DNA testing has come so far since her 1937 disappearance, and any piece of evidence recovered could be traced to her thanks to advancements in DNA technology.
She lived a life that was way ahead of her time. This leads us to believe that maybe somewhere up the totem pole, someone might have disagreed with her way of life and wanted to “take care of it.” Regardless of what actually happened, we can only speculate until we have answers to help us fill in the cracks of her mystery.