The Truth and Myth of Emelia Earhart
By Tom Morrow
Nearly a century after her 1937, disappearance, so many myths and speculation as to what happened to aviatrix Amelia Earhart, no one will be able to detect real truth because her story keeps getting re-written.
Earhart was born July 24, 1887, in Atchison, Kansas. She developed a passion for adventure at a young age by learning to fly.
The Facts We Know:
In 1928, Earhart became the first female passenger to fly across the Atlantic by airplane, achieving celebrity status even though she wasn’t the pilot. In 1932, piloting a Lockheed Vega 5B, Earhart became the first woman to make a non-stop “solo” transatlantic flight.
During an attempt to make a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 in a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.
She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.
A Few More Facts Mixed With A Lot of Fiction:
On July 2, 1937, the world’s most famous aviatrix and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared without a trace near Howland Island in the central Pacific. Various theories about this mystery have been proposed, from serious and reasonable scenarios to the most bizarre flights of fancy. More than once, “The mystery is solved!” has been heard, but To this day, no definitive evidence has been uncovered, thus no universal agreement exists as to the true fate of Earhart and Noonan.
One of the most controversial stories about Earhart’s disappearance is the so-called “survival theory.” This theory has her surviving World War II in Japanese custody, and was then somehow “repatriated” back to the United States in 1945. Some researchers give this story a faint possibility.
The idea Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese shortly after they went missing was first introduced, albeit briefly, has some credibility. After his 1960, book, “Daughter of the Sky” by Paul Briand Jr., was published, CBS newsman Fred Goerner, traveled to Saipan four times, interviewing numerous native “eyewitnesses,” and challenged the U.S. government’s official version of events. In 1966, Goerner wrote: “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” a best-seller. Today, this tome remains highly regarded by Earhart researchers.
According to Goerner’s theory, Earhart made a forced landing somewhere in or near the Japanese-held Marshall Islands, in the central Pacific. The “rescued” American aviators were kept in top-secret confinement.
Considerable evidence indicates the two might have been held as Japanese prisoners on Saipan in the Marianas Islands. In Donald M. Wilson’s “Lost Legend” (1993), as well as “With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart” by Mike Campbell (2002), other so-called “eye-witness” accounts have been recorded.
According to other claims, Earhart and Noonan died in Japanese hands with their bodies secretly buried. Such actions by the Japanese on pre-war Saipan have some credibility.
If Roosevelt’s military and intelligence organizations had not been aware of Earhart’s captivity by the Japanese until 1945, FDR could have been branded one of incompetence. However, no hard evidence exists to support any Earhart survival theory. Specifically, no evidence has been found that supports the idea that Earhart ever left Saipan, either documented or anecdotal. Earhart’s so-called “eye-witnessed” presence on Saipan remains a major area of contention.
Still, post-war survival rumors continue. There was a bizarre story about her living in the Japanese Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo as Hirohito’s mistress. This story, combined with the theory of a government conspiracy to “repatriate” Amelia Earhart would have to have been an extremely secret matter.
Other questions: how could Earhart abandon and never connect with her family, especially her mother with whom she was extremely close? Earhart had always written to her mother often. Also, how could Amelia never contact her sister Muriel, with whom she also was very close? Her secretary Margot de Carie said Amelia “would swim across the ocean to her home and family if she were alive.”
Contrary to popular belief, Amelia’s marriage to publisher George Putnam was not just a “marriage of convenience,” as has been so commonly believed. Such a husband-and-wife business team was very unusual for that time. The myth was finally discredited with the publication of the book “Whistled Like a Bird,” by Sally Putnam Chapman (1997), GP’s granddaughter. She provides numerous letters and diary entries from Amelia and GP, which show the couple had a loving, normal marriage. Recently, many authentic love letters between the couple were opened to historians and researchers in a special Amelia Earhart Collection at Purdue University.
It’s been 82 years since the duo’s disappearance. Few, if any person witnessing this historic event, is still alive. A myth, mixed with questionable probabilities and a very few facts, continue to spell-bind historians and those interested in “mythical” facts.
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