She was born in 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. Atchison, Kansas has become well known as the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, but also as one of the most haunted place in the United States. Due to both of these factors, the city receives a lot of tourists each year, from aviation experts to ghost hunters!
She wasn’t brought up as a conventional little girl. Born to Samuel and Amy Earhart, Amelia grew up with her sister Grace in the aforementioned Atchison. From an early age, their mother was not so keen on having the girls grow up as “nice little girls” and many disapproved of both the way the children were brought up and how they were dressed.
As a child, Amelia and her sister used to collect all sorts of creatures. These included, but were not limited to, worms, moths, katydids (above) and even tree toads. This was unusual, especially for little girls of the time, yet it was all part of their unconventional upbringing which inspired Amelia to do great things.
When she was just 10 years old, her father was transferred to a job in Iowa. That year, upon attending the Iowa State Fair, she saw her first aircraft. However, when her father asked if her and her sister wanted to go on a flight, Amelia asked to go back on the merry-go-round.
In 1914, her family home was auctioned off. When Amelia’s grandmother suddenly died in 1914, there were growing fears over the alcoholism suffered by Samuel ‘Edwin’ Earhart, Amelia’s father. Due to this, the family estate was auctioned off and so was all of its contents. Amelia picked this out as the end of her childhood.
She volunteered in a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War 1. In the Winter of 1917, with World War 1 nearing its conclusion, Earhart visited her sister in Toronto. During this time, she volunteered in the Spadina Military Hospital, attending to wounded soldiers returning from the war
Arguably one of the biggest epidemics of all time, Spanish Flu reached Toronto in 1918, whilst Earhart was still working at the Military Hospital. She contracted the virus herself and was left with permanent damage to her sinuses and throat, despite recovering from the virus.
She was given a ride in a plane by air racer Frank Hawks. Frank Hawks, who would later become a famous air racer, gave a ride to Earhart, which finally inspired her to pursue a career in aviation. After just a 10 minute flight, Earhart said “I knew I had to fly.”
After picking up odd-jobs as a photographer and truck-driver, Earhart managed to saved $1000 for flying lessons. Her lessons started at the beginning of 1921 and she was taught to fly by pioneering female aviator, Neta Snook.
When her family entered financial hardship in the early 1920’s, with the diminishment of her grandmother’s inheritance, Earhart had to sell her first two planes in order to purchase a Kissel automobile, which she nicknamed the “Yellow Peril”. She later used this car to drive her mother to Boston after her parents divorced, where Earhart was operated on again to help her sinus problems which had lingered after her recovery from influenza.
In 1927, when Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean between the USA and Europe, a pilot named Amy Guest expressed interest in become the first female aviator to fly (or be flown) across the same ocean. Guest later withdrew interest, deciding it was far too dangerous, but Earhart flew across in 1928 with pilot Wilmer Stultz and his co-pilot Louis Gordon.
After her Transatlantic flight with Stultz and Gordon, Earhart became somewhat of a celebrity. She toured the USA, lecturing at several top universities and even launched her own line of women’s clothings – marketed by publisher and future husband George Putnam. Her clothing was sleek but purposeful and was sold in Macy’s department stores across the country.
As well as being famous for her flights across the Atlantic and the US, Earhart also tried her hand at air racing, which was a popular spectator sport at the time. Although she didn’t excel in these races, she performed fairly well, improving her image.
George P. Putnam, a publisher, pursued Earhart after divorcing in 1929. After six proposals, she finally agreed to marry him. Their marriage seemed to be more of a business partnership, with Earhart famously telling Putnam that they shall not be held by any code of faithfulness to one another. She also retained her last name, refusing to become Amelia Putnam.
In 1932, Earhart achieved her greatest accomplishment – becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set off from Newfoundland and arrived in a small field near Derry in Northern Ireland. After this feat, she received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Cross of Knight from the French Government and the Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society.
After her transatlantic flight, Earhart’s fame grew and grew, leading her to develop all sorts of friends in high places. Perhaps notably was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whom shared a lot of interests and beliefs with Earhart. They bonded over a passion for women’s rights and Roosevelt almost pursued a career in flight after her friendship with Earhart developed.
Not only was Earhart the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, but just three years later, in 1935, she became the first female pilot to fly solo from Honolulu in Hawaii to California. This was another amazing feat for the aviator.
In 1934, Earhart got in contact with Hollywood-based stunt pilot Paul Mantz in order for help to improve her flying skills. She and Putnam moved to the West Coast for a number of reasons, with proximity to Mantz being a key factor. Earhart and Mantz opened a flight school together in 1935 for a little while but this did not last for long.
When she attempted to take-off in her first attempt at a world flight, the plane ground-looped, leaving the plane damaged. There are contrasting reports as to why the take-off failed, with Mantz claiming it was Earhart’s fault and Earhart claiming it was the right tire that had blown.
After flying for over a month, travelling a distance of 22,000 miles (with just 7,000 left), Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan supposedly crashed into the sea after poor conditions and a take-off from Lae in New Guinea left part of the navigation antenna missing. It was stated that they were in approach to Howland Island when they disappeared. No trace of the aircraft or the bodies has ever been found.
However, this photo, taken on Mili Atoll, a cluster of islands found in the Pacific Ocean, appears to show Noonan and Earhart, or at least two figures matching their build and hairstyles, having survived the original crash. If this is true, it heavily implies that the two were later transported to Saipan by the Japanese Navy, where they died in Japanese custody.
The photo appears to show Earhart and Noonan, as well as an unidentified, plane-shaped object in the back of the shot which, according to analysts, matches the exact dimensions of the plane which Earhart and Noonan travelled in. The man is tall and caucasian, which although would not mean a lot if you were in Europe or the States, but on a Japanese port, this is substantial evidence. Additionally, the short hair of the woman matches that of Earhart’s, which she maintained from an early age.
The island above is Nikumaroro Island, located near present-day Kiribati. The island would have been uninhabited at the time of Earhart’s disappearance and some theories suggest that she died a castaway here. The island being uninhabited could prove to be a vital part of this theory because of Ric Gillespie’s findings on the island.
Gillespie and his team, when searching the island for evidence, found a number of items that could prove essential to determining what happened. Gillespie is the author of Finding Amelia, a book all about the disappearance of Earhart and he is determined to find out what really happens. The image above shows a bone-handled jack knife which matches the description of the one in Earhart’s inventory and the team have also found a 1930’s makeup box, a women’s moisturizer and a jacket zipper. Amelia Earhart’s death remains one of the greatest mysteries of history.