Amelia Earhart was born July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas, the first surviving child of Samuel “Edwin” and Amelia “Amy” Otis Earhart. Amy didn’t believe in raising “nice little girls”, she allowed “Meeley” and her younger sister “Pidge” to live an outdoor, rough and tumble “tomboy” kind of childhood.
Edwin seems to have had life-long problems with alcohol, often resulting in an inability to provide for his family. Amelia must have been a disciplined student though, she graduated with her high school class, on time, despite attending six different schools. She was certainly independent, saying in later life that “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune”.
Amelia saw her first airplane in 1908, at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. It was a rickety old biplane and the girls’ father was trying to interest them in going for a ride. At the time they preferred the merry-go-round, Earhart later describing the
biplane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.”
In 1919, Earhart spent time with her sister in Toronto, working as a nurse’s aid where she met several wounded aviators, just home from WWI. She developed a strong admiration for aviators, spending much of her free time watching the Royal Flying Corps practice at a nearby airfield.
A ten minute ride at a Long Beach California air show in 1920 changed her life, from that time on she knew she wanted to fly.
Earhart worked at a variety of jobs from photographer to truck driver, earning money to take flying lessons from pioneer female aviator Anita “Neta” Snook. She bought a second hand Kinner Airster in 1921, a bright yellow biplane she called “The Canary”, and flew it to 14,000’ the following year, a world altitude record for female pilots.
Lack of funds grounded her for a time, but she was flying out of the Dennison Airport in Quincy Massachusetts by 1927. She invested in the airport and worked as a salesman for Kinner airplanes in the Boston area, all while writing about flying in the local newspaper, soon becoming a local celebrity.
Charles Lindbergh’s New York to Paris Flight on May 20-21 of that year was the first solo, non-stop transatlantic crossing by airplane. Aviatrix Amy Phipps Guest wanted to be the first woman to make the flight, but later decided it was too dangerous. Instead she would sponsor the trip, provided they found “another girl with the right image”.
Now nicknamed “Lady Lindy”, Earhart became the first woman to make the solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic on May 21, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh.
Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California on this day, January 11, 1935.
Two years later, Earhart and copilot/navigator Frederick J. Noonan attempted to fly around the world. The US Coast Guard cutter Itasca picked up radio messages that she was lost and low on fuel on July 2, 1937, and then she vanished. The four million dollar search and rescue effort which followed was the most expensive in history, but to no avail. Earhart and Noonan were never seen again.
For years, the prevailing theory has been that Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra ran out of fuel and plunged into the Pacific. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been exploring a 1½ mile long, uninhabited tropical atoll called Nikumaroro, in the southwestern Pacific Republic of Kiribati. After eleven visits to the atoll, TIGHAR sonar images revealed a straight, unbroken anomaly under the sand, remarkably consistent with the fuselage of a Lockheed Electra.
TIGHAR has re-examined 120 known reports of radio signals which could have been sent from the Earhart aircraft between July 2 and July 18, the day the official search was called off. They’ve concluded that 47 of them are credible. The remains of a very old campfire has been discovered on the island, along with a 1930s-vintage clothing zipper, bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart was known to carry, and a jar of a once-popular anti-freckle cream. 13 human bones have been discovered which may belong to a white female, around the same age and height as Earhart was when she disappeared in 1937.
What was then Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro, is no tropical island paradise. There is no fresh water and daytime temperatures exceed 100° Fahrenheit in July. Its only inhabitants are Birgus latro, commonly known as the coconut crab. Also known as the robber crab or palm thief, Birgus latro is the largest terrestrial hermit crab in the world, weighing up to 9lbs and measuring over 3′ from leg tip to leg tip.
The adult coconut crab feeds on fruits, nuts, seeds, and the pith of fallen trees, but will eat carrion or just about anything else if given the chance. It’s anyone’s guess how the two aviators spent the last hours of their lives, or who it was who lit that fire or left those bones. Looking at the size of these things, it’s not difficult to imagine why there are only 13.