Local women aviators pay tribute to Amelia Earhart
As Amelia Earhart exhibits go, this new one in a historic hangar at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia is relatively small-scale compared to, say, the images just put on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
And it certainly won’t be hyped like the website of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which has just launched a high-tech deep-sea expedition to the remote South Pacific nation of Kiribati, where researchers believe they’ll find the wreckage of Earhart’s plane. If they do, they will settle once and for all the mystery of what happened to the renowned woman aviator who vanished during a round-the-world flight 75 years ago, on July 2, 1937.
But the books and photographs in the glass case at the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, located at the Cahokia airfield, were carefully and respectfully selected and arranged by local women who followed in Earhart’s footsteps and took to the air.
And their message is clear: Amelia Earhart was quite a gal, and she earned a deserved place in aviation history, well before her disappearance became fodder for Hollywood filmmakers and conspiracy theorists.
“It’s still one of those mysteries that everyone really wants to know what happened. And I hope someday we’ll find out,’’ said Jean Murry, treasurer of the air and space museum and vice chairwoman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, which has put together the display.
Among the items is a map detailing all the places Earhart stopped during her ill-fated global flight three-quarters of a century ago. Earhart was the first president of the Ninety-Nines, which was founded in 1929 by 99 women pilots. The international organization now includes women in all areas of aviation.
Libby Yunger, president of the local chapter, has researched Earhart extensively for talks she gives to area groups about the history of women in aviation.
“I am interested in Amelia because she is such a modern woman,’’ Yunger said. “She was not the best pilot of her era, but she was certainly the best marketed pilot, and she was a very unique person because she realized that when any woman succeeded in aviation it was good for all women who were flying. She was really supportive of what the other women were doing and of their successes.’’
Earhart – whose features and slender build resembled the wildly popular Charles Lindbergh -- was “discovered” by publisher George Putnam, who was looking for a woman pilot to become the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart would later marry Putnam.
“Amelia at the time didn’t have an airplane. She was working as a social worker in Boston and needed money to fly. And if there was anything that Amelia wanted to do it was fly,’’ Yunger said.
After her flights, Earhart would write about her experiences and travel the country to speak about them “until the audiences started dying down a bit at which point she would make another trip somewhere. George arranged all of this,’’ Yunger said.
Murry said the local Ninety-Nines are aware that the 75th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance will place her back in the news this Fourth of July, and they wanted to remind St. Louisans that the famous aviator once flew from the Cahokia airport.
In 1929, Earhart was part of an all-woman transcontinental air race -- dubbed a “powder puff derby” by humorist Will Rogers -- that stopped at St. Louis Downtown Airport, then known as Parks Airport. Earhart, wearing a dark sweater and light skirt, stands out in a picture taken at Parks of a group of women pilots, most in full pilot attire. The photo is part of the archives of St. Louis University, which now operates Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology at its mid-town campus, though flight training still takes place at St. Louis Downtown Airport.
“Lindbergh flew out of this airport when he flew the mail out to Chicago. Amelia Earhart flew out of here. A lot of the early pilots made this stop when they were crossing the country,’’ said Murry.
The latest effort to locate Earhart's missing plane in the South Pacific has drawn international attention, including the eye of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
At a press conference in March, Clinton promoted the latest efforts of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery to solve the Earhart mystery.
The expedition. which will use underwater submarines and equipment, is privately funded and being filmed by the Discovery Channel. Beginning July 2, you can watch daily updates at the group's website by clicking here.
Clinton said Earhart embodied the spirit of an America coming of age.
“She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder. When she took off on that historic journey, she carried the aspirations of our entire country with her,” Clinton said.