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Amelia Earhart

9th cousin 2x removed (paternal)

Amelia Mary Earhart, aviation pioneer, American hero, and the subject of one of the 20th century's greatest mysteries, was my 9th cousin, 2x removed on the paternal side of my family. Robert Royce and Mary Sims, my 10th great-grandparents were the 8th great-grandparents of Amelia Earhart.

 

Born on July 24, 1897 in Atchinson, Kansas to Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart and Amelia "Amy" Otis, Amelia was the 2nd of 3 children born to Edwin and Amy (their first child was stillborn in August, 1896 and Amelia's younger sister, Grace Muriel was born in 1899). According to biographers, Amelia encountered her first airplane at the age of 10 while at the State Fair in Iowa. Amelia was not impressed with the appearance of the biplane.

 

In 1917, Amelia visited her sister Grace in Toronto where Amelia witnessed first hand the wounded soldiers returning from Europe. She began training as a nurse's aide at the Red Cross and then she began working with Voluntary Aid Detachment at the Spadina Military Hospital (Toronto) where she prepared meals and handed out prescriptions to patients. 

 

In 1918, while still in Toronto, the Spanish Flu pandemic struck. Amelia did not escape the flu and she was hospitalized for 2 months with pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis. Although she was discharged from the Toronto hospital in December, 1918, Amelia continued to suffer from the sinusitis,  and spent another year recovering at her sister's house in Massachusetts. The sinusitis would be a condition with which Amelia would suffer for the rest of her life, and it would often impact her flying abilities in later years.

 

In 1920 Earhart joined her parents in California. On December 28th, while visiting an airfield in Long Beach with her father, an encounter with Frank Hawks, a pilot, would change Amelia's life. Hawks took Amelia for a 10-minute plan ride, and in that short period of time, Amelia became determined to learn how to fly. 

 

On January 3, 1921, after managing to save up $1,000.00, Amelia took her first flying lesson at Kinnear Field, near Long Beach, California. Amelia's instructor was Anita "Neta" Snook, a pioneer female aviator. Neta taught Amelia on a Curtis JN-4 "Canuck" aircraft. Six months later, on October 22, 1922, Amelia purchased her own plane, a bright yellow coloured Kinner airster biplane which she would fly to a height of 14,000 feet, setting a world record for female pilots.

 

On May 15, 1923, Amelia became the 16th female licenced pilot in the United States.

 

The rest of the 1920's were not a good time for Amelia. Her parents divorced in 1924, and the investment of her mother's inheritance failed, leaving little money for Amelia and her mother. Amelia was forced to sell her biplane and she purchased a 2-seat Kissel Speedster, also painted bright yellow like her plane. Together with her mother, Amelia set off from California on a meandering road-trip that would eventually end in Boston. Amelia had plans to attend MIT, but with diminishing funds, she had to find work rather than attend college. Amelia lived in Medford, Massachusetts and held jobs as a teacher and then as a social worker.

 

Flying remained in Earhart's blood however, and she maintained connections with aviation while living in Medford. She became a member of the American Aeronautical Society's Boston chapter,and became its vice-president. She continued to fly flying out of the Dennison Airport in Quincy, Massachusetts and she flew the official first flight from the airport in 1927. Earhart also acted as a sales representative for Kinner aircraft and wrote articles promoting flying in local newspapers. 

 

In 1927, Charles Lindburgh performed his solo flight across the Atlantic making him one of the biggest celebrities of the day. His flight inspired the wealthy Amy Guest to purchase her own plane with plans to become the first woman to be flown across the Atlantic. After deciding that such a trip would be too dangerous for her, Amy offered to sponsor such a flight and the search was on for the right woman to take the journey.

 

In April, 1928, Amelia received a phone call from Captain Hilton H. Railey who asked her if she would like to fly the Atlantic. After being interviewed, Amelia was chosen to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger. The flight took 20 hours and 40 minutes from Trepassy Harbour, Newfoundland to Pwll, South Wales.

 

The flight made Earhart famous almost overnight, although even she admitted that she had not actually flown the plane, she had only been a passenger. Along with George Putnam, a publicist and book publisher, Amelia was able to use her new-found celebrity to obtain endorsement deals. In addition to product endorsements, Amelia, now known as "Lady Lindy" or "Queen of the air", also embarked on lectures and speaking engagements through 1928 and 1929. The marketing campaign that she and George Putnam had designed worked, and Amelia was now a celebrity.

 

Amelia, along with George Putnam, were able to use her new celebrity endorsement deals to help fund her flying. It is interesting to note, at least to me, that Amelia Earhart, like myself and some other family members, was "cursed" with a gap in her front teeth, a physical flaw which Putnam told Earhart to hide by not showing her teeth when she smiled. Speaking from experience prior to my own orthodontic work, that could not have helped her self-esteem.

 

Amelia's next feat was to become the first woman pilot to fly solo across America - and back - in August, 1928. Amelia also entered competitive air racing, racing from Santa Monica, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, where she placed third in her division.

 

On February 7th, 1931, after being proposed to and rejected six times by George Putnam, Amelia finally married him. Amelia's ideas of marriage were also liberal for the day (some may even say for today), and she made it clear to Putnam that she would not be referred to as "Mrs. Putnam" and would keep her own name, and that she would not expect him to be wholly faithful to her, nor her to him. She also made it clear to Putnam that, from time to time, she would require her "own space" and that he would have to respect that need. It is interesting to note that Putnam had divorced his first wife, heiress Dorothy Binney (her father's company, Binney & Smith had invented Crayola crayons) in order to pursue Amelia.

 

Unsatisfied with only having been a passenger in her first trans-Atlantic flight, Amelia, on May 20, 1932, set off to be the first woman aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean. Leaving Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, Earhart had planned to fly her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B to Paris, France, attempting to duplicate Lindburgh's earlier flight. 14 hours and 56 minutes after leaving Newfoundland, having fought heavy northerly winds, ice and mechanical problems, Amelia touched down in a pasture in Culmore, north of Derry, Ireland. Although she missed Paris, Amelia had become the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

 

Amelia went on to many more firsts in aviation. She was the first aviator, male or female, to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland California; between 1930 & 1935, she set 7 women's speed and distance records.

 

In late 1934, after their home in New York was destroyed by fire, and at the urging of Amelia, she and George moved to California. Early in 1935, Amelia started planning an around the world flight. Although Earhart would not be the first person to circumnavigate the globe, her flight would be the longest as it would follow a rough equatorial route, approximately 29,000 miles in total.

 

What may come as a surprise to some, Amelia's final flight in which she disappeared, along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, was not her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe. On March 17, 1937, Amelia's plane, a Lockheed Electra 10E, specially modified for Earhart, left Oakland, California, flying west to Honolulu, Hawaii. The original plan to fly around the world was to go from east to west, but a crash when they attempted to take off from Hawaii resulted in damage to the Electra and the plane was shipped back to Lockheed's plant in Burbank, California for repairs.

 

On June 1st, 1937, after flying from California, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noon, left Miami, Florida. On June 29, 1937, after having made several stops in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, the Electra landed at Lae, New Guinea. 22,000 of the 29,000 miles were behind them, and only 7,000 miles remained before Earhart and Noonan would be back in the United States.

On July 2nd, 1937, the Lockheed Electra lifted off from Lae, New Guinea, heading east tward their next destination, tiny Howland Island to the south west of Hawaii. Howland Island is only 2,000 feet long and 1,600 feet wide, and sits 2,556 miles away from Lae. If you have ever flown over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, you quickly realize how difficult it would be to spot such a tiny piece of land.

The people at Lae were the last people to ever see my cousin Amelia Earhart, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, alive. The Lockheed Electra never arrived at Howland Island and where it ended up is, as of this writing, still unknown. The U.S. Navy conducted the largest peace time search in history for Earhart and Noonan, but no sign of the pair, or of the plane, were ever found. My cousin Amelia, Fred Noonan and the shiny silver Lockheed Electra simply flew into the sky and became one of the greatest mysteries of all time.

Amelia Earhart, a brave woman who lived her life to the fullest, and who captured the hearts of millions, and encouraged countless other women and young girls to pursue their dreams.

I hope that one day we find out what happened to Amelia and Fred, but until then, we are only left with the memories and the legacy of a true hero.

Rest in peace, dear cousin.