There are a lot of words that get thrown around in an attempt to describe Amelia Earhart.
Even our own project has thrown around labels such as “legend” and “icon” when discussing her in media. But sitting here, writing this piece, another word comes to mind. That word is “hope.”
I can understand why that may throw some people at first. What does hope have to do with Amelia Earhart? For me the hope lies in the legacy.
It lies in the countless little girls that we see come up to us during our shoots dressed up as Amelia and the kids that walk up to the various statues scattered around Atchison and hug them; somehow silently conveying their love, emotion, fears and insecurities in the hope that Amelia will hear them.
The legacy of Amelia Earhart lives on in everyone that dares to dream and fly high with their own goals and aspirations. In this, the 81st year since the mysterious vanishing of Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan, that hope rides higher than ever.
But there’s a second aspect that runs alongside of that hope. And that aspect is called “fever.” If this past year taught us anything, it taught us that the entire world is still very much invested in the fate of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
From the “Lost Evidence” documentary to the theft and recovery of her Terraplane in Los Angeles to the Nikumaroro bones paper just this last month, the world still cares deeply about the outcome to this woman’s life that ended so many years ago. Perhaps, the hope that she continues to inspire has something to do with that.
I am early in this game; I’ve only been researching and developing the “Chasing Earhart” project for a little over a decade now. That in itself should say something. Most of the folks that I interview and feature in the project have been dedicated to the mystery of her disappearance for 30 to 40 years now.
How often can someone research a case like this one for ten years and be considered “new”? The fever indeed runs deep. We have spoken to countless researchers, historians and aviation enthusiasts who have made it their life’s work to “crack the case” and “solve the puzzle.”
If you ask any one of those people, they all come to Amelia for a different reason. Perhaps that is the most interesting aspect of the story. People are attracted to her legacy, the mystery, the work that has been done since the disappearance or a single aspect of her life like her connection to the Ninety-Nines, Purdue, or her inspirational speaking circuit that she so loved.
The City of Atchison, does its part to keep the spirit and soul alive of their most famous resident on a year-round basis. Every July, Atchison becomes Amelia Earhart mecca, attracting experts and fans alike from all over this planet that carry both the hope and the fever with them. If Amelia Earhart is America’s sweetheart, she surely is Atchison’s girl and it shows.
Living and running the project out of a place like Atchison, gives us aspecial edge to what we’re doing. It makes the project somehow feel more authentic and pure which has been my goal all along. After developing and running this project for the past decade, I can tell you this with certainty.
Every time a story breaks in the news that has Amelia Earhart’s name attached to it, it sets the world on fire. It seems that it’s all everyone can talk about. There is some psychology in that aspect. As a nation, why are we so drawn to this woman?
What is it about her that causes the entire world to sit up and take notice? That is the everlasting question. While I don’t have all of the answers I can say this. It is our heroes that guide and inspire us even in our darkest times. They tell us through their words, their actions and their examples that if we just hold on a little longer we can have, do, or be anything we want.
For Amelia the sky wasn’t the limit; it was the start. She was a pioneer in every sense of the word. An icon that inspired a nation then and now. A legend in the annals of aviation that continues to leave her mark and set the bar for women all over the world.
And perhaps, most of all, a beacon of hope that shined so bright it became intergenerational. After all, maybe the hope and the fever run hand and hand when it comes to Amelia Earhart. The fever of hope.
I like the sound of that.
Editor’s note: This column originally ran in the April 18 edition of the Globe.
Chris Williamson is the executive director of the Chasing Earhart project. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.