Over 70 years since she disappeared, Amelia Earhart continues to captivate popular imagination. Now bone fragments may reveal what actually happened to the aviation whiz. Should this mystery remain unsolved?
Scientists at University of Oklahoma are currently inspecting bone fragments found on a deserted island in South Pacific near where Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan are thought to have gone down in 1937, during Earhart’s attempt at being the first woman to fly around the world.
While the researchers and followers aren’t sure the bones are even human, they’re hoping DNA testing will shed some light on what become of Earhart.
“You only have to say you have a bone that may be human and may be linked to Earhart and people get excited. But it is true that, if they can get DNA, and if they can match it to Amelia Earhart’s DNA, that’s pretty good,” said Earhart historian Ric Gillespie.
Cecil Lewis, one of the University’s professors, remarked, “Think how disheartened people will be if it’s just a turtle bone.” But would people be disheartened? Would learning the truth hurt or help Earhart’s legacy?
The encyclopedia of American heroes has a deficit of women. Among all the Founding Fathers, Thomas Edisons and Henry Fords, only a few women emerge. Annie Oakley, Harriet Tubman, Pocahontas and Betsy Ross all come to mind, but none of these ladies hold a candle to the lore surrounding Earhart.
Earhart was a star even before her 1937 disappearance. In addition to the acclaim she received for aviation endeavors, like assisting on a 1929 transatlantic flight and, three years later, making the journey alone, the pilot cultivated a following through her fashion sense and celebrity endorsements, both of which helped her land a job as an associate editor at ‘Cosmopolitan.’
The fateful flight and official declaration of Earhart’s death only reinforced her fame, and spawned innumerable movies, books and other cultural expressions, thus guaranteeing her a permanent place in America’s collective myth.
These bones may help write Earhart’s final chapter. And what an appropriately adventurous chapter it would be: the three fragments, which scientists say resemble a neck bone, finger and cervical bone, were found at a camp site thought to be used by castaways. In addition to a turtle shell that appears to have been used for drinking, fish carcasses suggest Western eating habits. This site tells the story of how someone or some people attempted to live as castaways,” said Gillespie. “These fish weren’t eaten like Pacific Islanders [eat fish].”
Earhart’s tale becomes a female version of ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ only without the rescue and riches.
But isn’t the mystery precisely why Earhart’s legend endures? There are endless theories about what become of this American heroine: perhaps she was kidnapped by aliens, or landed on an island occupied by the Japanese, and subsequently imprisoned.
Or, some believe, she lived through the ordeal and assumed a new identity, giving up fame and fortune for a quiet life abroad. Those stories help keep Earhart’s saga alive. These bones would sink those and other theories.
Upon reading about the “Earhart bones,” I initially thought it would be best if we keep the mystery alive and let Earhart’s mystery continue to enthrall future generations. Now that I think about it more, though, this DNA may only reinforce Earhart’s epic tale.
In “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” mythologist Joseph Campbell lays out the traditional journey a hero takes, a journey that leads them away from and then back to their home. They have had their adventure, conquered demons real and imagined, and settle back into normal life.
Confirming Earhart’s fate would bring her story full circle. The aviation great would have completed her ground-breaking mission of circumnavigating the globe, and this legend would finally get her happy ending.