The World Lost its DarlingApril 4, 2011

I regret the demise of graceful penmanship and thoughtful word arrangements that were so prevalent in letters a hundred years ago. It seems we don’t have time for handwriting anymore, now that emails are so quick and convenient. Yet delicate feelings cannot be suitably conveyed unless they are either gently spoken, or handed by folded note. I’ll use Amelia Earhart to illustrate my point.

Amelia was everybody’s darling with her short curly-bob hairdo, ingratiating smile, angelic face and girl-next-door persona. A pioneer aviator in the decade before WW-II began, she sought celebrity flying the skies as Charles Lindberg had done. His flight from New York to Paris in 1927 was much heralded by most living humans, and Amelia wanted to savor the splendor of similar adulation.


She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and she held many endurance and altitude records. President Herbert Hoover awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the tickertape parades held in her honor were riotous celebrations. She would waive with both arms and a huge smile as her white scarf fluttered in the enthusiastic breeze, her brown leather bomber jacket adding not-needed color to the aura. She was tall, slender, blond and everything.

She also was an impulsive maverick, and if she had been born fifty years later she might have been a poster woman for the feminist movement. She was quoted as saying, “Never interrupt someone who is doing something you said couldn’t be done.” How can you not love a lady who thinks like that? Amelia wanted women to know that there could be more fun to flying than just sitting in the back.

Amelia's plane

On July 2nd, 1937, she departed Lae, New Guinea for Howland Island -2,556 miles distant. It was the third from last leg of her 24,557 mile attempt to fly around the world. She was never seen again. She had said: “Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.”

If she had been writing an autobiography it would have ended there, somewhere, when her Lockheed Electra twin engine aircraft disappeared into the watery waste of the South Pacific. One of her last radio transmissions was “…gas is running low.”

Many countries hurried to the search, and the air and sea rescue efforts by the American Navy and Coast Guard were the most costly and intensive in US history up to that time. Tantalizing clues as to her whereabouts still abound, and the world continues to love her mystery.

When Amelia disappeared at age forty she had been married for six years to George P. Putnam, her publicist. She had turned down his first five marriage proposals as she was disinclined to undertake what she felt might hinder her flying activities. A letter handed to him the morning of their wedding spoke powerfully to that subject.

Dear GP,

There are some things which should be writ before we are married. Things we have talked over before, - most of them.

You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work that means so much to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations, but have no heart to look ahead.

In our life together I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the differences which arise may best be avoided.

Please let us not interfere with each other’s work or play, not let the world see private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.

I must exact a cruel promise, and this is that you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

I will try to do my best in every way. AE

That was February 7, 1931. Her husband said the note was “brutal in its frankness but beautiful in its honesty.” Amelia’s quest to be the first woman to circle the globe ended tragically although the location of her plane, her body and that of her navigator have not been physically established.

Nevertheless, the world lost its darling.

Google Letters of the Century by Grunwald and Adler

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