If Amelia Earhart's airplane had landed safely on tiny Howland Island, in 1937, instead of disappearing over the Pacific Ocean, there might not have been a movie "Amelia" debuting at theaters here in Tacoma and all over the nation this weekend. America's most popular woman pilot would still be famous. No doubt she would have successfully completed that last leg of her flight around the world, and gone on to break more records. But on July 2, 1937, when Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, failed to show up on the island to refuel, she became the subject of a fascination that persists after 72 years.
Theater owners expect large crowds for this film, starring Hilary Swank as Amelia, and Richard Gere as her husband. But it won't be the only show in town. On October 24, the same weekend, a new exhibit called "In Search of Amelia Earhart" opens at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Chris Mailander, Director of Exhibits, says, "This is possibly the most comprehensive exhibit about Amelia ever." He and Annie Mejia, PhD., Content Developer, spent months putting it together, gathering a vast assortment of artifacts, including some of Earhart's clothing, over 100 photos, newsreel footage, audio recordings, reproductions of newspaper articles, and much more. But the most compelling artifact is a real piece of Earhart's Lockheed Electra twin-engine plane.
How is that possible? Earhart's fatal trip, flying east, was actually a second attempt. On the first try she began by flying west. In March of 1937 she taxied to take off from Luke Airfield in Hawaii with her plane heavy with fuel, and had an accident. A member of the military named Dan Stringer picked up a piece of the wreckage and saved it all these decades. Earhart's plane was repaired and her trip eventually started over. And Stringer's souvenir eventually landed in the hands of his grandson, Jon Ott, in San Jose, California.
Mejia happened to watch Episode 706 of the PBS Television show "History Detectives" and saw the story of Ott's artifact and how researchers declared it authentic. Her excitement over this discovery, and her efforts on behalf of the museum, resulted in the piece of the plane being part of this exhibit.
After months of immersion in all things "Amelia," Mejia feels like she's come to know the real Earhart and like Mailander, eagerly awaits this weekend's openings of both the film and the museum's big event. "In the movie, Hilary Swank even wears a bracelet just like one Amelia wore," she says. But unlike the movie, the exhibit "In Search of Amelia Earhart" is no Hollywood production. It's the real thing. You'll end up feeling like you know this fascinating female aviator too.
The Museum of Flight is a "must see" any time. Even without Amelia Earhart to draw a crowd, over 400,000 people visited in 2008, according to Public Relations and Promotions Manager, Ted Huetter. He hopes this year's numbers end up even higher. "It's a Seattle landmark, a top attraction," he says, and you'll agree when you see over 150 rare and historically important aircraft and space vehicles, the Boeing Company's original "Red Barn" work shop, movies, reference library, vast numbers of photos, tens of thousands of artifacts, and more. He invites you to discover the real story that inspired the movie "Amelia" by visiting "In Search of Amelia Earhart." The thrill of aviation permeates this museum and, like Earhart, you just might fall in love with flight.
Museum of Flight
(at Boeing Field)
9404 East Marginal Way S
Seattle, WA 98108-4097
Exit 158 off Interstate 5