Monday, November 2, 2009


I had a discussion recently with my friend Ben where we speculated on a graphic novel series featuring Amelia Earhart as a central character.  The comic would start at the point of her last known contact with humanity –- the transmission of “We are running on line north and south” picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Itasca. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, through either natural or supernatural means, would survive the storm and make lives for themselves as itinerant crime fighters or revolutionaries or adventurers.

Neither of us can draw.

I doubt it would get off the ground anyways. You remember Anastasia? The whole conceit was that the Russian princess had survived the murder of her family and had gone off to live as a street urchin or something. She ends up fighting against Zombie Rasputin*. Quite a charming animated tale that had the good fortune to be made before modern DNA analysis discovered that, yes, Anastasia’s charred and scattered bones were interred with the rest of her kin. Any sequel would be  a non-starter.

*One would argue that “Zombie Rasputin” is redundant – the man was poisoned, shot four times, beaten, and thrown in an icy river in his almost-botched assassination attempt, and he only ended up dying from that last bit.

I don’t know that truth can entirely quash a legend. There will be, without a doubt, people claiming to be the Lindbergh baby, or his son/grandson/great-grandson for presumably as long as people actually remember the story. However, truth can pale a legend, can cause its evocative power to become reedy and indistinct. 

So long as Amelia Earhart still lurked among the Pacific storm clouds, she would have remained a legend. We could have made her a female James Bond, or a rescue angel, or a Nazi-fighting air huntress. Who would have argued?

It seems they may have found her. As is customary, the truth is more striking than the legend. Experts from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery* believe Earhart and Noonan crash-landed on Nikumaroro Island, where they became castaways and quickly succumbed to injury, starvation, exposure, or the island’s extreme heat. Their bones were carried off by crabs.

*That is a remarkably specific group. How do you get into something like that? Do you have to stumble on Yamamoto’s transport? How many of these things can there be?

So we mourn, for two people who set out on an adventure and met a bleak end. We mourn for their legend, as something has been irretrievably lost. In a very real way, Amelia Earhart was alive all this time. The intrepid fellows who are closing in on her final resting place do so with a sort of murder in their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a legend is nice, but this is a mercy killing. Amelia and Fred have spent almost a century frozen at the moment of impact. They’ve been lost longer than they lived. The one thing we owe everyone who has gone before us is our attention. Take heart. We’ll do the best we can to find you.

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