AN oceanographic research ship slipped almost unnoticed out of Honolulu on the 2nd of this month bound for a miniscule dot in the ocean called Nikumaroro in little Kiribati, one of the tiniest island nations in the vast Pacific.
Aboard was a team of scientists and aviation enthusiasts keen to solve the mystery that’s baffled researchers for 75 years: whatever happened to pioneering American aviatrix Amelia Earhart?
For most it was the seventh such working holiday for their group call TIGHAR –The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery – to uninhabited little Nikumaroro.
In 1928 Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic … or to be more precise … the first women to be flown across the Atlantic: an aviator named William Stultz was at the controls doing the actual flying.
But it made Amelia famous, and in the next few years she set numerous aviation records.
However at the age of 39 she was at the controls of a Lockheed Electra trying to fly around the world at the equator, when she disappeared with navigator Fred Noonan after taking off from Lae in New Guinea on July 2nd 1937, three-quarters of a century ago.
A host of bizarre theories surrounded her disappearance: Some theorised she was on a spy flight for the United States as World War II was looming, and that she was captured and killed by the Japanese.
Others suggested that tired of her celebrity status, she “disappeared” on purpose to live back in the United States under an assumed name – Whatever, she certainly wasn’t abducted by aliens, like the Close Encounters of the Third Kind suggested.
TIGHAR members have always believed Amelia’s aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed and sank while trying to land on Nikumaroro. This theory gained the support of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton earlier this year after the release of a 1937British Navy photo showing what looks like a piece of Lockheed landing gear on the island.
And experts are also examining an anti-freckle cream jar just like Amelia used and recently found on the unoccupied island.
Now while TIGHAR’s people continue their search, divert to the little town of Atchison in Kansas USA that was the birthplace of Amelia Earhart in 1897, and where later this month locals will celebrate their annual Amelia Earhart Festival that’s held every July, halfway between the anniversaries of her birth and disappearance.
But it’s not just Amelia Earhart who draws tourists to Atchison: the town’s reputedly one of the most haunted in the world, luring devout ghost hunters from around the globe and the less-convinced to ghost tours of the picturesque town on a special trolleybus.
This includes the main street where in the 19th century a woman travelling in a buggy lost control of her horses and plummeted into the adjacent, freezing Missouri River. Her body was never found, but today men walking along the riverbank claim they’ve heard a woman calling to them to save her in the murky waters.
There’s also the Gargoyle House once owned by a local politician who allegedly did a deal with the Devil, and became very rich. He erected the gargoyles as a thank you to the Devil – all subsequent owners of the house who tried to remove them have suffered freakish accidental deaths.
Jackson Park in the centre of town is also reputedly haunted, by the ghost of Molly, a college girl who hanged herself from a tree in the park after an argument with her boyfriend. Or was it murder? Whatever, she keeps appearing in the predawn hours….
And what about Sallie, a young lass who haunts a house in North Second Street and is said to lurk in waiting for unsuspecting men, before gouging their eyes out? Tourists are also encouraged to visit Atchison’s Mt Vernon Cemetery at night and make rubbings of inscriptions from the tombs as souvenirs of their visit – although they’re warned that some of the spirits of people buried in the graveyard may subsequently accompany them home…
And while Atchison has plenty of ghosts, Amelia Earhart is not one of them – her spirit’s said to still lay in tranquil Nikumaroro…
(Images:Kansas Tourism and Wikimedia)
(If you are interested in the current search for Amelia Earhart, log on to www.tighar.org )
Written by David Ellis with Malcolm Andrews