Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

Archaeology of Death: The Amelia Earhart Statue in Harbour Grace, NL

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This blog post was written by Hannah Cooper, for the Archaeology of Death undergraduate course in Fall 2020 at Memorial University of Newfoundland, taught by Dr. Meghan Burchell. They graciously allowed it to be posted on Spade & the Grave, thanks Hannah!

Photo of the Earhart Statue, Harbour Grace (image from Wikipedia)

Most of us have already heard of the famous aviatress.  Still, it was her untimely disappearance that mystified generations on end.  For this reason, it has sometimes been hard to remember that Earhart was first and foremost human, even with her massive and overarching legacy.  And so, statues like these remind us of the very human-side to such people as Earhart, before she disappeared into the history books.

History

I suppose that it should not be unreasonable to work under the assumption that most of us would know at least the skeletal remains of Amelia Earhart’s story.  I still did want to include some history about her, though, so that we can have just a bit more context on the woman forged from bronze that we see in Harbour Grace today.

Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, to Amelia “Amy” and Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart.  It would be an apparent understatement to say that the young Amelia had not been raised to be a “nice little girl” (Goldstein and Dillon 1997:8-9).  When she was a child, she notably had her first experience with an “airplane” when she and her uncle made their own “launchpad,” of sorts, from the roof of their family toolshed.  When Earhart had emerged from the “broken wooden box that had served as a sled,” she had had “a bruised lip, torn dress, and a sensation of exhilaration.” (Goldstein and Dillon 1997:9).  Earhart was reportedly ten years old when she finally saw her first actual plane, as she had seen one when she was at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines with her father (Goldstein and Dillon 1997:14).

Earhart as a young child (image from Wikipedia)

In 1928, Earhart became the first woman to ever cross the Atlantic by plane, though she had only been a passenger at the time since she had had no training for the type of aircraft used (Goldstein and Dillon 1997:54).  She made true on her wish to fly that route again in 1932, this time at the helm on her own, and she would become the first female pilot to ever complete a nonstop transcontinental flight (Long and Long 2000).  However, this all only takes us straight to that fateful flight in 1937.

Her Disappearance

With a story such as that which we have with Amelia Earhart, I think it will always be important to distinguish between fact and fiction, especially since many of the facts that surround Earhart’s disappearance seem to have gotten lost over the decades that she has been missing, as well. And so, here are the official facts that we know (Adler 2015) (Long and Long 2000);

  • On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared as they were attempting to circumnavigate the globe. If Earhart had been successful, she would have been heralded as the first female pilot to ever accomplish such a feat.
  • Earhart and Noonan had started their challenge forty-two days earlier, having left Oakland, California. Earhart planned to refuel on Howland Island after the pair departed from the city of Lae, New Guinea, that fateful July day. 
  • At around 2:18 PM, transmissions were received from Earhart’s Electra, seemingly implying that all must have been going smoothly. Earhart commented that they were at about 7,000 feet.
  • Earhart revealed that she had made the climb to 10,000 feet in another transmission a little over an hour later, which was worrisome as this could have jeopardized their fuel consumption. Nobody knows why Earhart made this dramatic climb.
  • Generally, it is largely thought that Earhart must have made it close to the island. A ship called the Itasca, which was meant to made contact with Earhart and guide the plane to land if necessary, was able to hear her transmissions grow stronger as the day went on. In fact, at one point, it was thought that Earhart was so close that the radio operator on board the Itasca went outside to try to see her.
  • Earhart informed the ship in one of her last transmissions, “We must be on you, but cannot see you,” and that their gas was running low. Earhart’s last confirmed transmission happened at 8:43AM, where she informed the crew, “We are on line 157, 337. We will repeat message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.”
  • While there are then some conflicting reports, it has been said that this transmission may have also included, “We are running north and south.” In Earhart’s final known communication, her voice was described as “frantic.”

From there on out, we don’t know what happened to the famous aviatressthere have been countless theories that were proposed over the years, some more plausible than others. The truth is, though, we may never know what happened in those final hours of Earhart’s famous last flight. And so, that is when we come back to Amelia’s statue in Harbour Grace.

The plaque in Harbour Grace, NL, dedicated to Earhart.

Amelia Earhart in Harbour Grace

Long before her actual disappearance, back in 1932, Amelia Earhart landed in Newfoundland ahead of her famed attempt at flying across the ocean. Earhart had intended to follow the famous Lindberg flight from five years earlier (Parsons 1983). Admittedly, though, Earhart was not following his flight plan faithfully. While Lindberg’s 1927 flight had been from New York to France, Earhart would fly from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland (Long and Long 2000).

Earhart had not been the one to fly into Newfoundland, as she had wanted to avoid alerting the media to her intentions. Instead, Bernt Balchen, a Norwegian American aviator who served as Earhart’s technical advisor for the flight, had even registered Earhart’s Lockheed Vega under his own name to divert any possible suspicions (Butler 1997). While Balchen had prepared the Vega for flight, Earhart went to the Cochrane Hotel for a short rest. It was there that the hotel’s proprietress, Rose Archibald, gifted Earhart with the now-famous tomato juice and a thermos of soup for her journey (Conception Bay Museum 2007).

The Statue

On the 75th anniversary of Earhart’s flight, the aviatress’ statue was officially unveiled in the Spirit of Harbour Grace Park. Inspiration and funding had been raised by a man named Roger Pike, while the statue itself had been sculpted by Luben Boykov. Lorne Rostotski would design the site as a whole (Conception Bay Museum 2007).

Today, the statue stands as a permanent reminder of Earhart’s undying legacy, but also of the lesser-known, simpler involvement that Harbour Grace had had with the aviatress before she disappeared – and that is why it is important. The Amelia Earhart statue reminds residents of a very human and personal story that they hold in connection with someone so easy to forget was just like everyone else. And it is these little stories that help keep Amelia’s memory alive. Without proper memorialization, it is easy to just let Earhart slip into a realm of legends. It is the little memories that statues like this one call back to that make Amelia Earhart more real.

It is these things that can make you feel so included in a history which was so, so much larger than anyone could have really imagined.

References:

Adler, Jerry
2015 Will the Search for Amelia Earhart Ever End? Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, January 1.

Butler, Susan
1997 East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart. Da Capo Press, October 16.

Conception Bay Museum
2007 Celebrating Seventy-Five Wonderful Years. Conception Bay, Newfoundland.

Goldstein, Donald M. and Katherine V. Dillon
1997 Amelia: The Centennial Biography of an Aviation Pioneer. archive.org. Brassey’s, Washington, DC.

Long, Marie K., and Elgen M. Long
2000 Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY.

Parsons, Bill
1983 The challenge of the Atlantic: a photo-illustrated history of early aviation in Harbour Grace, Nfld. Robinson-Blackmore, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

Poe, Joanna
2010 Amelia Earhart Memorial (Harbour Grace) Unpublished photograph. WikiMedia Commons. Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, April 18.

The Schlesinger Library
1901 Childhood Portrait of Amelia Earhart. WikiMedia Commons, originally The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College.

Author: Robyn Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

One thought on “Archaeology of Death: The Amelia Earhart Statue in Harbour Grace, NL

  1. Pingback: Archaeology of Death: Student Blog Post Mini-Series | Spade & the Grave

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