Amelia Earhart was born 120 years ago today.
This entry can trace its origins to thoughts I was having right after the events of 9/11. The word “hero” was used a lot then and it still seems to be used more than I remember it being used before 2001. At the time, the term hero was used – rightly so, I think – for the first responders. Since then, anyone who does anything even remotely remarkable seems to be a hero. I’ve even see the word hero applied to dogs (see http://www.herodogawards.org/) and cats (http://www.pawnation.com/2012/08/15/hero-cat-alarm-clocks/). As one who studies human cognitive abilities that really bugs me, but I digress. Back in 2001 I began thinking about heroes and, when I did, three names consistently came to mind: Jean Luc Picard (captain of the Starship Enterprise, played by Patrick Stewart), Jimmy Brock (the sheriff in the series Picket Fences, played by Tom Skerritt), and Sam Beckett (the time traveler in the series Quantum Leap, played by Scott Backula). It troubled me that my heroes are all seemed to be fictional characters.
For a while I flirted with the idea of investigating – as a psychologist – what made people call other people heroes. I did a quick search of the psychological literature and came up with very little. As I recall, the little I did find referred to Jung, which seemed like a colossal waste of time (don’t get me started on Jung – or Freud – I’m on a roll here).
I did a little searching online, as well. The word hero is believed to come from a Greek word that meant “protector” or “defender” and is a cognate of a Latin verb which means “to preserve whole.” Overall, the meaning seems to be “protector” and that certainly applies to first responders. It also applies to my fictional character heroes; they can all be seen as protectors. Larger than life, but protectors. They were characters that I could aspire to be like.
But, they’re fictional and that still bothered me. There were real people who I admire and who I, to the small extent that I can, endeavor to emulate. Harry Chapin and Pete Seeger are two musicians I admire. Alan Boneau, Bob Holt, and Jay Wilson are teachers who inspire my teaching. John Lipp taught me a lot about how to be a leader. But I don’t think of them as heroes.
And then there’s Amelia Earhart.
My interest in Amelia is the result of a somewhat long and convoluted process. I am, in my leisure time, a model railroader (see my Piedmont Subdivision page). Scrolling through eBay one afternoon, however, I stumbled across a listing for a kit from AHM’s All the World’s Aircraft series. It purported to be an HO scale model of Wiley Post’s Lockheed Vega Winnie Mae. I’m not sure why (except maybe the novelty of finding an HO scale airplane - there aren't a lot of those), but I bought the kit. Sometime later I decided to assemble it and went online to do a little research. I learned a great deal about Post and Winnie Mae, but then I found a review that mentioned that the kit was undersized. So, I looked up the wingspan of a Vega and measured the model. Sure enough, it was too small. As I recall, the actual scale of the kit was about 1/100 (HO scale is 1/87).
My interest had been piqued, however, and I started looking for a larger scale model of a Vega. I found an eBay listing for a 1/48 scale Winnie Mae by AMT. It was cheap, so I clicked the “Buy It Now” option and snapped it up. When it arrived, I was a bit disappointed. The airframe itself seemed OK, but the decals were badly yellowed and missing many of the markings that were plainly visible of photos that I found of Winnie Mae. Worse, the “clear” parts had a pronounced pink tint to them. Nothing I ever found mentioned that Winnie Mae had pink tinted windows.
I decided to focus on the easy problem first; I went online to find replacement decals. I discovered Red Pegasus decals and their set for Winnie Mae. Right below them, however, was listed a set for Amelia Earhart’s Vegas. I’m not sure why, but I ordered both sets.
I still wasn’t sure what to do about the windows. I considered ordering another AMT kit, but I wasn’t sure how to ensure that I’d get one with clear parts that were actually clear. As I pondered that, though, I found myself reading more and more about Amelia Earhart. At this point, I’ve read about half a dozen biographies and Amelia’s book For the Fun of It (I’m trying to stay away from all the books arguing for the various theories about her disappearance). She grew up with an alcoholic father and her family often struggled financially. She spent a big part of her life not really sure what she wanted to do. And then she did some absolutely amazing things. Her Lockheed Vega is in the Air and Space Museum in Washington. I’ve seen it. It’s 27 and a half feet long and has a wingspan of 41 feet. She flew it across the Atlantic. Alone. Then she flew it across the United States, the first woman to fly solo and nonstop across the US. She was an outspoken advocate for equality for women. She didn’t just talk the talk, though. She told women that they could and should do anything that men could do and then she went out and showed everyone that it could be done.
Dictionary.com notes that in the Homeric period of classical mythology, a hero was “a warrior-chieftain of special strength, courage, or ability.” Picard, Brock, and Beckett all certainly had special strength, courage and ability.
And so did Amelia Earhart. From what I’ve read, she’d argue this point with me, but she was – she is – a hero. Happy birthday, Amelia.