"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Of flights and fallacies~

on May 22, 2013

When I think about grandma and grandpa, I often find myself astounded at the arc of their lives, what they heard, what they did, and what they witnessed. Grandpa was born on a farm in 1908, before most homes had electric lighting and indoor plumbing. By the time he died in 1998, families were purchasing home computers and the internet was rapidly expanding. Man had not only landed on the moon, but had travelled back and forth through space on reusable shuttle craft. The technological advances in his lifetime alone are mind boggling. So today, we find ourselves back in time with Grandpa and the early days of aviation.

I found this story in a transcript dated December 4, 1992 from Frank Hand to grandma and grandpa. Frank was grandpa’s cousin from Royal Center and a bit of a family historian. Frank writes, “I have finally gotten around to transcribing my tape (recording) made at our family reunion . . . History has a way of getting away from us if we don’t put it down on paper and then find someone to read it . . .” Some of the stories in the transcript contain stories of early transportation in Logansport but none was as intriguing as grandpa’s aviation tale.
According to this transcript, there was an early airfield, the old Burkhart Field on the west side of Logansport. Grandpa said that one day, “a young girl approached the manager of the field and said she would make a parachute jump and for him to advertise it to create interest in his business.” She did not actually have a parachute but the manager of the airfield “flew down to Flora and got a parachute from Lee Eikenberry and brought it back to Logansport. The manager asked the girl, again, if she really would jump and she said she would.”

“So, a parade was arranged down Broadway Street including a roadster with the top down containing the young girl and Mary Kay Reed seated on the back of the car and with Gene (grandpa) and his old Ford full of his friends following immediately behind. There were numerous signs announcing that a parachute jump was going to be made at the Burkhart air field: come one, come all.”

“The parachute jump was made successfully by the young girl that afternoon and then she left for California and joined forces with Howard Hughes. Her name was Amelia Earhart.”


Amelia Earhart

I remember reading this transcript and being stunned. Grandpa and Amelia Earhart? Seriously? We were living in Glen Ellyn at the time I read this and when Phil came home from work that evening, I could hardly wait to tell him what I had found. Ever the cynic when it came to grandpa’s tales, Phil gently reminded me that we all know what a great storyteller your grandpa was and how he could really spin a yarn and how gullible and naive I could be when it came to my grandpa’s stories (admittedly, I did believe the giant catfish story he used to tell me well into my tweens~ so, yeah, Phil was absolutely right about my grandpa blinders!). So okay, this story is just dangling out there in grandpa’s fantasyland but, you have to admit, it is a great story, isn’t it?

But it does just beg to be known. Is this really possible? Did grandpa really drive behind Amelia Earhart in a parade and watch her parachute into Logansport? So, ever the librarian, I have done a little research to try to corroborate grandpa’s tale. And, so far, this is what I know:

I know that I am hopelessly gullible when it comes to my grandpa’s stories.

I know that most of grandpa’s really tall tales involved enormous fish.

I know that grandma was audience to this story on at least one occasion and, to my knowledge, did not contradict his story. Anyone who knows my grandma knows that she definitely would speak up if grandpa were telling a boldfaced lie. Grandma enjoyed grandpa’s stories and tales as much as the next person, but when something is being recorded for posterity, she would not have kept quiet if grandpa got it wrong. Interrupting to correct grandpa was a habit that grandma had finely cultivated over the course of 60+ years! I did not ever hear this story myself while grandpa was living and did not discover Frank’s transcript until after grandma had died. This is a story I would have loved to get more facts from grandma about- grandma was my Wikipedia of grandpa stories.

And here is something else I know: Amelia Earhart took her first airplane ride shortly following the end of World War I and that she spent the next several years seeking out many opportunities to fly and perform daredevil stunts, crossing back and forth across the United States several times during those years.

And in the interest of full disclosure, in Frank’s transcript, Frank quotes grandpa as saying, “she was 14 years old.” Well, simple mathematics tells me that he could not have been referring to Amelia Earhart because Earhart was born in 1897 and that would have made grandpa just one year old when he drove his truck in that parade. Grandpa was driving pretty young, at the age of 12 I have been told, but clearly he could not have meant Earhart was 14 years old. Since he was telling this story at a family reunion, I don’t think it would be a stretch to guess that he was indicating someone standing there at the reunion listening to him tell this story. If this person had been grandma, and she was 14 years old, then grandpa would have been 18 years old, and Amelia Earhart would have been 29 years old. The year would have been 1926. This was the year that Amelia Earhart was inspired to become the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic.

I know that Amelia Earhart lived and worked at Purdue University during the 1930’s. If you got in a car and clocked it, from Purdue to my grandpa’s doorstep, it’s a 60 minute drive on country highways. That’s pretty dang close as Amelia flies ~

I know that Purdue University purchased and presented to Earhart the Lockheed Electra aircraft in which she would fly her final, fateful mission and that Purdue’s Earhart Hall is named in her honor and the university holds one of the largest and most respected Earhart archives. Earhart’s ties to Purdue University run deep.

I know that there are many archives to dig through that may just hold some tiny little evidence of this chance encounter and that I long ago surrendered my rights to their restricted archives when I rejected my Boilermaker pass for a Hoosier one (go Big Red!).

And I know that I now have my own little Amelia Earhart mystery to solve.


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