I don’t know why, but we as a society are always looking to make a mountain out of a molehill as far as turning every major thing that has happened into some conspiracy theory or a history’s mystery.
Perhaps it’s because we as a society have such an appreciation for the dramatic and sensational, a desire to romanticize everything to the point that we are suckers for every wild idea or tall tale that emerges regarding an event.
This was true long before everyone started talking about the Russians influencing the 2016 U.S. election. In a number of cases, ranging from the sinking of the Titanic to the first moon walk, the public has not been content to simply accept facts as they appear, and wishes instead to cast everything in a sinister light.
Speaking of Russia, many people thought for years that Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the massacre of the royal Romanov family by communist revolutionaries in 1918 which claimed the lives of her parents and siblings. We were told that the young woman heroically made her way to America and wound up in Charlottesville, Virginia, of all places, where she was known as Anna Anderson.
After she died in 1984 at age 87, DNA testing of remains found in the 1990s at the site of the family’s massacre proved that Anastasia was indeed killed there and the old lady in Virginia was a fake.
The latest such example of a history’s mystery concerns Amelia Earhart, the long-lost lady aviator whose plane disappeared during a flight over the Pacific in 1937.
An old photo has been unearthed which purports to show the famed flier among a group of people on a dock in the Marshall Islands, who also might include her navigator, Fred Noonan.
The case further is being made that a wrecked Lockheed Electra plane they were flying appears on a barge in the cracked black-and-white photograph, discovered in the National Archives in a box of papers from the Office of Naval Intelligence.
However, critics of the new find that has reawakened interest in the case of what happened to Amelia Earhart aren’t convinced the old photo provides credible evidence to answer that question. They point out that it just shows a bunch of people on a wharf and the results are inconclusive as far as who actually is pictured.
Of course, this has not stopped all the bandwagon jumpers from imagining that Earhart somehow survived via a daring rescue, rather than falling victim to any of the alternative fates that have been offered up to now.
In the past, I had heard that Earhart possibly was captured by the Japanese in those tense pre-World War II days. Or that she might have been able to land on some uncharted island in the Pacific, cut off from the world by communication or transportation.
My personal all-time favorite is that Earhart went on to occupy some spot in the Bermuda Triangle along with Hitler, Jimmy Hoffa and Elvis, all kept company by a group of space aliens.
Of course, the colorful theories are much more interesting than what in all likelihood might have been the true fate of Amelia Earhart: The Electra just ran out of fuel and Earhart and Noonan ditched the plane at sea.
This is known simply as the “Crash and Sink Theory” — but one embraced by many researchers, which does not paint a grand or glamorous end to the intrepid aviator.
We can’t accept that this larger-than-life figure suffered such an inglorious fate. We’d rather believe she was captured by the Japanese and treated as a spy before being tortured and killed. Surely, she just didn’t run out of gas and hit the drink.
Yet that, if true, shouldn’t diminish the heroism exhibited by Earhart in even attempting to accomplish the mission she was on at the time of her disappearance, trying to circumnavigate the world. Keep in mind that Earhart earlier had become the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean, however, can be a big empty place, and it is not inconceivable that Earhart — as legendary and invincible as she seemed — lost her way, particular since her navigator (Noonan) was reputed to have a drinking problem.
Even if the newly unearthed photograph did prove that Earhart survived past 1937, what then? There are no records available from the Japanese or anyone else regarding Earhart’s whereabouts for the past 80 years, or her ultimate fate.
If I were a betting man, I would wager that what happened to her will never be known, in the absence of some major breakthrough such as the plane being found on the ocean floor.
In the meantime, we can just blame the whole thing on those pesky Russians.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.