Amelia Earhart was on the final leg of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe when her plane disappeared over the Pacific on July 2, 1937. Amid recent news of yet another claim that she might have survived her presumed crash into the ocean, we recall Earhart’s visit to Bowling Green only 18 months before she met her mysterious fate.
On January 20, 1936, Earhart took the stage at WKU’s Van Meter Hall. The previous January, she had flown solo from Hawaii to California, and in May 1932 had become the first pilot to reproduce Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic. As she talked about her adventures, the reporter for WKU’s College Heights Herald was charmed. “The slender aviatrix who, had she been attired in flying togs, might have been mistaken for Colonel Lindbergh, was simplicity itself, direct in manner with no affectations or pretensions and yet with a quality that won her audience.” Earhart’s stage presence and presentation were delightful, but what really captivated the reporter was her humor, which “played in her serene, frank eyes full of intelligence and friendliness” and in her smile–“generous, jolly and wide.”
Earhart had driven from Lexington to speak and would soon depart for Nashville, but she was convinced that flying was safer than automobile transportation. Driving “at a speed above 40 or 45 miles an hour,” she said, as reported in the Park City Daily News, “is more dangerous than flying in a plane at a speed of 150 to 200 miles per hour.” The keys to success in flight, she maintained, were preparation and stress management. For a pilot, hot chocolate, not coffee or tea, was the best tonic.
Among the audience of 900 at Van Meter Hall was Martha Potter, who had noted Earhart’s January 1935 Pacific flight in her diary. In a letter to her grandchildren, she told them about seeing the famed aviatrix “who flew across the Atlantic by herself. She was most interesting,” Martha wrote. “I wish you could have heard her.”
Martha Potter’s diaries and letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here for a finding aid. For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.