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Long-awaited statue of aviation hero Amelia Earhart unveiled at US Capitol

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) speaks during the unveiling of a statue of aviator Amelia Earhart. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Amelia Earhart has been grounded in the U.S. Capitol.

She’s locked down with bolts onto a Cottonwood Limestone base quarried in Kansas in a corner of National Statuary Hall next to Thomas Edison and Chief Standing Bear. There is no risk of her taking flight.

“Amelia Earhart has landed in Washington, D.C.,” said U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, in a ceremony unveiling Earhart’s statue at the Capitol on Wednesday, just three days after Earhart’s 125 birthday.

A group of dignitaries — including former U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gov. Laura Kelly and members of Kansas’ current congressional delegation — pulled at a black string, revealing the statue of Earhart smiling confidently looking out at the other 34 statues in the grand hall.

The bronze statue — cast by George and Mark Lundeen — shows Earhart wearing trousers, a pilot’s jacket and a scarf. Her hat and goggles are in one hand and the other’s in her pocket. Her belt has a Kansas sunflower on it.

Her great-nephew and great-great-nephew were in the audience for the event. Paul Morrisey, who now lives in Massachusetts, said his grandmother would have been proud to see her sister’s statue in the U.S. Capitol.

She came to the U.S. Capitol last week in a truck, after a more than 20 year wait since 1999, when the Kansas Legislature voted to have her statue replace the one of former Kansas Sen. John James Ingalls, which had stood in the Capitol since 1905.

Kansas is now represented by Earhart and former President Dwight Eisenhower, who is a short walk away in the Capitol rotunda. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran emphasized that Kansas’ statues are now among the most recognizable to the scores of people who tour the Capitol every year.

“Kansas officially has two of the most iconic and recognizable American heroes representing any state in the United States Capitol,” Moran said.

The statue, just the 11th statue of a woman in the Capitol, was the result of many years of effort by the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation, which raised the funds to get the statue made and picked out which likeness of Earhart they liked best. Karen Seaberg, the president of the Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation, and Jacque Pregont, the chair of the committee that selected the statue, said when they first saw the Lundeen’s model, they said “that’s her.”

Earhart’s status as an American icon is unimpeachable — she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and was a major proponent for women’s rights. She dined at the White House and flew with Eleanor Roosevelt.

“She was one of those first really visible women that put up the fight for women’s rights,” Pregont said. “I mean that’s one of her famous quotes, that a woman can do anything a man can. And so I think she still is very relevant in the world today and can remain a role model, especially for young women, but really, for all young people.”

Earhart grew up in Atchison and Des Moines, Iowa. The daughter of an alcoholic, she had to leave college so she could help bring in money for the family. She used to say she had 28 jobs by the time she turned 30. In 1923, she became the 16th woman to earn her pilot’s license.

Her career took off from there and she became one of the most famous pilots in American history before she disappeared in 1937 as she attempted to become the first woman to fly a plane around the world at the age of 39.

It was a long process to get Earhart to the Capitol. While the Legislature decided she should represent Kansas in 1999, it took several years to raise enough money to get it built. There was a long process of deciding on a statue — there were originally 200 people who submitted designs — before they settled on the current statue.

Then, they had to get a pedestal that would be approved by the Architect of the U.S. Capitol (the floors in the building are uneven and sag under the weight of the statues), which involved an inventive design by Matthew Smith from the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

The pedestal says “Famous aviatrix, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.”

Speakers on Wednesday talked about her bravery and how she can serve as a role model to people who have big dreams.

“Amelia stands as a symbol of daring determination to defy the odds that led her from her little hometown Atchison, Kansas, to become one of the most admired women in the world,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall.


© 2022 The Kansas City Star
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