Friday, April 23, 2010

Amelia Earhart's sister Muriel and the Rock Island Line

Herein, the body of a letter written by Edwin Earhart. Yes, I have been roaming the halls of Schlesinger library in Cambridge. Written on Rock Island Line stationery, it reads,Miss Muriel Earhart,
Dear Madam,
I have your claim for $5.00 for having been bitten by a isquito on our train. Before we can pay the same, we would, at least, like to know how big a bite the misquito took and we would like to see the misquito. Of coure, we admit that we owe you something and are willing to pay it, but you will have to produce the misquito before you could expect us to pay you. This case will probably have to be referred to the Chicago office as it is so serious a case and I hardly feel like handling it.
Very truly yours,
ES Earhart.
Father jokes. And jokes lovingly. I spent hours with him, with Muriel, with Amelia, or what was left behind. A detritus of a life, or two, or three. Muriel, her mother, Amelia. Letters signed sealed and evidently delivered. Photographs of the sisters. And I noticed the gaps between being young together and being older, and separate. Muriel does become the keeper of Amelia's legacy. She also spends some time speaking to those who want to discover what happened to Amelia. I'm curious about the in between. About the time when Amelia became Amelia and Muriel, Muriel. What went on between them, and what didn't go on . . .
I have to say one thing that stunned me, even at this late date, was how photogenic Amelia was. She's at one with a camera, even if it's unintentional. Anyhow, research is good for the soul, it lets you get away from that hunkered down intensity and breathe. And in this case it confirms your suspicions.
Amelia has spoken about her father in my book, the scene takes place on the Rock Island Line, he, once a god, falls in her estimation. And she keeps his secret for a while longer. It's Muriel who received the letter, with the ironically spelled mosquito. But it's Amelia who continued to send letters to family members, using ironic misspellings. It's family that shapes us . . .for better, for worse, forever.


  1. What suspicions did your research confirm? Just curious.
    Concerning Amelia's ease in front of cameras, it just occurred to me that maybe that's partly a consequence of her own enjoyment in doing photography. As you know, it was a serious hobby for her.

  2. I think it confirmed my sense of Muriel, at least in as far as her public side went. She seemed intent on protecting her sister. And on engaging with those who were interested in her. I also felt confirmed in a sense of what her voice was. I suppose I have tried to think of her first as a real person, then as a character. In order to develop the character I had to let go of who I knew she was, or at least the voice she used when she wrote. But I have worried about doing this. It seems a really delicate balancing act, and almost unfair. She was a public person because she was Amelia's sister and chose to continue in that role. But she was also a private person, I don't like exposing that. Still, it's the idea I've come up with so I have had to do it, at least in as far as my novel does. As for the camera and Amelia, I don't think it has to do with her own interest in photography. I think there's just something about her. Your eye is drawn to her. She does stand out, would she if I didn't know who she was. After looking at these photos I think so.

  3. Your worry about exposing Muriel the private person is another instance of the dilemma we've talked about before on this blog. One may say that someone's choice to be a public person makes them fair game for detailed scrutiny, but I'm not comfortable with that reasoning. Maybe as women we're particularly sensitive to having our boundaries violated, and that's what makes us worry about being intrusive.

  4. Yes, I do wonder about that . . .yet I find, as a woman I am so much more concerned with other people's feelings in general. But I think that it's not solely a woman's concern. Still, I was well trained in that regard.

  5. I enjoyed reading about your experience doing research in the Schlesinger library in Cambridge. I love libraries and I have spent so many happy hours roaming the aisles of university libraries in whatever towns I have lived in. They are such a treasure and free! I like your phrase, "detritus of a life" in the form of letters, photos, etc.
    Maybe Amelia was comfortable in front of a camera because she was comfortable in her own skin. I'm a bit envious of folks who are comfortable in front of a camera and at peace with their appearance. I tend to feel dreadfully self-conscious and uncomfortable around cameras. I've wasted a lot of energy wishing my appearance were different. C'est la vie.

  6. It's interesting what the camera does. And who enjoys having their picture taken. . . I also wonder if it doesn't translate into stage presence. Some have it, others don't. Thankfully it does seem to be something you can acquire if you find a way to manage yourself in front of an audience. Still there's something about natural charisma, an energy that comes from someone that just attracts the eye. At least in my opinion.