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Saipan campaigns for controversial Earhart statue

Amelia Earhart standing under the nose of her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, 1937

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Smithsonian Institute

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Amelia Earhart vanished in 1937

A controversial campaign is under way in the US Northern Mariana Islands to commemorate the pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart, who vanished over the Pacific 80 years ago while trying to fly around the world.

The Amelia Earhart Committee is asking local legislators for $150,000 (£111,000) to put up a statue on the Western Pacific island of Saipan, the Saipan Tribune newspaper reports.

“I strongly believe that Saipan should acknowledge the important historical event dating back to 1937,” says Committee member representative Marie Soledad Camacho Castro. “Amelia Earhart was brought to Saipan by the Japanese after her plane came down in the Pacific.”

The Committee proposal says that the 12-foot (3.6-metre) statue will attract visitors and “witnesses to the world that Saipan is the island where Amelia Earhart was known to have lived”.

The problem is that Amelia Earhart was last heard of officially heading for Howland Island, hundreds of miles to the southeast, and reports that she was captured by Saipan’s Japanese colonial rulers are heavily contested.

Claims to her being in Saipan are often based on a blurry photograph, which was found in the vaults of the US National Archives earlier this year. A History Channel documentary says the photo possibly shows Ms Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan in Japanese military custody on the Marshall Islands, en route to Saipan.

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US National Archives

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The photograph has been debunked

Historians have since debunked the theory, saying the figures in the photograph look nothing like the two aviators. And Japanese military researcher Kota Yamano says he has evidence that the photo appeared in a travel book two years before Amelia Earhart disappeared.

There are cherished local stories of relatives who say they saw Amelia Earhart in captivity before the war, and some voices in the Marianas media have been happy to skip over the dockside photo controversy – “don’t be a ‘Saipan denier‘!”, one writer declares.

But many are calling out the Saipan link on social media. Some say they fear the Marshall Islands will be the “laughing stock of the planet” if the plan goes ahead.

“Romantic as this story has always been, she perished east of Howland Island on the night of 2 July 1937,” one online reader adds. “Might as well make a statue of an alien,” another mocks.

Several Saipan-based users question the $150,000 price tag. “Why so much? Will it be made out of gold with a fountain that flows with orphan tears?” asks Bucky Manzanares.

One Saipan Tribune reader says that the island’s infrastructure deserves the funding instead, and his lament of “Don’t you have more important issues to attend to?” could seem reasonable given that another top story on the Saipan Tribune is “Sewage overflow bugs casino“.

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P. Miller via Wikimedia Commons

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Saipan: statues or sewers?

Reporting by Alistair Coleman and Martin Morgan

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