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An Amelia Earhart statue joins the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall

Lawmakers gathered at the the Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection for the dedication and unveiling ceremony of a statue in honor of Amelia Earhart, one of the world's most celebrated aviators and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, in Washington, Wednesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
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AP
Lawmakers gathered at the the Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection for the dedication and unveiling ceremony of a statue in honor of Amelia Earhart, one of the world's most celebrated aviators and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, in Washington, Wednesday.

Updated July 27, 2022 at 8:47 PM ET

There's a new woman representative in Washington, D.C.

A statue of Amelia Earhart — the pioneering aviator who became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in — was unveiled at the National Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Earhart became an overnight celebrity in 1928 — a sort of aviating pop/reality star — after becoming the first woman to complete any transatlantic flight.

On that first voyage she was mostly a passenger, accompanied by a pilot and a mechanic. The public's obsession with her reached frenzied levels four years later when Earhart made that journey on her own, becoming first female pilot to make the trip. Three years later she'd become the first woman to fly from the Hawaiian Islands to the mainland.

Ticker-tape parades were held in her honor, and she was so popular that crowds would swarm around her when she made public appearances. They'd grab at her iconic goggles and leather helmet to get a tiny piece of her gravity-defying magic.

The unveiling of the statue at the Capitol fell a little short of that type of mania — but it was joyous nonetheless. The honor guard from the Kansas Air National Guard played the national anthem, people crossed their right hands over their hearts in the pledge of allegiance, and the gathered crowd cheered and woo-hoo'd when the black drape was dramatically removed from the figure.

American aviatrix Amelia Earhart poses for photos as she arrives in Southampton, England, after her transatlantic flight on the "Friendship" from Burry Point, Wales, June 26, 1928. A leather helmet that Amelia Earhart wore on a flight across the Atlantic in 1928 and later lost in a crowd of fans in Cleveland, sold at auction for $825,000, Heritage Auctions said.
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AP
American aviatrix Amelia Earhart poses for photos as she arrives in Southampton, England, after her transatlantic flight on the "Friendship" from Burry Point, Wales, June 26, 1928. A leather helmet that Amelia Earhart wore on a flight across the Atlantic in 1928 and later lost in a crowd of fans in Cleveland, sold at auction for $825,000, Heritage Auctions said.

The statue is one of two to represent Kansas in the Capitol's Statuary Hall Collection. Each state gets to choose a pair to represent them. Earhart, who was born in Atchison, Kansas, is replacing Kansas Senator John James Ingalls. That makes her the 11th woman in the collection.

Earlier this month a marble statue of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune was added, representing Florida. Bethune is the first Black person to represent a state in the collection.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly touched on what she hopes Earhart's addition will mean for future visitors.

"Amelia was a dreamer. Her dreams went far beyond the banks of [the Missouri] river and far beyond the prescribed gender roles of her time," Kelly said. "Let it be an inspiration for all, particularly our young girls, for generations to come. Let them stare up at this work of art and think that they, like Amelia, can dream the impossible dream."

The bronze cast of the famed flier looks like what one might expect: She's wearing a leather bomber jacket, her short hair is mussed — as if there's wind blowing through it — and she's got a popped collar and a scarf fluttering around her neck.

The sculpture has been in the works for more than two decades, and actually took seven years to make. It was crafted by artist brothers George and Mark Lundeen from Colorado. The two won a competition to capture the aviator pioneer's spirit, ABC affiliate WJLA reported.

Earhart's place in American history as a trailblazer is unimpeachable. Not only did she crush aviation records, breaking through the glass ceiling in the sky, she also was a best-selling author, a poet, a military nurse and a social worker. She was a champion for making space for women in science, and for closing the gender gap in all aspects of American life.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quoted from John Gillespie Magee's poem about Earhart, "High Flight," at the ceremony .

Pelosi added: "When girls and boys come to the Capitol and see Amelia, they will visit here and set their sights higher, knowing too that they can reach for the sky. And when they see this statue, when it's quiet here in the Capitol, they will hear the sound of wings."

The arrival of the statue at the Capitol comes just weeks after the 85th anniversary of Earhart's mysterious disappearance on a doomed voyage around the world in 1937. (It's also three days after the 125th anniversary of her birth.)

Several theories abound about what happened to Earhart, who was only 39 at the time she vanished along with her navigator Fred Noonan. Despite numerous searches, scientists have been unable to locate the wreckage of the Lockheed Electra 10E the pair was flying.

In 2018 an anthropologist affiliated with the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center said a new analysis suggested that bones found on Nikumaroro Island in 1940 actually belonged to the adventurous aviatrix. Unfortunately actual bones themselves have long since disappeared.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.