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The Earhart collection

Having received the remaining family collection of Amelia Earhart memorabilia on May 2, Purdue Libraries has begun a purposeful effort to provide public access to items of wide interest.

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Sally Putnam Chapman, the granddaughter of Earhart's husband, George Putnam, donated 492 items -- including rarely seen personal and private papers, such as poems, a flight log and a prenuptial agreement -- in a Discover Purdue celebration at Purdue Airport. Those items and others already in the University collection are together known as the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers.

Now Special Collections is undertaking Purdue's first archival digitizing project. Images of Earhart items from the previous and new donations are being placed on the Internet at, providing easy access for users outside Purdue.

Katherine Markee, interim head of Special Collections and Archives, says the immediate challenges are to provide a timeline for historical context and select the most suitable items. Many K-12 students have chosen Amelia Earhart as their topic for the national History Day competition. Before online access, they had to travel to Special Collections and manually research the materials. Now they can use the computer at home or at school and research the aviatrix's memorabilia. Items of interest can be ordered online.

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Researchers and alumni can now visit the collection electronically to view the photographs and read the telegrams and letters that were sent to Earhart during her time at Purdue.

"As we proceed," says Markee, who also is associate professor of library science, "we'll also make a compact disc containing images of Earhart items, and that will be made available."

Items of interest include 1928 letters from Earhart to her parents, a 1932 passport, lecture notes from her days at Purdue from 1935 to 1937, and more than 60 medals.

An on-campus exhibition has been scheduled as part of the University's "A Century of Flight" celebration. The exhibition will open March 10, 2003, in the new Stewart Center Gallery. (The gallery will reopen in August as the renovation of Humanities, Social Science and Education Library winds down.) At the Earhart opening, Sally Putnam Chapman will speak at a 4 p.m. reception. The exhibition will continue until late April.

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In donating the remaining items in May, Chapman said her research for her book "Whistled Like a Bird: The Untold Story of Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart" showed her why the items she had should be united with those already at Purdue.

"My grandfather chose to give the collection to Purdue because Amelia loved Purdue and because of Purdue's generous sponsorship of her flights," Chapman said. "They were already married during Amelia's time on the faculty at Purdue, and they spent time on the campus together. I am just fulfilling what he would have done."

Top: Sally Putnam Chapman, donor of Earhart papers, speaks at the May 2 ceremony. Above: Amelia Earhart walks to her Lockheed Electra, the plane in which she was lost. The plane was furnished by the Purdue Research Foundation. Bottom: Earhart's passport from her 1932 solo trans-Atlantic flight shows that by then she had married and officially added the name "Putnman."

Purdue to celebrate "A Century of Flight"

In each of aviation's ten decades, Purdue has played a significant and expanding role.

As the centennial of Orville and Wilbur Wright's Dec. 17, 1903, flight approaches, leaders in a wide spectrum of Purdue schools and offices are looking at appropriate ways to celebrate a century of University greatness in aviation and space.

Todd Wetzel, director of Purdue Convocations, is serving as convenor of a group that will coordinate events and calendars for "A Century of Flight." Wetzel invites alumni and others with ideas for the collective celebration to contact him at (765) 494-9712 or Interested persons may also contact a school or office with their ideas.

Numerous exciting events are well into planning, and details will appear in Perspective and elsewhere as plans are finalized.

Wetzel also notes that a national celebration is in the works, and information about that is at

Book to recount Purdue's part in 100 years of flying

In researching a book about Purdue's history of flight, John Norberg hasn't struggled for subjects to investigate. Some of that history goes back nearly to Kitty Hawk, and Norberg, senior writer in University Relations, will complete the book in time for "A Century of Flight" celebrations leading up to Dec. 17, 2003, the centennial of the Wright brothers' first flight.

"This is a fun book," says Norberg, who is known to many as a former reporter and still a weekly columnist for the Journal and Courier newspaper in Lafayette. "You'll find Purdue people every step of the way." The book will recount their efforts in story and photos.

He marvels at the tremendous development of aviation technology in one century. Orville Wright was living when Neil Armstrong was born. But flight's first decade wasn't grand.

"About 1910, the airplane finally caught the public's attention," Norberg says. After Kitty Hawk, the Wrights went home without acclaim to Dayton, Ohio, and tinkered, sometimes getting help on their new-fangled gasoline engine from Cliff Turpin, a 1908 Purdue mechanical engineering graduate from Dayton. He also helped on flight controls and became a pilot and trainer.

Many Boilermakers followed Turpin into the skies: Jimmy Johnson, who flew the first "boat planes"; Frederick Martin and George Welch, notable players in the Pearl Harbor drama and aviation breakthroughs; Amelia Earhart; balloonist Malcomb Ross; renowned test pilot Iven Kincheloe; 22 astronauts; and hundreds of others.

"Aviation is a big part of the story of the 20th century," Norberg says. "We entered it with the horse and buggy, and we finished it with space shuttles."

Stories by Dan Howell
Putnam photograph by David Umberger