Frank Benjamin is an Amelia Earhart enthusiast par excellence. Frank, 74, a semi-retired college science teacher who lives with wife Suzanne in the bedroom community of Galena, on Maryland’s eastern shore, has distinguished himself in recent years for his avid support of the truth in the Earhart disappearance. He contacted me several years before Truth at Last was published, in connection with his own serious probe into a murky area of Earhart research, and even drove down twice to Knoxville, Tenn., from Galena to visit.
On one occasion, he assisted me at a veterans business event at the Knoxville Convention Center, helping me accost unsuspecting East Tennesseans with the truth in the Earhart case and the new book where they could find it. We sold just six books that day, but consoled ourselves by telling each other what a great job we did “planting a few seeds.” Although a few thousand souls might have passed our booth, we were able to talk to perhaps a hundred or so. Overall, the day’s experience was instructive — and very deflating. Most couldn’t have cared less about Amelia Earhart.
Frank is also quite a world traveler; he’s been to the Marshall Islands and Saipan more times than he can recall, and hopes to return at least once more to the Marshalls to visit Mili Atoll and the uninhabited and nearly inaccessible Barre Island, where our best evidence indicates Amelia made her wheels-up landing in the Mili Lagoon. Nearly every summer Frank flies to Japan to walk its more remote beaches in search of the decorative glass balls that local fisherman use to secure their nets and eventually wash ashore to be claimed by enterprising scavengers like Frank.
Over recent years, Frank has been assembling a fascinating exhibit – some might call is a display – that reflects his devotion to the truth in the Earhart case (pictured above, at Atchison, Kansas in July 2013). Among the many curiosities comprising this one-of-a-kind Earhart memorial are an elegant print of a painting of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief Pacific Fleet, which Frank procured from the Navy History Center at the Navy Yard in Washington along with another, similar print, which Frank generously presented me; a beautifully enlarged and mounted set of four postage stamps issued by the Republic of the Marshall Island in 1987 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Amelia’s landing at Mili Atoll; and an original painting depicting a forlorn Amelia behind bars at Saipan’s Garapan jail, as reported by many native witnesses to researchers such as Fred Goerner, Joe Gervais and Vincent V. Loomis.
Many photos, clippings and other assorted memorabilia, including the front page of the July 1, 1960 San Mateo Times, proclaiming “Amelia Earhart Mystery Is Solved,” direct from Saipan and courtesy of Times reporter Linwood Day and Fred Goerner (below), make Frank’s display unforgettable for anyone with even a modicum of interest in the Earhart story.
On Dec. 1, Frank brought his exhibit to the Massey Aerodrome & Museum, in nearby Massey, Md., hopeful that thost attending its Eleventh Annual Open Hangar Day would be drawn to the alluring layout, seeking to learn about the Earhart “mystery.” Many hundreds came to Massey for the Open Hangar Day, Frank recalled, but very few bothered to approach him or his display.
“Mike, the airshow in Massey WAS WORSE than Knoxville!” Frank wrote in an email. “At least there (in Knoxville), people passed by the display; here they did not even bother. And their reaction to my going to bat for the Marshall Islands-Saipan “Truth” was really zero. Nobody cares, as I guess that you already know. I have to find a new way to get the message out there, but I do not know what it will be.”
In deference to Frank’s wishes, I won’t name any of better-known personages who attended the 2013 Amelia Earhart Festival during the third week of July, whose less-than-friendly treatment of Frank and his message revealed their support for the establishment’s aversion to the truth, reflected in a policy that forbids even the mention of Amelia Earhart and Saipan in the same sentence. After being led to believe by Chamber of Commerce types that he would be allowed to sell his special Earhart “MIST” (Marshall Islands-Saipan Truth) T-shirts screened with the same image of an imprisoned Amelia that graces his commissioned painting (below), and several dozen copies of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last at Atchison, event officials coldly informed Frank that such activity was prohibited soon after he arrived.
Still, at Atchison, Frank managed to collect a small amount of “psychic income” from a few good souls who appreciated his efforts, unlike his bleak experience at Massey. “I was recognized at the luncheon for my extensive display on the Saipan ‘Truth’ (it did come out real well, and was an eye-catcher!) and [Birthplace Musum Director] Lou Foudray went around telling everyone what a wonderful job I had done,” Frank told me in a recent email. “But it means nothing, as I got an ear-full from the Irene Bolam people, and it left me tired, and asking why had I bothered to do this at all? I could sell none of the books, nor my T-shirts, and at the last minute I was removed from the ‘Meet the Authors’ because they already had three speakers, and there was concern that people would run over the time allotted.”
But Atchison is Amelia’s birthplace, and the week’s events were all part of the town’s annual devotions to its most famous citizen. We can expect at least a minimal interest in an elaborate, creative exhibit dedicated to her memory and those who have stuck out their necks to offer the truth about an event that’s still promoted as one of the “great mysteries of the 20th century.”
The reception Frank received at Massey is far more reflective of the public’s vast indifference and lassitude when it comes to the fate of Amelia Earhart. Most under 60 years old have barely heard of her, and are hard pressed to tell an inquisitor anything about Amelia except that “she was lost in the Pacific Ocean, wasn’t she?” Certainly, many of our seniors, especially those over 85, are almost always interested, as many of them can remember sitting in front of their radios as children with their mothers and fathers, anxiously awaiting news of the lost fliers in 1937. Amelia’s loss is real to these people, and when I’m able to tell them what really happened, they’re usually amazed and appreciative. But 77 years of propaganda and lies have succeeded in convincing the vast majority of the American public that the Earhart mystery won’t be solved, so what’s the point, and who really cares anymore? This is the sad reality of the Earhart case, as Frank and I have learned up close and personally.