We have had a lot of good fortune thrust upon us since the inception of the Chasing Earhart project. People always ask me what the best part of the project is or if there is anything that we’ve experienced that’s been surprising. The answer to that is always an easy one. The surprises are in the details. The little stories that other projects often overlook or don’t care to hear.
I first found out about Dennis Gray when my good friend and mentor Doug Westfall told me his story. Dennis had met Amelia Earhart when he was a little boy and he could prove it. His father happened to be filming when Amelia walked in and out of their lives; changing them forever just as she was known to do with so many people during her illustrious career. Upon seeing the film for the first time, I could only imagine what a four-year Dennis Gray must have been thinking when he met Amelia by accident that day in Burbank.
As our project got larger and we moved home base out to Atchison I was filled with a sense of excitement. I wanted to do everything in my power to help this city that I fell in love with over a week in the summer of 2017. The Amelia Earhart Festival is mecca for anyone interested in Amelia in any capacity. I kept asking myself “What can we do to make this bigger?” “How can we make an impact?” We’ve been hard at work for over eight months putting together “Chasing Earhart: The Discussion Panel” working directly with Karen Seaberg and Jacque Pregont the whole way. What we’re about to attempt in a little over a month from this printing is nothing short of a minor miracle. How will it all turn out? We’ll all find out soon enough but for now we have Dennis Gray and his incredible story. I knew that I wanted the original 16 MM film to find a home in Atchison and simultaneously I knew that the Amelia Earhart Airport Museum was being constructed. It seemed a natural fit to have this story on full display alongside Muriel; the last Lockheed Electra 10E in the world. How ironic would it be to see a film of Amelia’s Electra playing alongside the last of its breed?
This past Monday evening in a private presentation, I had the honor of presenting Karen and Jacque with the original March 1937 16 MM film of Amelia Earhart shaking hands with a four-year-old Dennis Gray at the Burbank airport just outside the hangar where her flying laboratory was being prepared for her first attempt at a world flight. Doug Westfall and Dennis Gray, have chosen the city of Atchison to receive this unique moving portrait of Amelia making this graceful gesture with the boy. Although displays and artifacts are important, this film is a moving and real slice of time of Amelia at the height of her aviation career. Even at his young age, meeting Amelia made a tremendous impression on him and he remembers every detail to this day.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this donation is the motivation behind it. Bethany Root. I never had the pleasure of meeting Bethany, but we had heard about the tragic accident last summer that took her life along with the life of pilot Vlado Lenoch. I have since spoken to a lot of people that were touched by her gentle spirit. Doug Westfall was just one of many.
“I had given a copy of our May 1937 film of AE to Bethany Root at the Amelia Earhart Airport, to play for pilots, visitors and the people who come there. She was so thrilled to have it to show. When I heard about the tragedy and loss of Bethany in the air-crash, I was truly saddened. Now that the March 1937 film of AE is available, we felt it even more appropriate to donate it here, in Bethany's name.”
It’s beautiful how things come full circle and how people, places and events tie together. Atchison, Kansas, Dennis Gray, and Amelia Earhart. In memory of Bethany Root.
Blue skies and tail winds.
To learn more about the film and to purchase "Amelia's Last Flight to Hawaii" visit the Paragon Agency here
Chris' original globe appears in the Atchison Globe here