Flying into the past

Actress portrays Amelia Earhart in historical presentation

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ Noted actress and historian Leslie Goddard dons aviator attire and stepped back in time to perform a one-woman show about Amelia Earhart’s life on Friday afternoon at the Martha-Ellen Tye Playhouse. The event, sponsored by the Marshalltown Public Library, was free and open to the public. Goddard is based in Darien, Ill., and travels the region performing shows in which she stars as noted historical figures.

She’s a woman whose story has transfixed generations of people.

Friday afternoon at the Martha-Ellen Tye Playhouse, noted actress and historian Leslie Goddard donned aviator attire and stepped back in time to perform a one-woman show about Amelia Earhart’s life. Using archival materials, including culling from Earhart’s memoirs, Goddard presented a first-person narrative about the famed pilot’s life. Telling the story in flashback, the tale was set on July 2, 1937 — the day Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were reported missing flying over the Pacific Ocean. Starting with recollections of an adventurous childhood exploring the caves of Atchison, Kan., the performance then went on to describe Earhart’s interest in becoming a pilot in an era when few women pursued the profession.

“My mother made bloomers for me instead of dresses, so I could climb trees,” Goddard said in character.

Earhart actually found a female pilot to teach her to fly. In 1928, she became the first woman to fly in an airplane across the Atlantic — as a passenger. A harrowing crossing from Newfoundland to Wales, she and the men piloting the airplane were met with tremendous fanfare.

“I had 2,000 people surrounding me on the ground and I hadn’t even flowing the plane,” Goddard told the audience.

Wanting to prove her aviation skills, and not be seen as a mere celebrity, Earhart set out on her own. On May 21, 1932, she became the first woman pilot to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling from Newfoundland to Ireland in under 15 hours.

Because Earhart’s disappearance has become as famed as her achievements themselves, Goddard said people continue to be fascinated by the entire story of the aviator’s life. After appearing in character for the first 45 minutes of the show, Goddard then opened up a period of discussion for the audience to ask questions.

“History is so strange. It could be years from now that the most unlikely theory today turns out to be true, but until we find the plane or some other evidence, it all just remains theory,” she said.

The event, free and open to the public, was sponsored by the Marshalltown Public Library, as part of its adult summer reading program. It was moved to the playhouse because displaced city offices are currently set up inside the library’s various meeting rooms.

“The program is supported by the library’s budget; when the special library levy was passed, one of the elements was to be able to provide more programming for the community,” Library Director Sarah Rosenblum said.

Goddard, who is based in Darien, Ill., has over 10 years of experience presenting historical programs. An award-winning actress and scholar, she holds a doctorate from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in theater. She is a former museum director and author of the books “Remembering Marshall Field’s” and “Chicago’s Sweet Candy History.” She also portrays the following historical figures: Louisa May Alcott, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Clara Barton and Jacqueline Kennedy, among others.

Goodard may be reached at l-goddard@att.net and her work viewable at www.lesliegoddard.info

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com