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Bad Hair Day

What was thought to be a lock of Amelia Earhart’s hair, on display at a Cleveland museum, is merely thread. In mid-September, the International Women’s Air and Space Museum included in its e-newsletter to IWASM members an explanation of the misunderstanding: Last week we reported that a sample of h...

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What was thought to be a lock of Amelia Earhart’s hair, on display at a Cleveland museum, is merely thread. In mid-September, the International Women’s Air and Space Museum included in its e-newsletter to IWASM members an explanation of the misunderstanding:
Last week we reported that a sample of hair from Amelia Earhart had been provided by IWASM to The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery for DNA testing. We got an update on the process last night and we wanted to share it with everyone. The hair, quite simply, is not hair. The lock of hair was taken out of a wastepaper basket by Mrs. Lillian Rogers Parks, who served as a maid at the White House for many years, during one of Amelia's stays with the Roosevelts. Mrs. Parks references the hair in her book, My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House. Mrs. Parks eventually forwarded the lock of hair to the Smithsonian, who sent it to IWASM. And until this year's Amelia Earhart exhibit opened here in March, it stayed tucked in a drawer.

Last month, Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR, came to the museum to give a lecture. We showed him the hair and he asked for a small sample of it to first, verify that it was indeed Earhart's, and second, to possibly use it to confirm the DNA of artifacts he hopes to recover on TIGHAR's next expedition to Nikumororo, , scheduled for June 2010. We extracted a portion of the hair to send it to TIGHAR. As we were working with it, we became concerned that it was not hair. It did not seem like a number of small strands but rather a couple of longer strands that were difficult to work with. We sent it off to TIGHAR with our suspicion. TIGHAR proceeded cautiously but, based upon an initial look, thought that it likely was hair. The sample made its way to the DNA laboratory, who also initially believed it to be hair. But, after the appropriate testing, they concluded it was thread and there was no DNA on it. While this is indeed disappointing news for us we felt it was important to tell the rest of the story.

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