Man sets the stage for famed aviatrix’s return in small Wyoming town
MEETEETSE, Wyoming – A historical landmark of one of the most famous women of the 20th century placed against the backdrop of a tiny, scenic town in northwestern Wyoming, is what artist Daryl Peterson would like to see happen.
Peterson owns an art studio in Cody, Wyoming. He wants to put a 5-foot 7-inch bronze statue of Amelia Earhart 31 miles southeast of Cody, in Meeteetse.
“Nothing is more recognizable for Meeteetse than the Amelia Earhart story,” Peterson told EastIdahoNews.com.
Amelia Earhart in Wyoming
Tucked away in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming, just outside Meeteetse, is Kirwin. Once a thriving mining settlement in the early 1900s, is now an abandoned ghost town containing remnants of its famous past.
Among those remnants lies the beginning stages of a cabin — four logs high with door frames in place — on the Double D Dude Ranch. This partly finished cabin has ties to Earhart.
Carl Dunrud bought the town of Kirwin and the surrounding property on the Double D in 1931.
Dunrud and George Putnam, Earhart’s husband, went on a backpacking trip around this time. Putnam wanted Earhart to have the same experience.
According to information provided by the Meeteetse Visitor Center, Earhart had driven alone from New York to Douglas, Wyoming, in 1934: “As she drove up the mountains to the Double D Dude Ranch, the carburetor of her Franklin car had to be adjusted at 8,200 feet.”
A gas station attendant recognized Earhart in Douglas. She was, after all, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Earhart was one of the most famous people in the world at this time,” says David Cunningham, director of the Meeteetse Museums. A portion of the museum is devoted to Earhart’s history in Wyoming.
She spent the next two weeks on the ranch camping in the mountains with her husband and Dunrud.
Earhart became enamored with a 20-acre parcel of land during that trip and filed a mining claim on the property.
At Earhart’s request, Dunrud began building a cabin in the fall of 1936.
The following summer, “Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra disappeared during her attempted around-the-world flight, and Dunrud stopped building,” the Casper-Star Tribune reported in 2012.
Rich Dunrud, the son of Carl Dunrud, was 4 years old when Earhart’s visited the Meeteetse area. He declined to speak with us, but he did mention a book written by his father called, “Let’s Go! 85 years of Adventure.” The book draws upon journal entries Carl Dunrud kept throughout his life.
“I remember how delighted I was when Amelia sent gifts to us on the (Double D) in the fall of 1936,” Rich Dunrud says in the book.
One of those gifts included a flight jacket, which Cunningham said is on display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody.
According to the same Casper-Star Tribune report, “Carl Dunrud wanted the community to remember her (Earhart), so he had a small stone monument erected in Meeteetse.”
Now Daryl Peterson wants to add his sculpture as an additional monument.
“What sparked the whole idea was I hate to see this little town that has so much history, so much beauty, die,” Peterson said.
Peterson grew up in Meeteetse, which he says was once “a happening place.” When farming and ranching died out and the oil rigs shut down, Peterson says Meeteetse seems to have died down with it.
Peterson first proposed his idea to the Meeteetse City Council more than a year ago. He said city leaders seemed interested at the time. There was even discussion on where the statue should be placed.
“I wanted to put it in front of the museum,” Peterson said. “I proposed that to the town. Then, I got a call from the museum, and they were kind of upset.”
According to Peterson, the museum staff didn’t want the statue in front because there is already a bear statue there. They suggested it be placed out back in an old equipment yard.
Then, Peterson said, the town suggested putting the statue in front of town hall.
Since those initial conversations, Peterson said he has continued to reach out to the City Council to approve the project.
“I can’t move forward with the project until I get an official OK from the town,” Peterson said.
All discussion seems to have stopped, Peterson said.
Meeteetse City Clerk/Treasurer Angie Johnson confirmed there was a lot of interest in the project.
“Overall, everybody was in favor of the idea,” Johnson said. “We just haven’t communicated very well.”
Meanwhile, the question of Earhart’s fate continues to be a source of public fascination.
This summer marked the 80th anniversary of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan’s disappearance.
Speculation on what happened to them abound. Most recently, a photo found in the National Archives could be evidence they survived after their disappearance.
As for Peterson, he says the ongoing fascination with Earhart’s disappearance only adds to the argument for posting a statue of her likeness in Meeteetse.
He says the town, today, lives in the shadow of Cody. Peterson feels a life-size statue might be just the thing to boost tourism for Meeteetse.
“If you’re going to have a symbol for your town, you’ve got to have something recognizable,” Peterson said. “Cody has Buffalo Bill. Meeteetse has Amelia Earhart.”
This article was first published in the Montana Pioneer.