Quick, riddle me this:
What’s missing from the following list?
- Northwest Orient Airlines flight 305
- November 24, 1971
The answer, of course, is D.B. Cooper, who jumped out of that plane 40 years ago tomorrow with $200,000 in ransom money, leaping not just into the darkness but into the travel mystery hall of fame.
“People are totally fascinated by him,” said Geoffrey Gray, the author of “Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper” and organizer of a symposium on the man in Portland, Ore., on Saturday. “We’re going to bring Cooper sleuths and experts in the case together and really try to solve the mystery.”
According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, federal investigators are trying to crack a new lead in the D.B. Cooper case, the nation's only unsolved commercial airline hijacking. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
Whether they do so or not, the case clearly speaks to people’s continuing fascination with travel’s great unsolved mysteries. “If it’s unresolved, it breeds excitement,” said Michael Brein, aka The Travel Psychologist. “People get to be close to dangerous situations without actually being in danger.”
If that sounds appealing, here are some other cases to get you started:
Amelia Earhart: The fate of America’s most famous aviatrix has been a mystery ever since she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in the South Pacific while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. The most likely theory is that they ditched at sea, but that hasn’t eliminated speculation that they were caught and executed by the Japanese or that Earhart survived the flight, assumed a new identity and moved to New Jersey.
Those interested in her story would be advised to skip the Garden State and head to Atchison, Kan., home to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, which features historic photos, documents and memorabilia. A festival in her honor takes place annually during the third weekend in July.
Everett Ruess: Remember Chris McCandless, the young man who walked into the Alaska bush and achieved posthumous fame in John Krakauer’s book, “Into the Wild”? He could have taken his cues from Everett Ruess, a 20-year-old artist/adventurer who, despite extensive wilderness experience, disappeared in the canyon country of southern Utah in 1934.
While Ruess’ fate remains a mystery, his legacy lives on in his essays and prints and, come September, during Everett Ruess Days in Escalante, Utah. Part of the annual Escalante Canyons Art Festival, the festivities include a plein air-painting competition, an arts and craft show and discussions about Ruess.
The Mary Celeste: Sailing from New York to Genoa, Italy, in November 1872, this merchant ship was found a month later still under sail but without a passenger or crewmember in sight. Amid reports that the ship’s cargo and passengers’ valuables were left untouched, the vessel has served as the model for “ghost ships” ever since.
Today, most of the surviving artifacts from the ship are in private collections, but its story is on display courtesy of the Sippican Historical Society in Marion, Mass., and at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.