With the airplane that carried Amelia Earhart across the Atlantic as a backdrop, the National Air and Space Museum accepted the papers of the lost aviator.

The ceremony Tuesday evening came 53 years after Earhart was lost on a flight across the Pacific, an event that turned a popular heroine of the early days of flight into a cult figure still shrouded in mystery.For decades Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass., has held boxes of Earhart's correspondence, including post-mortem letters from seers claiming to know her whereabouts.

The Earhart collection was easily the most popular in the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, an affiliate of Harvard University. Now, a microfilmed copy - 11 reels of it - is available to a wider audience at the Smithsonian Institution's museum of flight.

Earhart remains a fascinating figure to many because of the mystery surrounding her fate. On July 2, 1937, three weeks before her 40th birthday, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, in her Lockheed Electra bound for tiny Howland Island in the mid-Pacific Ocean on their attempted round-the-world flight.

A ship near the island picked up a signal from Earhart seeking its position. It was the last time anyone heard from her.

The fate of the beautiful, dashing flier remains the stuff of tabloid headlines.