On a high bluff overlooking the Missouri River, Amelia Earhart came into the world. While the small town she grew up in may seem quiet, the urge for adventure stirred deep in her heart. The two-story cottage stands as a reminder of the amazing flying feats performed by this aviation pioneer. The world knows her for the many aviation records she set, but there was so much more to this girl from Atchison, Kansas. We embarked on our own search for Amelia with a visit to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.
From our home in Kansas City, it is only about an hour’s drive to Atchison. With the chill of winter finally releasing its icy grip, the ground was slowly beginning its long thaw. The unexpected warming threw a shroud of fog along the river valley. Our drive had been a surreal experience that felt like we were traveling back through the mists of time. Arriving before the museum opened gave us a little time to scout out the neighborhood that served as Amelia’s early playground. A pair of greyhound statues kept guard upon the sidewalk, forever waiting for the return of their lost friend. Our search for Amelia was about to begin.
Amelia’s Early Days
Amelia Mary Earhart came into the world on July 24, 1897. She bore the names of her grandmothers and the Earhart home is that of her maternal grandfather. Amelia spent hours upon hours exploring the outdoors with her sister Pidge. During a trip to St. Louis, Amelia saw a roller coaster and decided to build her own. Always on the prowl for excitement, she experienced her ‘first flight’ with the assistance of an uncle. It was he who helped her cobble together a make-shift ramp that they attached to the roof of a nearby shed. While the end result was a broken box and bruised lip, Amelia became enamored with the exhilaration of the experience.
Leaving Her Mark
Amelia lived in her Atchison home until the age of 12, when her father was transferred to Des Moines, Iowa. It was there that she would see her first aircraft. During a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Amelia’s father tried to convince his daughter to take a flight. Like many of the early aircraft, it was a rickety vehicle made of baling wire and canvass. Amelia decided that it would be far more prudent to stick to the merry-go-round. Although this first sighting did not impress her, she was still fascinated by the idea of flying.
Tour the Home
Having the opportunity to tour the Amelia Earhart Birthplace is a fascinating adventure. Knowing that you are sharing a space where this adventurous aviator lived and played is almost surreal. The staff charged with upkeep are always looking for ways to improve the experience for their visitors. While the home was originally just a single-room cabin, later additions brought it to the stately two-story that we found during our visit. Inside, we were treated with period wallpaper and architectural wonders. The woodwork found in the doorway casings is heavy and bold. We loved seeing this peek-a-boo door that allowed the use of the phone by people in different rooms.
As we made our way through the house, we found ourselves immersed in her history. Our tour guide, Heather, walked us through room-after-room of memories from the famed aviator. Each piece in the house is focused on this Kansas native, who continues to capture the imagination of the nation. On the second floor, we found a room that contained many pieces from the movies and publications that have carried the story of Amelia. Seeing all of the various mementos made us realize just how far-reaching Amelia’s story has become. It was obvious that many others make the pilgrimage to Atchison to search for Amelia’s history.
Let’s face it, our search for Amelia was presenting us with the stuff of legends. Her escapades can be rattled off like a rolling list of greatest hits. In December 1920, she would take her first flight, which would seal her love of flying. By the beginning of January 1921, she was engaged in her first flying lesson. Being a woman pilot in the 1920s was not a common occurrence. In fact, by the time she received her pilot’s license, in May 1923, she was only the 16th woman in the United States to earn this document. It was amusing to discover that by the time she earned that certificate, she had already set a world record for female pilot altitude. Clearly, she was destined to be a shooting star.
Throughout her life, Amelia would bounce between jobs. The one constant remained her passion for flying. Her first taste of real celebrity status came after a flight across the Atlantic. This occurred in 1928 and marked Earhart as the first woman to cross the Atlantic by airplane. She was tasked with keeping the flight log of the trip, but would later remark that she “was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes”. Still, she was part of a ticker-tape parade held in Manhattan upon their return. This sudden thrust into the spotlight kickstarted her advertising career. Soon, everyone was wanting to know more about this mysterious woman from Kansas. She would repeat the crossing of the Atlantic in May 1932, but this time she flew it solo.
This amazing journey set the world on its ear and everyone clamored to learn more about Amelia. Multiple honors were bestowed upon her for this monumental achievement. Over the next five years, she would continue to rack up accolades. Finally, 1937 brought her attempt to complete the first round-the-world flight by a female pilot. With her navigator Fred Noonan in tow, she departed on her fateful trip. Her first attempt ended in a runway crash that delayed her for months. It would also change the direction of her flight path and force her to face a 7000-mile trek across the Pacific Ocean. This would be the beginning of one of the greatest mysteries of modern time.
Our Search for Amelia
Most people are well aware of the mysterious disappearance of Amelia’s aircraft. Numerous expeditions have searched in vain for some physical proof of a crash site. There are many theories surrounding the missing pilot. While the world may never know exactly what occurred in the skies over the wide-open seas, you can be sure that the world will never stop its search for Amelia. For us, the lessons we learned about her were focused on the years that she breathed life into a curious world. Our visit to her childhood home proved to us that the memories of this aviation giant are embedded in the town of Atchison.