Few women have achieved global recognition because of their pioneering adventures and contributions to a field of science as has Amelia Earhart, our neighbor across the Missouri River who called Atchison, Kansas home.
Born here on July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart was truly a global citizen as an adult, living in multiple locations throughout North America while traveling around the world. But she spent the majority of her first 12 years in a little white house in Atchison, on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River.
Of course, she is probably most remembered today, 125 years after her birth, because of the unanswered questions surrounding her death, which may or may not have been in 1937.
1st woman (2nd person) to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
1st person to fly solo from Hawaii to U.S. mainland
1st woman to fly nonstop across the United States
1st woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet
1st woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross
Some may consider it a stretch of the imagination, but it’s possible to say that Amelia’s first flight was also in Atchison. No, not at the airport now named in her honor, but in the backyard of her grandparents' house at 223 N. Terrace Street in Atchison.
After having seen a rollercoaster at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Amelia and her younger sister, Muriel, built their own rollercoaster-like contraption. Amelia took the first run and lost control on the first curve, flying off into the yard and crashing a few feet away. She is said to have shouted to her sister, whom she called Pidge, “Oh, Pidge, it’s just like flying.”
A re-created rollercoaster in the backyard and numerous items relating to Amelia’s adventurous life is now a feature in the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, which is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday.
That rollercoaster is the inspiration for one exhibit in a new museum under construction in Atchison. It’s the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, home to the last remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E, the type of aircraft Amelia was piloting when she disappeared in her 1937 quest to circumnavigate the globe.
The airplane, named Muriel, is the centerpiece of the museum. Around the perimeter will be a dozen interactive experiences that teach the science, technology, engineering, and math used in aviation, including the physics of rollercoaster construction.
A couple of other exhibits will teach visitors about the strong women in Amelia’s life and the scrapbook she kept of women who inspired her.
Amelia’s mother was the first woman to ride horseback to the top of Pike’s Peak. When Amelia got her pilot’s license in 1920, she was only the 14th woman to earn a license, yet her flight instructor was also a woman. Amelia was good friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of women’s rights and accomplishments.
Construction on the museum exhibits will pause July 15-16. That’s the weekend of the Amelia Earhart Festival when thousands of fans and aviators descend on Atchison for all things Amelia.
Benedictine College will host “Breakfast with Books” featuring the authors of two books about Amelia. The first is a children’s book by Mark Weakland called “When Amelia Earhart Built a Rollercoaster.”
The second is a middle school-level book by Heather Stemp called “Amelia and Me.” This story is based on the real events surrounding a thermos of tomato soup that Amelia carried on her historic flight across the Atlantic.
There will be an open house at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, where Amelia’s grandfather was the pastor, and at the Trinity Episcopal Church where she was baptized. Both are from noon – 4 p.m. On Sunday, July 17, the 9 a.m. service at Trinity Episcopal will be “historical.”
A pancake breakfast at the airport, a crafts fair, children’s activities downtown, and birthday cake for everyone fill the day Saturday. Stay late for fireworks over the Amelia Earhart Bridge across the Missouri River.
While in Atchison, take a few minutes away to stroll through the Friendship Forest. This is an arboretum on the edge of town created and owned by members of the Ninety-Nines, a club for female aviators that Amelia helped found. The grounds include trees from countries around the world and a monument to the Space Shuttle Challenger’s crew.
Just south of Atchison near Warnock Lake on Highway 7 is another interesting tribute. The Amelia Earhart Earthworks is a one-acre landscape portrait created for her 100th birthday. It would be quite a sight through the window of an airplane.
Amelia Earhart Festival: July 15-16