Amelia Earhart. The name conjures up conspiracy theories and drives history buffs nuts. The Atchison, Kansas, native became one of the most prolific pilots of her time. She achieved a major accomplishment in a society where women were expected to conduct themselves in ladylike behavior while the men did courageous things like fly around the world, set speed records, etc. Earhart had none of that. As a child growing up in Atchison, she’s remembered as being adventurous. It seemed natural that she’d grow up to become the center of a nearly century-long mystery.
While her parents traveled a lot, Amelia and her sister Muriel spent most of their young years with their grandparents, local judge Alfred Otis and Amelia Harris Otis. They lived in a two-floor Gothic revival home along the bluffs of the Missouri River, on the eastern edge of Kansas. Later, the Earhart family would live in several places, including Des Moines, Iowa, and Chicago. Despite multiple homes, Earhart always considered Atchison her hometown. And the community loved her back. The city celebrates Amelia Earhart Festival each July.
Childhood home museum
Her childhood home left the family’s possession following her grandparents’ deaths. A couple of families later lived in the home before it eventually became the property of a local foundation and a memorial to the pilot. The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum attracts thousands of visitors annually.
Earhart’s aviation career started following a flight she took in 1920. She was hooked and enrolled in flying lessons. She participated in a trans-Atlantic Ocean flight in 1928 after Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo flight. In 1932, she took a solo flight across the ocean, traveling from Newfoundland in Canada to Derry, Northern Ireland. While her goal was to land in Paris, mechanical issues took her to the Emerald Isle. Following a series of domestic flights, she created an organization for women pilots called the “Ninety-Nines.” She encouraged women to challenge societal standards.
During her aerial career, she set several records, including becoming the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City. All in all, Earhart established more than a dozen marks in aviation history.
Earhart became a celebrity due to her flying escapades. So, it seemed logical that she’d attempt the flight of a lifetime – she and navigator Fred Noonan would fly around the world in her Lockheed Electra. The duo took off from Miami on June 1, 1937, beginning a 29,000-mile trip. They eventually made it to Lae, New Guinea. Then, after refueling, the team took off for Howland Island in the South Pacific. Earhart later radioed she was running low on fuel and the direction the plane was traveling. That was the last word from Amelia Earhart. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan’s plane disappeared, becoming the focus of conspiracy theorists and explorers determined to find their remains or the plane.
Conspiracy theories include the plane landed on an island and the duo was captured by the Japanese military. Others believe they were killed. Some people believe Earhart survived and took on a secret identity.
Historical explorers continue to focus on an area near Howland Island where the plane went down. Some believe they have found remains of the plane and the pilot. But, nothing has been confirmed.
The attention that Earhart’s disappearance gets actually helps her childhood home in Atchison. People from around the world visit the wood frame house. The house is maintained in immaculate condition. This being my second visit to the house, I appreciated the reorganization. The first time, there were props and costumes from the movie “Amelia,” which starred Hilary Swank and Richard Gere as the pilot and her husband, George Putnam. I thought then the costumes were too cramped in some of the rooms, including the dining room. Today, the costumes are located throughout the house and have opened up the rooms. The dining room is too beautiful to be crammed with costumes. Seeing it on this visit really showed off its attractiveness.
While the house belonged to the Otis family, only a small table in the front room actually belonged to them. The remaining furniture and memorabilia are from the era the family lived there. The rooms are designed as they would have been during the family’s life there.
The first floor consists of a front room, a parlor, a dining room and a den. The second floor is home to the bedrooms, including a master room, her parents’ room and the children’s room. Each room has items related to Earhart, including a set of luggage that she endorsed as a celebrity.
‘Muriel” flies into town
While Earhart’s childhood home remains a major attraction in Atchison, just outside of town, a hangar houses a replica of the plane Earhart flew on her doomed flight. “Muriel” is a Lockheed Electra Model 10E, a twin-engine prop plane. The plane was donated by owner and pilot Grace McGuire, who had planned to follow Earhart’s footsteps with the 1937 flight, but an illness sidelined her. Named for Earhart’s sister, McGuire’s donation will be the anchor exhibit at a planned Amelia Earhart museum in Atchison. “Muriel” is the last remaining of the 15 10Es produced by Lockheed.
While it sits protected in a hangar until the museum is completed, the plane is joined by a car once owned and driven by Earhart.
Atchison proudly shares its history of Amelia Earhart, including a statue in a downtown square. Visiting her childhood home and the airplane hangar are musts when visiting the northeastern Kansas community.
Admission to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum is $6 per adult and $1 for children under 12. Hours for the museum are 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. The hangar is open for pre-scheduled tours for a fee of $150 or $5 each for a minimum group of 20 people.
Disclaimer: Thank you to Visit Atchison for the complimentary visit to the home and hangar. However, all opinions and views are ours.