Pioneering aviator and cultural icon Amelia Earhart captured the imagination of multiple generations. While she is perhaps most famous for her mysterious disappearance now, she was a well-known and accomplished personality in her own time, friends with the likes of Bing Crosby and Eleanor Roosevelt. She set or broke several aviation records, cheered on the accomplishments of other pilots, and did her part to stir the public’s awareness and interest in the art of flight.
The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, located in her birthplace of Atchison, Kansas, both work diligently to preserve her legacy. The birthplace museum, owned and operated by the Ninety-Nines—an organization Earhart served as its first president—steeps visitors in the early years of her development and emergence of her adventurous spirit years before she stepped into a cockpit. The hangar museum at Amelia Earhart Airport (K59) guides visitors on an immersive experience highlighting her personal history and the science behind her accomplishments.
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“Throughout the grade school period, which was mostly spent in Atchison, I remember having a very good time. There were regular games and school and mud-ball fights, picnics, and exploring raids up and down the bluffs of the Missouri River. The few sandstone caves in that part of the country added so much to our fervor that exploring became a rage.”
— Earhart from her book, The Fun of It
To see how young Earhart’s imagination took wing, one needs only visit her childhood bedroom and take a look out of the window. The house at 223 North Terrace is a Gothic Revival perched atop the Missouri River’s stately bluffs. Young Amelia’s room is an aerie with an unimpeded view overlooking the “Big Muddy’s” valley and the blue line of bluffs miles away in neighboring Missouri.
The house was built by Earhart’s grandparents, Alfred and Amelia (Harres) Otis, in 1861, and she was born there 36 years later in the room that had been her mother, Amelia “Amy” (Otis) Earhart’s childhood bedroom. The youngest Amelia was a teen when her grandparents died, and the house passed through private owners before the Ninety-Nines bought the property with the help of a private donor.
“We were fortunate enough that Amelia’s younger sister, Muriel, was alive when the house became a museum in the 1980s,” said assistant director Mika Schrader. Muriel was able to give advice from memory about the arrangement and decor of the house as it was during the girls’ childhood.
The various rooms contain artifacts of Earhart’s life. Some are dedicated to particular aspects of her story—such as Muriel’s upstairs bedroom, which is filled with references to the various theories surrounding the aviator’s disappearance. These range from plausible theories, like running out of fuel and crashing in the Pacific Ocean, to more ludicrous ones, such as Amelia reappearing as someone with another name.
In one of the downstairs parlors, there’s a framed handprint of the aviator. Her fingers were long and slender, logical for a woman who stood 5 feet, 8 inches. Upstairs sits a pair of Amelia’s shoes—size 9 and also narrow.
Grandfather Otis’ downstairs study is filled with artifacts of Amelia’s marriage to George Putnam. The formal dining room contains memorabilia and artifacts of the Ninety-Nines, including a photograph of Earhart with Ruth Nichols and Louise Thaden.
The museum is curated to appeal to all ages with guided and self-guided tour options available and group outings available by prior arrangement.
“‘I think I’d like to learn to fly,’ I told the family casually that evening, knowing full well I’d die if I didn’t.”
— Earhart from The Fun of It
The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, which celebrated its grand opening this spring, houses a Lockheed Electra 10E, the same model Earhart piloted in attempting her round-the-world flight. Only two of this model are known to exist currently: one at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and the hangar museum’s model, named Muriel, that serves as the centerpiece of the surrounding exhibits.
An AI-enhanced projection of Earhart, built from footage of an actor portraying her, greets visitors in the lobby. The projection speaks in first person about the aviator’s life and invites guests to explore the nearby exhibits.
There’s a loosely suggested clockwise circuit around Muriel, which guides viewers through a chronological exploration of Earhart’s history, beginning with some of the poignant and funny events of her childhood—like building a makeshift roller coaster from the roof of her family’s home after visiting the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 and being impressed by the real thing.
In addition to Earhart’s career, interactive exhibits provide a detailed look at aerodynamics and the inner workings of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp 9-cylinder radial engines of her aircraft. Other displays highlight personal connections and how they influenced her career. An upstairs space is devoted to navigational methods and features an overhead star map and sextant that visitors can learn to operate. While the exhibits are designed to be accessible to youngsters, they are also appealing to adults.
The museum at 16701 286th Road and less than a 10-minute drive from the birthplace museum is housed in the same building as the airport FBO, with large windows allowing pilots to get a first peek inside from the lobby after arriving by air.
The FBO is spacious and inviting, with several tie-down spots just outside. There is a courtesy car available at the airport, and operations manager Angela Cairo suggests calling ahead to inquire about its availability at 913-426-5757.
Enduring Mystery and Achievements
Whether the mystery surrounding Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 and ongoing research efforts piques your interest, you are curious about the role of women in aviation, or you would just like to learn more about pioneering aviators of the early 20th century, a trip to Atchison might just be the ticket.
The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum and Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum represent two extraordinary attractions that offer immersive experiences to delve into the legendary aviator’s life and contributions.
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Plane & Pilot magazine.
Editor’s note: Joseph Brentano of the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum wrote in with the following clarification after this story went to print:
“We do have the world’s only remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E
The Museum of Flight in Seattle has a model A that was modified to be a model E. They are not very forthcoming on that, but if you read down a bit farther on their webpage, they acknowledge that it was an A modified to an E. See link here: Lockheed Model 10-E Electra | The Museum of Flight“