Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while traveling around the world. But she still has a strong presence in Atchison, Kansas, where she was born and lived for about a decade with her grandparents. Although she moved to other cities, it was the place she called home.
During the third weekend of July, the city’s population of around 10,000 more than doubled for the year Amelia Earhart Festival.
“We’re all about Amelia,” said Karen Seaberg, who chairs the festival. “You have the Amelia Earhart Freeway, the Amelia Earhart Bridge, the Amelia Airport. And so the festival kept that alive.
Downtown, blocks of Commercial Street are lined with vintage cars. Vendors sell honey and candles, and a 7-piece ragtime band plays raucous renditions of songs from the Earhart era. There is also cake.
“We always bake a cake every year and give it out for free to everyone here at the mall,” Ryan Molt said, passing out thick squares of chocolate and vanilla. “Just kind of a little, ‘Happy Birthday, Amelia.'”
Despite the name and likeness of Amelia Earhart on signs, buildings, statues and even a hill in Atchison, there’s an appetite for more. A new Amelia Earhart Hangar museum, exploring the pioneer’s impact on aviation, is set to open to the public in 2023.
The centerpiece: a shiny Lockheed Electra 10-E named Muriel, after Earhart’s sister.
1 of 3
Amelia Earhart with a Lockheed Electra 10-E, the plane she was flying when she disappeared in 1937.
National Administration of Space and Aeronautics
2 of 3
— 2-Amelia Earhart_1937-in Electra’s cockpit.jpg
Amelia Earhart in a Lockheed Electra 10-E, the plane she was flying when she disappeared in 1937.
Library of Congress
3 of 3
Amelia Earhart under the nose of a Lockheed Electra 10-E, the plane she was flying when she went missing in 1937.
National Portrait Gallery
Karen Seaberg, president of the festival, is also president and founder of the Amelia Earhart Foundation. The foundation has raised funds for Amelia Earhart Shed Museum.
Seaberg said it was Grace McGuire, a flight instructor from New Jersey, who found the plane. Earhart stole one like this in 1937 when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, went missing while attempting to fly around the world.
“There were only 14 Es made,” Seaberg said. “Amelia’s was 12 or 13 from the line, and this one was second from the line. So it’s probably the prototype that came out first, and it’s probably the first that actually got used.
McGuire restored the aircraft for three decades, with plans to attempt the same flight as Earhart. After an illness, McGuire knew she couldn’t complete the flight, Seaberg said, so she decided to sell the plane to the museum.
The Lockheed Electra is now housed in a new hangar built for the museum at the city’s airport, where visitors got a glimpse during this year’s festival.
Alex LaFave is a pilot and aviation enthusiast who lives in Basehor, Kansas. He brought his wife, Miranda, and two children, ages 2 and 4, to Atchison for a look at the polished, chrome and red plane.
Display panels on easels around the hangar laid out future plans for the museum’s history and exhibits focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A short film describes the life and career of Amelia Earhart.
Until the festival, the Lockheed Electra had been hidden away while the museum was being built.
“You don’t see a Lockheed Electra often,” LaFave said, “so it’s nice to come and take a look.”
Assemble the pieces
About an hour south and east of Atchison in Overland Park, Kansas, the main manufacturing floor of Dimensional Innovations This is where the design, build and technology firm brings together some of the museum’s exhibits.
The museum’s curved reception desk—still awaiting shipment down the road from Atchison—featured design elements used throughout the exhibits.
“Our designers really wanted to bring in the art deco feel of Amelia and her era,” said project manager Gabrielle Klockau, “so lots of walnut, lots of brushed aluminum, lots of rivets. You can see that in the detail on the bottom and polished aluminum.
Future exhibits from the museum are on display nearby, including an oversized book-like touchscreen where visitors can browse pages of information about Earhart’s early years and career, and learn about the women who lived there. inspired.
Tucked away in another room is a work in progress: a life-size model of the Lockheed Electra cockpit, made of foam, metal parts and fiberglass. When finished, people will be able to bend down and climb inside.
“You’ll be able to sit in there, turn a steering wheel, flip switches, and hear various sounds and lights,” Klockau said. “We’ll go through sunsets and sunrises,” so people can experience what Earhart must have seen when looking out his cockpit window.
The installation at the museum in Atchison is already underway and more pieces will arrive at the museum over the next few months. Then the testing process begins, before the museum opens to the public.
Trisha Roberts Parker, Senior Practice Manager at Dimensional Innovations, works with the technical team to put all the pieces together.
“We really wanted to communicate everything about Amelia – not so much about her life growing up, because there is other museums that already do it — but we really wanted to focus on Amelia as a trailblazing woman in her time,” she said. “And also some of the contributions she has made to her field in general.”
A computer-generated Earhart will welcome visitors to the museum. Other technological innovations include a virtual reality game that recreates the 1932 flight when Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
There’s also a touchscreen where visitors can vote on theories about what happened to Earhart that day in 1937, when she disappeared on her way to Howland Island with the goal of becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
“So there’s ‘crushed and sunk,'” Roberts Parker read from the on-screen options, “castaway, search continues, identity assumed, course reversed, captive in Saipan and captured.”
And while we may never know what happened to Earhart on that final flight, the stories told at the new museum about his life and impact as a pilot will continue to be celebrated throughout Atchison.
1 of 3
Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, now a museum, rests on a hill overlooking the river valley in Atchison.
2 of 3
Hulio Burton, personal trainer at the YMCA of Atchison, displays one of the Amelia Earhart Fun Run signs he was setting up around town in July in conjunction with the Amelia Earhart Festival.
3 of 3
A sign of Earhart’s face carved in concrete greets visitors to downtown Atchison near 10th and Main streets.