Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
In late February, it felt like spring. The only thing missing was the green. Winter neutrals just don’t do a thing for the hills of northeast Kansas.
On a recent Saturday, Dave and I headed toward Atchison. Along the way we found steep hills, curvy roads and blue skies. The air was a bit chilly, in the upper 40s, but it was a good day for a road trip.
We took a detour into Effingham, the hometown of our friend Roger Heineken. We wanted to see the town of Roger’s youth. Effingham was active on a Saturday morning: people were on the streets, stopping in for mail, going in and out of the town’s library.
One of the residents we spoke with was Ron Dalbey, who was born in St. Joseph, Mo., but as a child moved to Monrovia, Effingham’s neighboring town. Dalbey said he and the whole town were proud of the Atchison County Community High School’s wrestling team, the Tigers, which had made it to the state tournament.
Someone clever with words had written support of the wrestling team on the town’s store windows. At the post office, it was “Stamp out a Victory.” The library door had, “Check out Tiger Wrestling.” Near the ATM, “Pin to Win.” On the tavern window, “Cheers to Tiger Wrestling,” and at the Senior Center, “We Depend on a Win.”
When we got to Atchison, our first stop was Paolucci’s Restaurant. On a previous trip to this town in 2003, Dave and I enjoyed a great meal here, so a return visit was in order.
In the restaurant, we noticed photos of Amelia Earhart, Atchison’s famous aviatrix, and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Also on the wall was a tribute to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who explored this area in 1804.
On that previous trip to Atchison in 2003, we visited many of the town’s attractions including the Atchison County Historical Museum and had taken their trolley ride around town to view historic sites and homes. We toured the Muchnic Gallery, visited the International Forest of Friendship and saw Stan Herd’s earthwork design honoring Earhart.
For this present trip, we wanted to tour the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. She was born July 24, 1897, at her grandparents’ home, a neat and trim two-story wood-frame house looking over the Missouri River.
Amelia’s father was a railroad attorney and her parents were always on the move, so Amelia and her sister, Muriel, spent much of their childhood in Atchison living with their maternal grandparents, Judge Alfred and Amelia Otis.
The house left the family in 1912 when her grandparents died, but later it was restored to the time period that Amelia lived here, 1897-1909. Some pieces of family furniture were on display, as were a few other personal items, such as a bathing suit, a cute little sailor suit that Amelia had worn when she was 4 years-old.
Amelia took up flying in 1921 and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic, and then the first woman to solo across that ocean. She set many records and hoped to be the first female pilot to circle the globe.
What happened to Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, on that around-the-world flight remains a mystery. On that fateful leg of the journey, they took off from New Guinea on July 2, 1937. There were some hit-and-miss radio transmissions and they never arrived at their fueling stop, Howland Island.
Her courage and her adventuresome nature expanded the imaginations of many, especially the imaginations of young women who dreamed of flying, or of stretching their wings in other arenas of life.
For me, the best part of this trip was discovering that Amelia still has the power to influence young women. On Amelia’s bed in her childhood home were two hand-written letters addressed to the famous pilot from a current Kansas teenager, Miranda Myer. One of the letters began, “Today, April 3, 2010, at 10:00, I flew…solo!”
In that letter, Miranda wrote about taking off from the Allen County Airport and seeing nothing but the horizon. “It was then that I thought of you,” Miranda wrote. “I opened my window and reached for the rushing winds.”
The letter went on in some detail and ended with gratitude for Amelia, “Thank you for all that you have done. I have felt you behind me every step.”
Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh