“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
Written and photographed by Ingrid Keizer with special thanks for photo contributions by Shintaro Maeda of Shintarodesign.com.
Amelia Earhart might well be one the most notable yet sometimes under-acknowledged women in KC area history. Known best for the mystery surrounding her disappearance during a flight from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island, Amelia Earhart’s story is far more than the theories related to her disappearance.
Born in Atchison, Kansas in 1897, the granddaughter of federal judge, Amelia easily broke the mold for privileged Midwestern girls of the era. Amelia climbed trees, collected worms and insects and hunted rats with a rifle. After visiting the Worlds Fair in St. Louis in 1904 she built a wooden”roller-coaster” secured from a tool shed using a wooden box as a sled. The virgin flight ended with a bruised lip, torn dress and triumphant smile. “It was just like flying” she exclaimed as she climbed from the wreckage. It was also at the 1904 Worlds Fair that she saw her first airplane.
Amelia was born with an unquenchable desire for adventure. It seems that an an early age she chose “life” over fear. Always seeking adventure she defied the norms of a man’s world while maintaining a curiously introverted lifestyle. It was perhaps her rebellious spirit and desire to buck gender roles that drove the renown with which she is identified today.
Her teen years were tumultuous. She was regularly shuffled between Atchison where she lived with her grandparents and Kansas City with her parents. Her father struggled with alcoholism, lost jobs and moved the family to several states in search of employment. After her father Edwin failed repeatedly at sobriety, her mother Amy took Amelia and younger sister Muriel to Chicago. During this period the grandmother that helped to raise the girls in Atchison passed. Amelia’s resolve to be self-reliant is likely entrenched in these experiences.
Amelia graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago, where she excelled in science. She was poignantly identified in her yearbook as “the girl in brown who walks alone”. After graduation Amelia attended a finishing school outside of Philadelphia but left the school early to volunteer as a nurse to wounded WWI soldiers in Toronto.
While visiting her parents who temporarily reconciled in Long Beach, California, Amelia attended an air show where she experienced her first airplane ride. It was then that her desire to fly was born. Amelia began having flying lessons with Neta Snook, the first woman to run her own aviation business. In order to pay Neta, Amelia worked as a photographer, truck driver and stenographer. Soon after Amelia bought her first biplane painted yellow and named The Canary.
Amelia went on to achieve over-nite fame and recognition as not only a woman pilot but as a pioneer aviator. While her accomplishments as a female pilot are well known, her contributions to the world of aviation are far less appreciated. She is noted as a large contributor to the growth of commercial aviation. In addition she was a major promoter and ground breaker in female advancement, she published books and was a talented photographer. Perhaps her greatest success was far more personal, she possessed a poetic love for flying and made a living doing what she loved. It is no wonder that the people of her hometown in Atchison, Kansas hold her so dear in their hearts.
The city of Atchison, Kansas is tucked neatly beside the Missouri River. The river serves as a boundary that separates Kansas and Missouri. The “Mighty Mo” it seems has a personality of its own with it’s swift currents and strong under-tow, history of riverboat traffic, passage way to escaped slaves and sustainer of life to numerous Native American communities. The Missouri is the longest river in North America, rising in the Rockies and flowing 2,341 miles where it enters the Mississippi.
The city of Atchison plays host to the Amelia Earhart Festival each year. The quiet town with a population of approximately 10,000 has stately, historic homes, bricked streets, lovely, old churches and a simplicity of life that rarely exists elsewhere. Amelia Earhart serves as Atchison’s local sweetheart and is memorialized with the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum that is grandly situated on a bluff overlooking the river. The Festival begins with Lakefest at area Warnock Lake and includes a speaker symposiums, children’s events, a downtown fair and carnival rides.
On the last evening of the festival the community and its visitors gather along the Missouri River for festivities that include live music and an aeronautics show. The tiny town comes alive with activity, and celebratory spirit. While the crowd is abundant it is free of the stress and hectic nature that one might find elsewhere. Festival food abounds, children laugh and dance, though spirits are high and alcohol flows freely, public drunkenness appears to be well controlled and minimal. The festival is a family friendly event with plenty of grown up fun.
The festival came to an end with an impressive fireworks show over the river and the bridge that bears Amelia Earhart’s name. Watching the river front show, I imagined how Amelia might have looked out over the river from her grandparent’s home. I wondered if the river’s wanderings fed her restless spirit and desire to fly. I like to believe that regardless of the details of her famous disappearance, her spirit occasionally hovers above the trees and soars along the river free to admire life from above.
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“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
J.M Barrie, Peter Pan