November 7, 2017

Fly Back in Time at Kansas’ Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum

photo by: Ammodramus/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum is maintained by the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots.

When pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937, on the last leg of an attempted airplane circumnavigation of the globe, speculation swirled in the headlines of American newspapers about what had happened. “Amelia Feared Lost!” shouted the front page of the San Mateo Times on July 2. “Miss Earhart Forced Down at Sea; Coast Guard Begins Search,” the New York Times announced. To this day, despite numerous theories, the circumstances surrounding Earhart’s disappearance remain a mystery.

If you’re hoping to learn more about Earhart’s powerful legacy, however, look no further than Atchison, Kansas, and her childhood home. Since 1994, the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, located in the Gothic Revival house that belonged to Earhart's grandparents, has been open to anyone hoping to learn more about the accomplishments of America's most famous female aviator.

Earhart was born in the house on July 24, 1897, to Edwin Stanton Earhart and Amy Otis Earhart. Earhart shared a special bond with her grandmother, and starting when she was around three, she describes herself as being “lent to her for company during the winter months.” Amelia’s father, a railroad claims agent, spent months at a time on the road, and Amelia and her younger sister Muriel spent much of their early childhood at their grandparents' home, until Amelia was about 12. The wood-frame house dates from 1861, and Earhart’s grandparents added on a rear brick Italianate addition in 1873.

“That's her legacy. That's where everything began. ”

Laura Ohrenberg, Ninety-Nines member and headquarters manager

Following a move to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1908 with her nuclear family, Amelia spent less time in Atchison with her grandparents, but according to firsthand accounts, Earhart always considered Kansas to be home. Earhart’s grandparents both passed away in 1912, and the house changed hands several times as a private residence.

In 1984, the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of female pilots who elected Earhart as their first president in 1931, purchased the house with the help of an $100,000 grant from local doctor Eugene Bribach. The organization’s vision was to turn it into a museum dedicated to the early years of Earhart's life, as well as her career, disappearance, and legacy. Specific areas of the house, such as the parlor, are furnished to the period when Earhart lived in the home, from 1897 to 1909. The kitchen holds a collection of souvenirs and photographs, including one of Earhart's takeoff from Oakland, California, to Hawaii in 1937, the leg of the trip preceding her disappearance.

In 1994, the museum’s Board of Trustees began a fundraising campaign for the preservation and upkeep of the house. The money has since funded a complete restoration of the exterior, the installation of central air conditioning, and the purchase of period furnishings.

The reverence that the Ninety-Nines still feel for Earhart is evident in their careful stewardship of the birthplace museum. “Her vision is what spearheaded the Ninety-Nines and made us what we are,” says Laura Ohrenberg, the manager of the Ninety-Nines headquarters in Oklahoma City. Of the house where Earhart was born, Ohrenberg says, “That’s her legacy. That's where everything began.”

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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