"The world is like a grand staircase, some are going up and some are going down"
State 35: Kansas - March 28, 2018
We woke up at a Walmart in Atchison, KS well rested and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited the Reuter pipe organ factory, and we could not wait to see what adventures lie ahead. Today, we drive across town to visit the birthplace of the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Person" for Kansas; Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart was an author and aviator most famous as the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, Earhart set over 16 aviation records some of which include: Woman's world altitude record: 14,000 ft, first woman to fly non-stop coast-to-coast across the U.S., and set a woman’s transcontinental speed record. For her numerous aviation accomplishments, Earhart was awarded: the “Cross of the Knight of the Legion of Honor” from the French Government, the “Gold Metal of the National Geographic Society” from President Herbert Hoover, and the first female recipient to be awarded the “Distinguished Flying Cross” by US Congress. On Earhart’s 2nd attempt at an around the world flight, her plane disappeared on July 2, 1937 over the Pacific Ocean around Howard Island during the last leg of the journey. Earhart and her airplane remain missing to this day!
Earhart was instrumental in founding the professional organization for female pilots called the Ninety-Nines, and served as their first president. The Ninety-Nines are an international organization that provides networking, mentoring, and advocacy for advancement of recreational and professional female pilots. The organizations name is derived from 99 female pilots who were present at the inaugural meeting in Valley Stream, New York on November 2, 1929, and as of 2018, there are 155 chapters across the globe. In addition, the organization: oversees the operations of the 99’s museum for female pilots in Oklahoma City, awards the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund to assist in funding flight training for female pilots, and are owners and custodians of the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum is the birthplace and early childhood home of famous aviator; Amelia Earhart. Up until 1984, The home served as a private residence. A local resident named, Dr. Eugene J. Bribach recognized the historical significance of Earhart’s former home, and donated $100,000 needed for the Ninety- Nines to acquire the property. The home has been restored to its turn-of-the-century condition, and features an eclectic mix of artifacts related to the Earhart family. Situated high on a hill overlooking the Missouri River, Earhart’s former Atchison home now serves as a museum and interpretive center to educate visitors about the life of America’s most famous female aviator.
Upon entering Earhart’s childhood home, we were greeted by two pleasant, mature ladies who collected our $6.00 per person admission fee, and handed us a self-guided tour booklet. As we meandered around the 1st floor of the residence, they periodically checked in with us to inquire about any questions we may have, and to offer additional information about Earhart. From the asymmetrical house design, large stained glass windows, dramatic colorful decorative trim, Queen Anne furnishings and large Swiss antique music box, the home's architecture and furnishings were impressive and indicative of a turn of the century home of the Victorian era. Please see the pictures below.
After finishing our exploration of the first floor, we walked upstairs to the second floor where many surprises awaited! We began by entering a large room to the right, which was the exact room where Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897. I was surprised to discover the room featured a plethora of Hollywood memorabilia from the 2009 Movie “Amelia” starring Hillary Swank. From the iconic “AE” embroidered coveralls and dozens of pairs of shoes, it was fascinating to see the costumes from the movie once worn by Swank. As you can tell, I am a huge fan of Hillary Swank, and I was surprised I had never heard of this movie! I will definitely make a point to see “Amelia”! Please see the pictures below.
Next, I walked across the hall to Amelia’s childhood bedroom, and made a heartwarming discovery. Laying on the quilted bedspread were handwritten letters from young female pilots to Amelia Earhart. Although these letters were clearly authored decades after Earhart’s death, each described the personal journey of different young female aviators, and the impact and influence Earhart had on their lives. Although I am not a pilot or a female, I found each of the letters to be quite moving and inspirational! Please see the pictures below.
After departing the Amelia Earhart’s Birthplace Museum, we drove 56 miles Southwest to Topeka to tour the Kansas State House. Prior to arriving at the statehouse, I typically call ahead to inquire about tour times and parking options. When I called the Kansas Capitol Building about the aforementioned, the lady responded “Which tour are you interested in?”. Apparently, there are two different types of tours offered at the Kansas Statehouse: A tour of their capitol building, and a tour of their dome. This was a first! I usually feel fortunate if I am able to get a guided tour of the capitol building. Although I have never heard of a dome tour, I must admit my curiosity was titillated, and I could not imagine what such an experience entailed. Nate is afraid of heights, but surprisingly, he was all about going to the top of the dome! Alright I said smirking at him, let's do this! See the tiny landing at the very top of the dome? That is where we are heading. I zoomed in so you can see. EEK!
After passing through security, we entered the statehouse in the basement, and checked in at the visitor’s desk. We were told the dome tours began on the 5th floor, and hitched a ride on a very old and very cool antique open cable elevator. Please see the pictures below.
After being paired off in groups of 30, our dome guide announced to all in a stern voice, “You are about to ascend 296 stairs leading 308 feet in the air to the top of the Kansas State House Rotunda! If for any reason you are physically, mentally or otherwise unable to do so, now is the time to let us know.” After reading us the rules, we all began our ascent! Kansas is one of the only statehouses granting visitors access to the apex of their dome, which is 17 feet taller than the US Capitol Building. It was a long, scary, and exhausting climb single file up a narrow 175-year-old metal staircase leading hundreds of feet into the air and I thought it would never end! The most terrifying part of the ascent, was the free floating 3 story spiral staircase perched precariously over nothingness! One wrong move, and instead of climbing the staircase to the dome, I could be climbing the staircase to heaven!!! EEEK!!!I must say the views of Topeka from the dome’s apex were well worth the effort! I can’t imagine how these tour guides walk up and down these stairs all day long day after day! Once at the top, I caught by breath and jokingly asked our guide, “What gym she is a member of?”. Please see the pictures below of our hair-raising climb.
As it turns out, descending the 296 stairs was actually more challenging and nerve wracking than ascending them. I was feeling dizzy and kept saying to myself "Don't look down, don't look DOWN!" Nate on the other hand did great and managed quite well!
After safely making it back down to the 5th floor, we took the cool elevator back down to the basement where we met up with another guide to begin our tour of the Kansas Statehouse. We were greeted by a massive depiction of Kansas and each of its 105 counties inlaid into the marble floors. What a first impression! We were led through an expertly and uniquely restored basement. With massive raw stone columns and cast iron gates, I felt as if I was in a medieval castle instead of a capitol building. Also on display in this area was a sword once belonging to abolitionist John Brown, but more on him a little bit later. What an amazing experience!!! Please see the pictures below of the most unique capitol basement I have ever seen!
Our first stop was the Governor's Ceremonial Office. With 34 statehouse tours to my name, I have seen a lot of strange things in the offices of Governors, but this is the first time I have seen an actual dinosaur fossil hanging on the wall. Please see the pictures below.
After departing the Governor’s office, we headed for the statehouse's central room where magnificent murals depicting significant events in Kansas history enveloped the walls. Four enclaves displaced statues of prominent Kansans, and one of which was Amelia Earhart. I will let the pictures below describe this spectacular space. All I can say is wow!
After departing the central room, we were led to the House and the Senate, and unfortunately neither were in session. With 3 massive antique chandeliers, stained glass windows, and masterpiece murals painted on the ceiling, we were in awe! Please see the pictures below of these beautiful legislative chambers.
I almost forgot to mention the Library! With cast iron spiral staircases, antique lighting, and illuminated glass floors, this is one of the most impressive libraries we have encountered in a statehouse. Please see the pictures below.
Although the Kansas Statehouse is adorned with spectacular murals throughout, one stood out among all others painted by famous Kansas Artist; John Steuart Curry. As a prominent painter in the first half of the 20th century, Curry is credited as one of the three greats of the American Regionalism Art Movement; a style of art depicting realistic scenes of rural and small-towns of America. Painting’s such as “Tornadoes over Kansas”, and “Baptism in Kansas” made Curry a famous artist nationwide; except in Kansas! Kansan’s felt Curry’s work painted the state in a negative light, and propagated negative stereotypes. However, Curry never forgot his Kansan roots, and always reflected fondly of his home state. Inspired by his pleasant childhood memories of growing up in Kansas, Curry’s greatest wish was for his work to be admired by those in his native state. However, Kansan resentment toward Curry grew with each commission he completed! The misunderstanding between Curry and Kansas is as comical as it is tragic, and would soon come to a crescendo!
In 1937, Curry was commissioned to paint a mural on the 2nd floor of the Kansas Statehouse, and a mural in the building's central room. Curry began with the 2nd floor mural titled, “Tragic Prelude”. If you take Curry’s painting at face value, you see tornado’s, prairie fires, civil war, and an oversized depiction of a raging man named John Brown, and can understand why the Kansas legislature found the mural offensive. From Curry’s perspective, he was painting a mural in the statehouse depicting the tremulous circumstances surrounding Kansas achieving statehood. Specifically, whether Kansas would be admitted to the union as a free state or a slave state. The prairie fires and tornado represent powerful native symbolism indicative of the social and political struggles of the time. On January 29,1864, the conflict ended with Kansas being admitted into the union as a free state. Curry was so hurt by the negative feedback by the Kansas Legislature, he never signed the painting, and did not complete his commissioned mural in the rotunda.
I must say, seeing John Brown was a blast from the past from our cross country trip! We learned about Brown during our visit to Harper's Ferry, while visiting the 2nd state on our cross country trip; West Virginia. You can read about him by clicking here. John Brown is a controversial figure in US history, and depending on who you ask, he is either a hero, a trader, or somewhere in-between. Nevertheless, Kansas has the unique distinction of being the only capitol building in the US to display a painting of a person who was tried, convicted, and executed for treason against the US government!
I personally love the mural! I have visited 34 capitol buildings on my cross country trip, and John
Steuart Curry’s “Tragic Prelude” is the most magnificent piece of art I have encountered in a statehouse. The poignant symbolism and expert execution by the artist evokes emotions of the past struggles of Kansas. The tornado’s strong, violent, powerful and unpredictable nature was only superseded by a ferociously screaming 20-foot-tall John Brown. Today, “Tragic Prelude” is the most famous painting in the Kansas Statehouse, and John Steuart Curry is finally getting the appreciation from his fellow Kansans he rightfully deserves!
Please see additional pictures below to our visit to the Kansas Statehouse.
After departing the Kansas Statehouse, we drove across town where we found a Walmart to spend the night.