Amelia Earhart Lives in a Clapboard House

It is late in the afternoon, and no more visitors will ring the bell today. Through the parlor window I see Louise moving through the house, putting the brochures and guest book away. She gets out her sewing, turns on the TV for the evening news. Then she moves the map from the parlor couch so she can sit down and put her feet up. The map is for visitors; Louise doesn’t need it to know that the red line tracing 22,000 miles from Florida to New Guinea ends suddenly near a speck labeled Howland Island.

I am standing outside this rambling clapboard house high on a hill in Atchison, Kansas, the house where Amelia Earhart was born in 1897. A hundred years have passed since that July day when Amy Otis Earhart gave birth to her first girl in the master bedroom. Now tourists visit, and we are greeted at the door by Louise Foudray, a slight woman with a faint limp. She is the one who lives here now, in an apartment on the second floor behind a door marked Private.

Earlier I followed Louise on a tour through the house. Here is the fireplace where Amelia and Muriel–Millie and Pidge–sat listening to their father’s bedtime stories. There is the banister Amelia used to slide down, learning early about the pull of gravity on a body.

But Amelia’s presence in the house is shadowy. Only a few traces are left, and even these were arranged by Louise: The stack of Amelia Earhart suitcases in the southwest bedroom. The photograph of Amelia–yes, the one with her plane, the Electra–in the front parlor. A wicker baby carriage–bought at a local antique shop–for Amelia’s room, so things don’t look so bare.

When Louise stopped the tour in front of a wall of framed newspaper clippings, I scanned the headlines: Earhart Plane DownAmelia Lost in Pacific…Lady Lindy Lost. Louise said then, “I think she’s still living. I’ve felt all along that she survived.”

From DoubleTake (Winter 1998). Subscriptions: $32/yr. (4 issues) from Box 56070, Boulder, CO 80322-6070

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