Sunday, July 24, 2016

Celebrating Amelia in Atchison, Kansas

Well, I don't think she'd be flying, but if she were alive, today's the day Amelia Earhart would be celebrating her birthday, turning 119. If nothing else, she'd probably have a hard time getting her pilot's licence renewed. The gorgeous cake (yes, that's actually a cake!) represents the line of luggage sponsored by Earhart, one of the many products she endorsed to finance her flights.

But even though she isn't around, every year when her birthday approaches, the town where she was born throws quite the celebration in her honour. This year, for the 20th anniversary of the festival, I managed to be there in the midst of it.

The range of events soared from the lofty to the less-than-sublime, and I'm pleased to say that I sampled the full range.

An important part of the festival is its Pioneering Achievement Award, which recognizes outstanding women and their accomplishments. The women recognized at the Earhart Festival are kin of sorts to the famous pilot, as Amelia was all about women's rights and our ability to accomplish whatever we set our minds to. Much to admire, much to live up to.

Past recipients of the award include US Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins, first woman to pilot a space shuttle and athlete Lynette Woodard, the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. A number of other past recipients attended this year's festival and took part in a thought-provoking panel on Saturday morning. They included Tori Murden McClure (first woman to row solo across the Atlantic), Sophia Danenberg (first black woman to summit Mt Everest), Ngozi Eze (working on behalf of women in Africa, towards ending female circumcision and providing medical aid to victims of war rape) and the very special Ann Pellegreno who in 1967 completed the around-the-world at the Equator flight Amelia Earhart never finished. Yep, heady company, and I haven't named half of them.

But the weekend wasn't only about serious talk and accomplishments. Craziest event of the weekend had to be the demolition derby, just slightly up the road from town at the local dirt track. Among events was a first for me: a smash-up derby, but between school buses! Otto, you would have loved it.

After a lovely (and decidedly civilized, much in contrast to my afternoon at the track) reception at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, Saturday night gave us perfect weather, with just a breeze coming off the river while crowds gathered along the bank.

First, there was the excitement of the aerobatics show, with lots of people snapping photos. On the right you can just see the Amelia Earhart Bridge over the Missouri River. Later in the evening, its lights flashed like a rainbow.

And really, what July event in the US would be complete without the finale of a magnificent fireworks display. Just one warning with these: unless you turn your volume down, you're bound to hear me laughing.

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