More Stories of Amelia Earhart

Horatius and Bob

During her last few weeks of school in Atchison before moving to Des Moines, Iowa to join her parents, Amelia was preparing to compete in her school's prize speaking contest. She and a classmate had spent three weeks memorizing Macaulay's poem Horatius. While Amelia and Muriel were walking to school that morning, they passed by the house of one of their grandmother's friends, Mrs. Colby.

The Colbys had once owned many fine horses, but now kept just one to pull their carriage. Mrs. Colby often let the Earhart sisters ride the horse they called "Bob," on those days when Mrs. Colby didn't need him for driving. On this day, Mrs. Colby asked the girls to ride Bob after school. Mrs. Colby added that Bob would need some attention, because their houseman had to leave suddenly to visit a sick relative, and Bob had been left unattended.

Amelia and Muriel were already carrying a surprise for Bob (a carrot and two sugar cubes), so after speaking with Mrs. Colby, the girls decided to quickly tend to Bob before school, and present him their treats. They found Bob without food and water. And Amelia's selfless nature led the two to stay and tend to their hungry four-legged friend. After providing the horse with fresh water, oats, and hay, the girls realized they were late for school.

Amelia arrived just in time to hear her friend finish reciting the poem without her. And despite having lost her chance to win a speaking prize, Amelia was not disheartened. Amelia commented to her instructor, "I'm glad to know Horatius anyway, and it's fun to say it whether I get a prize or not."

Protecting Atchison from the plague

For her ninth Christmas, Amelia's father bought her a .22 caliber Hamilton rifle. She had recently read a magazine article about the spread of bubonic plague by rats in the Panama Canal Zone. She reasoned that since rats in Panama spread the plague, so must rats in Atchison, Kansas. So she set about ridding her grandparent's barn of rats, adhering to the hunter's code, leaving no wounded "game" alive to suffer.

One evening, Amelia shot and wounded a large rat, only to have it scamper back into its hole. She patiently waited for her prey to return from its place of hiding, as she knew it would. After more than an hour, Amelia's foe finally ventured from his hole. Amelia quickly took her trophy, but not until after she had made herself late for dinner -- upsetting her grandparent to the point that the rifle was taken away indefinitely.

Amelia's father commented on her stubbornness: "She gets an idea in her head, and by golly, she stays right with it. Dinner or no, punishment or not, she wanted to get that rat [and not leave it to suffer]."

A close call

In Amelia's childhood, boys were permitted to ride sleds down the hills of Atchison while lying down, but girls were expected to sit up in a more ladylike posture. Amelia, not surprisingly, defied convention and lay down on her sled. At one point, she wrote, this posture saved her life.

"I was zipping down one of the really steep hills in town when a junk man's cart, pulled by a horse with enormous blinders came out from a side road. The hill was so icy that I couldn't turn and the junk man didn't hear the squeals of warning. In a second my sled had skipped between the front and back legs of the horse and got clear, before either he or I knew what had happened. Had I been sitting up, either my head or the horse's ribs would have suffered in contact -- probably the horse's ribs."

Courage never hesitates

Amelia's pet dog, James Ferocious was a constant childhood companion, smothered with affection by both her and her sister. James Ferocious, however, was not particularly friendly to strangers, so was kept tied to a shed. One afternoon, some neighborhood boys passed by the fence where James Ferocious was resting. As was his nature, James Ferocious instinctively growled at the boys. Noticing the animal was tied in place, the boys began to tease the dog. James Ferocious became infuriated, and upon breaking free from his dog chain, took after the perpetrators -- the boys climbing atop the shed for safety.

Amelia was awakened from her afternoon nap by the commotion -- hearing the boys' screams for help, and her infuriated dog's barking. Amelia's father had taught her to "never run away," and she instinctively acted upon it. Amelia immediately walked to the center of her yard and called to her dog, scolding him in a firm, loving voice for having tipped over his water dish. James Ferocious reluctantly came to Amelia's outstretched hand, as she calmed the dog with her touch and led him inside the kitchen.

Even with her dog's enraged state, Amelia firmly stood her ground and spoke in a confident tone -- saving her from becoming the brunt of her pet's rage. When asked later by her mother if she was scared, Amelia replied, "There wasn't any time to be afraid."

Bogie -- real-life make-believe

Amelia, her sister Muriel, and their two Atchison cousins, Lucy and Kathryn Challis, invented a game they called Bogie. The game involved elaborate maps of a made-up world and consisted of taking imaginary journeys in an old abandoned carriage. The game was evidently absorbing. In her autobiography, Earhart wrote, "I know I can never be so terrified by anything met with in the real world as by the shadowy play creatures which lurked in the dark corners of the hay mow to attack us, or crept up the creaking steps from the lower stalls." Her sister Muriel also remembered the excitement of the game, as she recalled that the girls grew "hoarse from screaming, damp with perspiration, and streaked with dust and cobwebs, but were always called home just before we reached our imaginary destination -- Cherryville."

An "e" for effort

Although Earhart had little interest in religion as an adult, as a child she was baptized in and attended the Episcopal church. She found the idea of manna interesting, and expended a good deal of energy, flour and sugar in trying to reproduce it. She knew that manna should be small, white, round muffins, a cross between a popover and angel food cake, but never succeeded in creating a satisfactory batch, much to her despair.

Amelia's first "flight"

In one of the more dramatic moments of Earhart's childhood, she, her sister, and a neighbor boy built a roller coaster at the family's home in Kansas City. The track began at the top of a tool-shed, about eight feet off the ground. The children, with a little help from their Uncle Carl Otis, constructed the track from boards and greased it with lard. Amelia made the trial run in a car made from an empty wooden crate.

As her sister recalled, Amelia "rode the crate down the track much faster than either of us anticipated. As it careened down the track, we heard the sound of splintering wood. The car and Amelia departed the track when the car hit the trestle. Both tumbled onto the ground. Amelia jumped up, her eyes alight, ignoring a torn dress and bruised lip. She exclaimed happily, "Oh, Pidge, (a pet name for Muriel) it's just like flying!"

The consummate tomboy

She participated actively in sports, including bicycling, basketball, and tennis. She played exuberantly, but lacking formal instruction, felt she had neither skill nor grace. Throughout her life she advocated athletic training for young girls. Their athletic efforts, she wrote, were hindered both by impractical clothing and outdated traditions.

In her autobiography, Earhart commented, "From the period when girls were not supposed to be able to do anything comes a natural doubt whenever they attempt new or different activities. Whether or not they are fitted to do what men do physically remains to be seen. Tennis, riding, golf and other sports seem not to be harming individuals who are fit, despite dire predictions to the contrary."


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