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Reference rescue: Mom’s story of when Amelia Earhart came to town

Verifying the stories her family has told her for years, a west-central Michigan woman makes the trip to Elkhart Public Library at least once a year.

“I like to come down and find things (about my family),” says Kay Davis, who lives in Whitehall, Mich., about 2 1/2 hours north of Elkhart. “When I come down once a year to check on my mom and grandparents’ graves, I’ll come here and look stuff up.”

Davis recently contacted EPL’s reference librarians hoping to locate information from the 1930s and a visit to Elkhart by one of the world’s most famous people.

 “My mother always said that she had heard Amelia Earhart speak,” Davis says, noting that’s really all she had to go on.

In starting her own research, Davis came across some years that would help put her mother’s story into context. She read “Fly Girls” by Keith O’Brien, which is about five female aviators, including Earhart.

“I read a book like that and I start to look things up,” says Davis.

The book references Earhart’s connection to Purdue University from 1935-37. Davis says that became her launching point for finding documentation.

“My mom was 12 at the time and caboose of her family, so her parents didn’t know what to do with her. So they just took her along to things,” Davis says.

Davis arrived at EPL’s reference desk with ideas. Librarians led a search of the newspaper archive and quickly found The Elkhart Truth article, dated Oct. 18, 1935. The famed aviator visited Elkhart to speak to a joint meeting of the Knife and Fork Club and the American Association of University Women.

At the time, it was one of the largest events ever held at the Athenian Room at the top of the Hotel Elkhart. Nearly 85 years later, that same structure on Main Street is now undergoing extensive renovation and is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2020.