Small Town Spotlight: Atchison, KS
While I love trips to huge cities or faraway lands, I also find myself constantly falling in love with small towns. Whether you’re looking for a weekend trip or a stop on a road trip, Small Town Spotlights is a collection of my favorite hamlets across the country.
When you try to guess what some of our trip highlights might’ve been, Atchison, Kansas probably would not have come to mind. (Potentially because you’ve never heard it. Confession - before our route brought us through, we’d never heard of it either.) However, according to the woman at the Atchison Historical Society, the town is considered one of the most haunted in America! Seriously!
Since our trip was in the middle of the day in May, we were not privy to the spooks and scares that apparently lurk there. Yet, if Atchison’s charms on an ordinary day in the summer are any indication, then I can only imagine how the town will welcome you at the height of their tourist scaring season.
This is the only piece of haunted Atchison that we attempted to find. Even though the house is only open for tours during the Halloween season, we found the address online and decided to take a drive by. Called the most haunted house in town, the spirit of a little girl who died inside supposedly still wanders. The house doesn’t look like much from the outside, but I have no doubt that, on a dark night in October, I would be sufficiently scared.
Atchison Historical Society/Train Depot
The Atchison Historical Society is located within the Old Sante Fe Train Depot, so look for the trains, not a sign for the Historical Society. Otherwise you’ll end up like me, confused and circling the block. The museum inside is a charming hodgepodge of Atchison history and artifacts. I was not ready to see actual clothes from hometown hero, Amelia Earhart.
The true draw, for me, thought, was that it is self-determined as the host of the Smallest Presidential Library. It is not only self-ordained because it is not run by the National Archives, but also because most scholars argue that David Rice Atchison was never actually president. In 1849 then president elect Zachary Taylor refused to take the oath of office on Sunday March 4th due to religious observances. David Atchison was then president pro tempore of the Senate, which, some argue, technically made him president from the end of President Polk’s tenure on March 4th and the new administration’s inauguration on March 5th. Who am I to argue with the level of confidence and audacity? So to our 11 ½th president, or, ‘the real 12th president’ as they call him, I salute you.
Amelia Earhart Birthplace
Even if you don’t care about one of the greatest female aviators of all time (which, really, makes me question your character), you should visit the Earhart birthplace for the view. Set atop a hill, the front porch spectacularly looks down on the river and bridge leading out of town. The inside of the home traces Amelia’s childhood through her infamous disappearance and is peppered with personal possessions and Earhart themed trinkets from throughout the years. My favorite room of the house is a bedroom with letters from children inspired by her story, a reminder why stories and places connected to trailblazers are so important to preserve for future generations.
Before heading out of town, make sure to stop and have a sandwich. Going off a recommendation from the kind worker at the Historical Association, we went to the deli side of Paolucci’s Restaurant, Deli and Lounge. If you’re looking for table service that’s still casual, then duck through the doorway and pass from the deli to the restaurant. With walls full of newspaper clippings and locals streaming in and out, this is a place where you can claim a table and not worry about being rushed. (I had ‘The Big Mike’ and Alex had ‘The Mobster’, in case you’re looking for a sandwich suggestion.)
If you ever find yourself driving through Kansas, be on the lookout for Atchison. It may just become one of your favorite places as well!