Unless you’ve flown a private plane, visited for the annual air show (or the old Grand Prix), or parked nearby in the Muni Lot before a Browns game, you probably haven’t given much thought to Burke Lakefront Airport in downtown Cleveland.
But the airport, which opened in 1947 as the first municipal downtown airport, is also home to the International Women’s Air & Space Museum – a perfect destination for March, which is Women’s History Month.
The museum opened in Centerville in 1986 and moved to its current location in 1998. It’s dedicated to memorializing women who might not be as well-known in air and space travel from the wild, early days of air races and open cockpits up to the space shuttle.
Upon entering, one of the first items you see looks like a wedding dress. It’s a formal dress worn by Katherine Wright at a reception with President William Howard Taft at the White House. Katherine Wright was the sister of Wilbur and Orville. She didn’t fly with them, but she was a supporter of their endeavors and ultimately an officer in the Wright company, keeping books and calendars for the aviators and becoming a celebrity in her own right. She’s also the subject of the next Dinner with a Slice of History, a regular event put on by the museum featuring a meal and a talk by Harry Haskell, an author and grandson of Wright’s husband, newspaper editor Henry Haskell.
Probably the most famous woman pilot is Amelia Earhart, due in no small part to her mysterious disappearance while trying to circumnavigate the globe. But her disappearance obscures a stellar career as “queen of the air.” Earhart, who flew to Cleveland as part of the inaugural National Air Races, is also commemorated with a display including a scarf, a lei she was given on a flight to Hawaii, and a model of her Lockheed Vega, which she used as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
The museum also recognizes all the female astronauts who’ve been in space, from Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova to the present. It recognizes the Mercury women, 13 women who underwent the same type of training undergone by the initial Mercury 7 astronauts. Although they weren’t an official NASA program – and never went into space – they filled an important role in space exploration.
There is also a console from Cape Canaveral, and various models of flight simulators – including one you can sit in (a big hit with my daughter).
The museum is in the main concourse of the airport, so admission is free. You might have to pay to park if you’re not lucky enough to find a spot on the street, or the airport is accessible via the RTA Rapid Waterfront Line.