This week in history: Amelia Earhart touches down in Chicago

The famed aviator, born this week on July 24, 1897, visited Chicago on July 19, 1928. Here’s how the Windy City welcomed her.

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Amelia Earhart rides in a convertible through Chicago on July 19, 1928.

Amelia Earhart holds flowers as she waves to the crowd in Chicago on July 19, 1928 while sitting with two men in the back seat of a convertible automobile.

From the Sun-Times archives.

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

If anyone in the class of 1916 at Hyde Park High School thought their classmate, Amelia Earhart, had her head in the clouds, then they would soon find that it was a phase that the future aviator never outgrew.

Earhart, born July 24, 1897, left Chicago soon after her high school graduation, but she made a triumphant return to the city in 1928 just after her historic trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps in a show of female solidarity, the Chicago Daily News sent reporter June Provines to cover Earhart’s visit.

“The woman most recently in the world’s eye today stepped off the Broadway limited at 11 o’clock this morning — friendly, casual, charming and entirely unsentimental, into the embrace of a city overflowing with sentiment for her,” Provines wrote on July 19, 1928.

Earhart arrived in Chicago barely a month after the aviator completed her first flight across the Atlantic from Newfoundland, Canada, to Wales aboard the “Friendship” on July 17. Although she described her role as “baggage,” Earhart kept the flight log for pilot Wilmer Stultz and copilot Louis Gordon. Both men accompanied Earhart to Chicago, along with Gordon’s fiancée, whom he married before leaving the city.

The city rolled out a hero’s welcome for the traveling party, and Earhart had a weekend of parades and banquets to attend. On Thursday, the day of her arrival, Mayor William Hale Thompson and City Council members would host a banquet for her at the Shoreland Hotel where she was staying. On Friday, she would attend a reception at her former high school, a horse race at Lincoln Fields and a parade that she’d watch from 64th and Cottage Grove Avenue. Saturday would be packed with more luncheons and receptions, and on Sunday, Earhart would attend a church service and visit Hull House before departing.

When the “Friendship” crew arrived at the train station, a crowd of fans gathered to greet her, crying “Our Amelia! Our Amelia!” Chicagoans “surged and jockeyed” to catch a glimpse of Earhart and her cohorts as they disembarked from the train that carried them from Pennsylvania to Chicago, Provines wrote.

“Amelia smiled her frank boyish smile, shook hands noncommittally with the welcoming committee, and the party was aided by police through the station crowd to the mayor’s office,” she observed.

Although she assured readers that she was “glad to come to Chicago” and that she “always liked the city,” it was clear Earhart had few fond memories of her high school experience. When asked what she remembered best, she recalled the “nice golf course nearby.” Former classmates that Provines likely talked to described her as the “lanky girl who walked alone through the high school corridors, who hated crowds and who disliked commencement furor so much that she didn’t even stay for her diploma.”

But the reporter did not mistake Earhart’s honesty and frankness for rude or cold. And the aviator seemed genuinely glad to visit the city, sharing plans to go swimming and shopping for pajamas.

“I came off without any,” she confessed, smiling broadly.

She also shared her enthusiasm for a new plane — the one Lady Heath flew from Africa to Croydon — she’d recently purchased. “It landed in New York yesterday,” she gushed, “and I’m thrilled over having it. It is a very famous plane, so it’s a great privilege.”

Provines remarked on Earhart’s likeness to fellow aviator Charles Lindbergh, her short blonde hair and her frank countenance, but what Earhart seemed to prize most about her appearance was worn around her wrist — a bracelet made from small flags set between gold links.

“It is a good-luck bracelet and was given to me by Scott Payne, flying boat pioneer,” she explained. “The flags of the nations spell good luck in semaphore.”

Once a loner at her high school, Earhart was the “center of attention” as she and her party left the train station for the Shoreland Hotel, ready to be welcomed by a band in the lobby and a group of Campfire girls singing a song simply called “Amelia.”

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