A decade before she disappeared on her infamous round-the-world flight, the world’s most well-known female flier spent a year at Quincy’s first airfield.
Around town she was known simply as “Miss Amelia.” Amelia Earhart didn’t spend much time socializing during her time in Quincy in the late 1920s. When she wasn’t busy as a social worker at a Boston settlement house or promoting aviation, she was at Dennison Airport in Squantum, logging more flying time.
Even if they didn’t see her that often, people talked about the frank, ambitious young woman who preferred khakis and flight suits to dresses, jewelry and makeup.
Today a fresh take on Earhart’s life and mystique comes to movie theaters, with Hilary Swank taking the lead in “Amelia.” More than 70 years after she disappeared in the Pacific on a round-the-world flight in 1937, Earhart continues to be a figure of fascination – especially to women’s history devotees like Sharron Beals.
“She was a special person during that chapter (of early aviation),” said Beals, who installed a display devoted to Quincy’s flight history at the Beechwood on the Bay senior center.
Beals was the longtime director at the center until the city closed it in 2008. She put the display there because Beechwood was built near the Dennison Airport site, just south of the present Marina Bay development.
Earhart spent a year, from 1927 to 1928, flying from the Quincy field. (The airport closed in 1940 and became part of the Squantum Naval Air Station.)
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Quincy proved to be Earhart’s last stop before she catapulted to celebrity. Even before she became known internationally in the days when few women dared to fly, Earhart became an exotic presence in a city known as the home of the Adams family.
“She wasn’t flamboyant,” Beals said, “but most women were a bit puzzled by her.”
In a 1997 Patriot Ledger interview, Evelyn Johnson, a clerk for the airport’s founder, businessman Harold Dennison, recalled that Earhart’s life was “all planes.
“She came mostly to talk to the menfolk because they talked airplanes and planning,” Johnson said.
Earhart lived with her mother and sister in Medford. As a settlement house social worker, she taught immigrant Chinese and Syrian mothers and supervised programs for their children. On weekends, she borrowed other people’s planes for flights up and down the coast and over the towns west of Boston. Beals said Earhart sometimes took carloads of youngsters to Quincy in her yellow convertible, to watch other pilots’ flights.
Then, in June 1928, she was gone. A year after Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo Atlantic flight, Earhart joined a two-man pilot crew on a flight from Newfoundland to Wales. She wasn’t paid for the trip, but the adventure made her a star.
When the crew left Boston for Newfoundland, they circled south to Squantum, dipping a wing of their pontoon plane over Dennison Airport before turning north, “to say goodbye to her friends here,” Beals said.
Lane Lambert may be reached at email@example.com.
DRAMATIC FLIGHT OVER QUINCY
Contrary to local lore, Amelia Earhart may not have been on the first official flight from Dennison Airport in Quincy, but she did give South Shore residents something to talk about with a dramatic solo demonstration.
The story is told in Susan Butler’s 1997 biography “East to the Dawn,” one of the books on which the new Hilary Swank film is based.
Quincy businessman Harold Dennison opened the airport in July 1927. Two months later, he invited a world-famous female German aviator, Thea Rasche, to make a promotional stunt flight. All went well until the battery in Rasche’s plane died. To avoid hitting spectators around the landing field, she made an emergency landing in a nearby marsh.
Earhart wanted to make sure everyone knew women were as capable as men, so up she went in one of the airport’s planes, giving what a Boston newspaper called “an excellent demonstration of flying.”