Feminist aviation pioneer had ties to Noank

Noank wedding of Amelia Earhart and George Putnam

Your editorial in the Sept. 3 Day concerning eastern Connecticut’s connection to the on-going search for the wreckage of aviatrix Amelia Earhart’s plane in the Pacific Ocean, referencing the role of Lyme resident and noted underwater explorer Robert Ballard, failed to note the aviatrix’s own historical and personal connection to the region, specifically her marriage in the village of Noank.

Although the story has several tellings, when it comes to exact final events it must be noted that Earhart was married in 1931, somewhere in Noank, to New York City publisher George P. Putnam, prior to her ill-fated July 1937 Pacific flight.

My mother, Joan Cronin Oat, tells of then-Noank community leader and Probate Judge (and subsequently U.S. Circuit Court Judge) Robert P. Anderson relating the story of the private celebrity wedding to her and my father, former Norwich Bulletin co-publisher Donald Lewis Oat, while showing my parents the then-vacant pillared residence of the late dowager heiress Annie Daboll. (Miss Daboll was the maid for the childless scion of the Palmer family, owners of the renowned Noank Shipyard, who had built the stately pillared landmark in the early 1900s and subsequently had bequeathed the stately home to Ms. Daboll, according to my mother’s recollection.)

Judge Anderson related that his father, a Connecticut Probate judge in the 1930s, officiated at the “celebrity” wedding of the day on Church Street in Noank in 1931. There remains, however, an historical question of exactly where on Church Street the wedding occurred, the younger Judge Anderson acknowledged.

The story, as retold to my parents by the younger Judge Anderson in his showing of the majestic but, literal, “white elephant” Church Street edifice – which became home for my parents’ family of seven children for several decades – involved the senior Judge Anderson making last-minute arrangements to use the majestic-albeit-vacant home for the star-crossed celebrity wedding, at which he was the officiant.

As told by Judge Anderson, Putnam’s mother had refused in purported disapproval of the union to allow the planned use of her home several houses further down Church Street in the center of the village, only to change her mind at the last minute and relent as the ceremony either was set to begin or had begun at the vacant Daboll house.

The wedding party purportedly moved en masse down the street.

The marriage was the celebrity marriage of the day and an exemplar of woman’s liberation of the time, with Putnam purportedly promising not to impede the aviatrix’s ambitions, a concession which subsequently contributed to Earhart’s fatal aviation adventure. Even in marriage she kept her famous surname.

The edited historical marker at the Noank town dock/beach on the shore of Mystic River at the foot of the village’s Main Street reflects the continued confusion about the historical details. It reads: Aviation Pioneer Amelia Earhart married George P. Putnam here in Noank, Connecticut, February 7, 1931.

The word "here" is whited out, apparently reflecting the uncertainty tied to the literally "moving" wedding ceremony.

Thomas C. Oat lives in Noank. A journalist, he previously worked at the Norwich Bulletin. You can reach him at oatthomas@gmail.com.

 

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