Flashback: Earhart celebrated at Matthews Arena after first transatlantic flight

On Wednesday, almost 80 years to the day since the official search efforts to find Amelia Earhart were called off, a new break developed in the case. Photo via Flickr.

On June 17, 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, on a plane piloted by Wilmer Stultz. Almost nine years later, on March 17, 1937, she set out to become the first woman to fly around the world—an attempt that eventually led to her famous and still unsolved disappearance. In between the two flights, however, she was the star of a gala for the ages at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena, then named Boston Arena.

The mystery of her disappearance—what happened to Amelia Earhart?—is one that has captivated researchers and historians throughout the decades since.

On Wednesday, almost 80 years to the day since the official search efforts were called off, there appeared a new break in the case. A newly discovered photo in the U.S. National Archives appears to show Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and their plane on an atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Let’s go back to 1928, though.

“Amelia and ‘Bill’ and ‘Lou’ were given a regular old-fashioned party at the Boston Arena last night,” reads an article in the Daily Boston Globe from July 10, 1928—the day after the party and only a few weeks after Earhart’s pioneering first transatlantic flight. “Nearly 10,000 persons, among whom women predominated, joined together in songs, laughs, applause, and silent admiration to welcome home a local girl who became five weeks ago a world figure.”

Earhart had been living in Medford, Massachusetts, when she was called upon to participate in that 1928 flight. She’d been in Medford about three years by that point, maintaining her interest in aviation by becoming a member of the American Aeronautical Society’s Boston chapter. She frequently flew out of then-Dennison Airport, later renamed the Naval Air Station Squantum, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Following her transatlantic flight, she, Stultz, referred to in the Globe article as “Bill,” and fellow aviator Louis E. “Lou” Gordon were feted at the Boston Arena. They received travel bags from then-Boston Mayor Malcolm Nichols and told the story of their history-making flight, according to the Globe article.

“I haven’t grown tired of these wonderful receptions,” Earhart is quoted as saying. “And these in Boston today have been the best of all. The only sour note of the day was my sister’s greeting. ‘Hm,’ she said when she saw me, ‘You’ve got some more freckles, haven’t you?’”

Though Matthews Arena is more closely associated now with Northeastern hockey and basketball games, the Boston residents who attended Earhart’s celebration likely weren’t surprised by the black-tie affair.

The arena—the world’s oldest multipurpose athletic building—has played host to presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, as well as dignitaries Charles Lindbergh, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, and others.

Northeastern’s use of the arena spans more than 80 years, since hockey became a varsity sport in 1929. The Huskies played their first game on the ice in 1930, two and a half years after Earhart delivered her triumphant speech there.

Indeed, while the Huskies were playing hockey at the arena, Earhart was a world away, planning her first solo transatlantic flight between Newfoundland and Northern Ireland.

On May 20, 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic.

Earhart went on to accumulate many other world records and achievements before she and her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 as she attempted to become the first female pilot to fly around the world.

Whether this week’s new clue will lead investigators to unravel this decades-old mystery remains to be seen.

The 1928 Globe article ends like this: “‘When are you coming back to us, Miss Earhart?’ a woman in the crowd yelled. Miss Earhart turned towards the voice and with a faint smile replied: ‘I don’t know.’ Her voice sounded a bit sorrowful to the Globe reporter standing beside her car. The crowd became strangely hushed. The next moment the engine roared and the aviators were driven rapidly down the street.”