America’s Aviatrix: Amelia Earhart InTheBurg

In honor of National Amelia Earhart Day, we're bringing you the history of Earhart's Spartanburg flight and autogiro tour through town in 1931, just six years before her disappearance...

Amelia Earhart, first female aviatrix to fly trans-Atlantic in 1928, arrived in Spartanburg in 1931 as a guest of the Spartanburg Emergency Relief Fund, four years after Charles Lindbergh landed at the Spartanburg Downtown Airport.

This was just one stop along Earhart’s series of transcontinental autogiro flights, sponsored by Beech-Nut Packing Company. The helicopter-airplane hybrid had horizontal rotary blades that allowed for precise, vertical landings, albeit slow flight.

While in Spartanburg, Earhart spoke at Converse College on unemployment following the Great Depression, stayed at the Franklin Hotel, and performed flight demonstrations at the Airport.

[Photo of Amelia Earhart in her Beech-Nut autogiro; via ThePilot.com, “Queen of the Air” feature article]

Before Earhart disappeared, she amazed Spartanburg with autogiro…

Barely four years had passed since Charles Lindbergh’s memorable stop in Spartanburg, but the world that existed when Amelia Earhart landed at Spartanburg Municipal Airport, as it was called at the time, on Nov. 12, 1931, was a much more subdued place.

As a guest of the local emergency relief fund, Earhart spoke in front of 1,200 people at Converse College that evening about the pressing issue of the day – rampant unemployment, the result of the Great Depression.

Six years before going missing during a flight over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, Earhart stopped in the Upstate as part of a tour of her Beech-Nut autogiro, a precursor to the helicopter. which she had piloted on a transcontinental flight.

Earhart became a national star and a female aviation pioneer after completing a trans-Atlantic flight in 1928, and her arrival at Spartanburg airport, the state’s first commercial airport, was front-page news. But the hoopla was much less for “Lady Lindy,” as she was called, than it was when Lindbergh himself arrived in Spartanburg in 1927 to huge crowds that had congregated downtown.

On that November day, Earhart was the guest of the Spartanburg Emergency Relief Fund for the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, which was set to begin a fund-raising campaign.

Earhart, who was 34 years old at the time, stayed at the Franklin Hotel, dined with the local women’s auxiliary of the American Legion, put on a demonstration at the airport and spoke at Converse about unemployment.

“After all, I’m only human,” Earhart told the Spartanburg Journal with a laugh, “but I’ll do all I can while here.”

Earhart, a former nurse’s aide, spent much of her speech at Converse “answering many questions and proving herself an exceptionally charming guest,” the Spartanburg Herald reported. She spoke “as though she were talking to a group of associates, smiling and laughing infectiously at frequent intervals.”

Unemployment speech

In her talk, the Herald reported, Earhart compared the unemployment relief campaign to efforts to emphasize safety in the aviation industry. Just as safe flying was essential, she said, so was care for the unemployed.

Another large portion of her speech was spent describing her 1928 trans-Atlantic flight with Wilmer Stoltz, which lasted 18 harrowing hours between Newfoundland and Wales. She also spoke about the future of aviation, the paper reported. “She feels trans-Atlantic flights will be made commercially and in comfort within the lifetime of the present generation.”

Earhart landed at 11:30 a.m. at Spartanburg airport, after a 55-minute flight from Charlotte, N.C. She told the Journal that she battled a slight headwind, and got her autogiro up to 110 mph.

When she arrived, a delegation led by Mayor Ben Hill Brown met her at the airport, and she was driven to her room at the Franklin Hotel. There, she received a bouquet of flowers from the relief fund.

Flying with Amelia

After lunch with the Kiwanis Club, Earhart returned to the airport for an autogiro demonstration, which drew hundreds of visitors interested in seeing the unique aircraft. Instead of using fixed wings like most airplanes, it had rotating blades that lifted the craft into the air and allowed it to land vertically.

She took many of the Spartanburg dignitaries on short flights, including Brown and his son, Ben Jr. She met with the American Legion auxiliary to promote an upcoming membership campaign before heading to Converse for her speech.

[Article originally published July 2nd, 2007 on GoUpstate.com; written by Sean P. Flynn]