The picturesque village of Noank in the Town of Groton, on the Mystic River, is a quiet place. Not much has happened there since the British attempted to attack Mystic in the War of 1812. But a secret wedding between publisher George Putnam and aviatrix Amelia Earhart did take place there. On the front of the old General Store a plaque reads, “Aviation Pioneer Amelia Earhart married George P. Putnam here in Noank, Connecticut, February 17, 1931”. The only thing is she wasn’t married there but at a small unmarked house down the road on Church Street.
Why all the secrecy? One reason was that Amelia Earhart was a well-known celebrity at the time and didn’t want the publicity. She was concerned that marriage might interfere with her career in aviation and was a feminist who wanted to maintain an image of a liberated woman for her fans.
Earhart was only married a short time when she disappeared with her navigator, Fred Noonan, on a flight across the Pacific Ocean. Her disappearance became an instant news sensation and one of the biggest stories of the time. What happened on that fateful flight is still a mystery, there have been many news reports and documentaries about the search for her and her plane, but nothing has ever been found.
George Putnam gained notoriety when he published the book, We, Charles Lindbergh’s bestselling account of his historic solo flight from New York to Paris. Putnam was looking to repeat that success with a story about the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Searching for a subject he interviewed Earhart, a young relatively obscure aviator. Putnam was a great promoter and arranged, with a great deal of publicity, to have Earhart fly as a passenger across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Wales. He published a book about the exploit titled, 20 Hours and 40 Minutes, which made Earhart famous.
About this time Putnam was married to Dorothy Binney, and Earhart started to have an affair. Eventually, Putnam divorced and proposed to Earhart. But Earhart was a reluctant bride and confided to a friend, “I am still unsold on marriage . . . I may not ever be able to see [it] except as a cage until I am unfit to work or fly or be active.”
In the next few years, Earhart became a big celebrity. Her photograph was on magazine covers and she had a number of aviation firsts, including the first woman to fly across the continent. After proposing six times Putnam finally got her to accept his marriage proposal. He wanted to be married at his mother’s summer home on Church Street in Noank and on February 6, 1931, Putnam called his mother and told her that he and Earhart would be driving up from New York to be wed the following day.
February 7, 1931, dawned clear and cold. The village was quiet as the simple five-minute civil ceremony began. There were no guests just Judge Anderson, two witnesses, and Putnam’s mother. After the ceremony, Putnam called his office to release the news and within an hour the once quiet village was swarming with reporters but the newlyweds had already left.
It was July 2, 1937, when Earhart and her navigator disappeared on the last leg of a round-the-world flight over the vast reaches of the Pacific. They were never heard from again and their fate remains a mystery.
The house at 47 Church Street, once known as the square house, today is known by neighbors as the unpainted house; sitting neglected, paint peeling, it’s secret intact.
More information about this fascinating footnote of history is available through the Noank Historical Society which operates a small museum. The museum is a great place to find out about Noank’s history including Amelia Earhart’s secret wedding.