Seventy-five years ago, famed aviator Amelia Earhart and husband/manager George Palmer Putnam arrived in Honolulu aboard the Matson ocean liner SS Lurline. They immediately checked in to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which had also been built for Matson. They stated they were there to tour the islands.
Also on board Lurline were aviator Paul Mantz and Earhart’s bright red Lockheed Vega. Although Earhart claimed the plane was there for sightseeing purposes, Mantz took it up to Wheeler Field for fine-tuning and flight testing. The plane was pretty much hidden from public view, while Earhart and Putnam became the toast of the islands.
Rather abruptly and rather secretly, on Jan. 12, 1935, Earhart took off from Wheeler and flew to Oakland, Calif., becoming the first person — not just the first woman — to make a solo trans-Pacific flight. The country went wild, and Earhart’s status as a modern heroine was assured.
Two years later she returned to the islands on an early leg of her planned around-the-world flight. A takeoff accident on Ford Island delayed the adventure, and she disappeared on a second attempt.
While Earhart was in the islands, Matson documented her every move with photography. These photographs, along with the original negatives, were recently unearthed in the Matson Navigation Co. archives in Oakland. Beginning Saturday — Earhart’s 113th birthday — Matson and the Royal Hawaiian have teamed up with an exhibition of these long-lost images.
‘AMELIA EARHART AT THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN:
A Collection of Recently Discovered Photos from Matson Archives’:
Earhart was more than a pioneer aviator. She was also an icon of the modern woman. The pictures shown here were chosen by Nadine Kam, the Star-Advertiser’s Jedi master of fashion, illustrating Earhart’s unerring eye for attractive, functional clothing. Not surprisingly, but coincidentally, they are the same pictures chosen by Matson and the Royal Hawaiian to feature.
Earhart had her own line of clothing — "for the woman who lives actively" — and designed flying togs for her fellow female pilots in the Ninety-Nines. The first featured loose trousers, a zippered top and big pockets for those flying maps and sandwiches. Sensible and stylish, it was featured in Vogue magazine.
Contemporary fashionistas like Kate Hepburn were swept away. And Amelia Earhart Luggage was originally designed by Earhart herself.
"Look at how she wore pants, for Christ’s sake!" enthused blogger Kat Asharya on the NoGoodForMe.com fashion site. "I love her because to say her name is to evoke adventure, risk-taking and a certain exhilarated mode of living: things that fashion sometimes promises us we’ll find when we wear certain clothes, but often never do.
"Earhart’s clothes didn’t have to help her be strong and capable; she was already those things, and she dressed to allow those qualities to express themselves fully. In an age when we clad ourselves in clothes to make us seem cooler, richer, more beautiful or just more anything, such a pragmatic (but no less expressive) approach seems almost revolutionary."
MATSON ARCHIVISTS Lynn Blocker Krantz and Jeff Hull were always aware that images of Earhart existed somewhere in the shipping company’s vast archives. Still, when Krantz pulled out a file from a dusty box labeled with the aviatrix’s name, she was "blown away" by the pictures — large-format negatives seemingly untouched by time.
"It was a big deal that Matson wanted to share with the world," said Krantz, in Honolulu to supervise the exhibition installation. The pictures are blown up in exquisite detail on canvas, and will be donated to the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island when the exhibition ends, said Krantz.
"Seeing them enlarged took my breath away. She was such a doll! Lighted up a room with her magic joie de vivre.
"Matson has such pride in its work, not just as a shipping company, but as a pioneer in the passenger ship and hotel era. They were known for classic luxury afloat and ashore. That is why they built the Royal Hawaiian, and that’s why Matson and the Royal Hawaiian have strong ties today; that shared history we keep alive in the Matson archives."
In addition to the oversize canvas prints, more than 50 other pictures of Earhart will be used in an illustrated time line of her stay in the islands.