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Columns

July 7, 2012

Despite dangers, aviators still thrilled the masses in 1937

Air travel, just like any kind of transportation, has its inherent dangers. Even the most experienced pilots can deal with disaster.

Chances are many a conversation at our region's Fourth of July celebrations in 1937 were centered around two such aviation disasters, one in the South Pacific and another in the Otsego County Town of Morris.

At the same time the fascination with aviation was still high locally.

Readers of The Oneonta Star learned on Saturday, July 3, how Amelia Earhart, called "the world's best known aviatrix, and her navigator, Fred J. Noonan, were believed forced down at sea … in an $80,000 'Flying Laboratory' somewhere near tiny Howland island on a daring attempt to span the South Pacific."

Since 1932, Earhart had been impressing a generation of early aviation enthusiasts, being only the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic, across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland in 1935, breaking altitude records, and then attempting to be the first woman to fly around the world in 1937.

While our area followed the unsuccessful search for Amelia Earhart, they also learned of tragedy near Morris on Saturday, July 3.

"Ironical fate added Otsego County to its scroll of air tragedies when H.H. Linn, 60, Morris tractor-trailer inventor and manufacturer, his pilot and a passenger went to a flaming death Saturday afternoon," the Star reported on Monday. "A fourth passenger is fighting for his life in the Bassett hospital at Cooperstown."

"Despite thousands of miles covered by air throughout the country, and the hazards of many strange airfields, fate selected Mr. Linn's home port on which to write finis to a typical American success story."

Linn's pilot, George Stead of Norwich, and Mrs. Arthur Hansen of Endicott also died in the crash.

Arthur Hansen survived. The foursome had boarded Linn's plane at about 1:30 p.m. at the small airfield atop Patrick Hill, to make a trip to Syracuse.

It was sunny and there was only a gentle wind, so there were no apparent atmospheric dangers.

"The plane took off into the wind, soared aloft briefly and then started downward again. Still no fear held the spectators. They watched interested at what they believed was to be an exhibition of stunting as the plane dipped and rose again."

The crash followed, leaving a torn and twisted mass of steel, fabric and flames.

Morris paid tribute to the victims on Tuesday, July 6.

"In the death of Mr. Linn," the Star said, "Morris lost one of its most prominent residents. A man of humble beginnings, his Yankee inventive genius had carried him to a successful career as a manufacturer and inventor."

Holman H. Linn invented the well-known Linn Tractor.

Despite the tragedies, area residents had the opportunity to see an unusual flying boat on Otsego Lake over the weekend of July 4, Richard Archbold's "monster flying boat, Guba."

Archbold had recently made a transcontinental flight with this flying boat and touched down on Otsego Lake on Thursday, July 1.

He was making plans at the time to explore the interior of New Guinea.

"Several had already been attracted to the spot this afternoon to get sight of the craft," the Star reported, "which resembles in many respects a giant sea-monster of fairy lore. Painted a shimmering gray, it has a wing spread of 104 feet, and a gross weight fully loaded of 27,000 pounds."

Archbold and two other crew members intended to conduct test flights over the weekend.

According to the Star of Friday, July 9, Harry Lance, "noted Oneonta parachute jumper," was set to make his first daredevil leap of the season on Sunday at Keyes Airport, then found on Country Club Road, in the area where NYSEG and several other businesses on Browne Street are found today.

Lance planned to "bail out" of a plane at 2,000 feet, head first, and drop several hundred feet before opening his parachute.

On Monday: An Oneonta Yankee debated over a sports career in 1982.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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