An early aviation superstar came to Oneonta in 1928. No, it wasn’t Charles Lindbergh, but local residents knew the name of Col. Clarence Chamberlin, a veteran who had served in World War I. They were pleased to have him as a visitor to the city’s recently opened airfield, on Country Club Road in Oneonta’s West End, among several other places on an April day that year.
Had things worked out better for Chamberlin in 1927, he would quite possibly have been the pilot to make the famous non-stop flight from New York to Paris. Due to a squabble among some colleagues and a court injunction, Chamberlin could only watch as Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island on May 20.
Chamberlin was hired a few weeks later by Charles Albert Levine for $20,000 to fly him to Paris. Chamberlin, in his aircraft Columbia, didn’t want to repeat what had been done by Lindbergh, so he took Levine on a more lengthy flight, to Berlin, Germany, a flight of more than 43 hours and more than 3,900 miles.
The two men were received just as heroically as Lindbergh had been in France, with autograph sessions, tours of the city, and many a luncheon and dinner with dignitaries.
Back in the U.S., Chamberlin was also well-known and -liked, so he hired a booking agent and barnstormed up and down the northeastern coast for years, including Oneonta in April 1928.
It was reported in The Oneonta Star of March 31 that Wednesday, April 4, had been declared Chamberlin Day in Oneonta by Mayor Bertus C. Lauren, and preparations were made for a day of meetings and public appearances.
Chamberlin had corresponded to his Oneonta hosts that he had spent Tuesday, April 3, tuning up his Sperry messenger plane to make the trip from New York the next day. Two big cabin planes were sent out of Oneonta on Wednesday to meet Chamberlin enroute and escort him to the airfield.