Posts Tagged 'aviation'

A Wedding in the Clouds (7-25-1925)

Even in 1925, brides were looking for ways to make their weddings distinctive. Dorothy McGonigie was set to marry Hartley Berglund. Her intended husband was a student aviator. That gave Dorothy the idea of staging Chicago’s first airborne wedding.

At 1 p.m. this Saturday afternoon, the two planes in the bridal party took off from the new flying field at 97th and Western. A crowd of 2,000 people waited on the ground. The planes climbed to 5,000 feet, then began a long glide downward.

Rehearsal Photo?

Rehearsal Photo?

In the first plane, the bride and groom stood before Rev. Fred Line of St. Paul’s-on-the-Midway Church and were joined in marriage, with the best man and maid of honor handling the rings. The second plane flew above, allowing the two flower girls to drop red roses on the newly-married couple. When the planes returned safely to earth, Rev. Line could joke that now he really was a “sky pilot.”

What happened to the newly-married couple in later years?  I don’t know.  But I’d love to find out.



Solving Airport Congestion (9-23-1991)

O’Hare International Airport was plagued by flight delays.  On this date, solutions to the problem were being debated.

Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley wanted to expand O’Hare.  Now a Schaumburg-based business group had come out in favor of at least one new airport runway.  This brought renewed opposition from the Suburban O’Hare Commission (SOC), an alliance of a dozen municipalities east of Schaumburg.  They feared increased noise and pollution in their communities.

Municipal (Midway) Airport--1948

Municipal (Midway) Airport–1948

Everyone seemed to agree that those delays at O’Hare were intolerable.  Maybe the answer wasn’t about making the current facility bigger.  Maybe Chicago needed another airport, to go with O’Hare and Midway.  But where to put it?

Some people suggested using rural land in a place like Peotone.  Others wanted to expand the little-used Gary Regional Airport.  Mayor Daley had floated a proposal to clear an area within the Chicago city limits, near Lake Calumet.

Each of those sites had drawbacks.  Peotone was far out in the country.  Gary Regional was located in Indiana–that meant revenues would have to be shared with another state.  Building near Lake Calumet would involve uprooting hundreds of businesses and thousands of people.

Aside from a few Indiana officials, nobody seemed interested in Gary Regional.   Within Chicago itself, various business, labor, and community organizations were speaking out in favor of a Lake Calumet airport.  They felt that site made the most sense.  Nobody would travel all the way to Peotone to catch a plane.

For their part, SOC favored Peotone.  A facility there would bring economic development to an area that needed it.  SOC said a Lake Calumet airport might take 25 years to build.  In the meantime, pressure would grow to expand O’Hare.  That was something they could not allow.

Original O'Hare Airport Plan--1948

Original O’Hare Airport Plan–1948

Governor Jim Edgar had blocked any new O’Hare runways.  But suburban officials were afraid he was wavering.  “So far he’s been steadfast, saying he won’t agree to an expansion of O’Hare unless the suburbs go along with it,” observed Elk Grove Village president Charles Zattek. “I’m sure they’re bringing pressure on Governor Edgar to change his stance.”

As matters developed, the third airport was never built, not at Lake Calumet nor at Peotone.  Edgar continued to oppose O’Hare expansion until he left office in 1998.  In 2008, O’Hare began adding new runways.


Katie and Howard (1-21-1937)

The Ambassador East was hosting two of America’s A-list celebrities.  The question on everyone’s mind was—would Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes get married in Chicago?Poster

At 29, Hepburn had already won an Oscar as Best Actress.  She was in town appearing in a stage version of “Jane Eyre.”  Hughes was a dashing 30-year-old oil millionaire who had become a Hollywood producer.  He was also a famous aviator.

On January 19, Hughes broke his own speed record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in 7 hours, 28 minutes.  Then he flew to Chicago and checked into Hepburn’s hotel.  He got a separate room, three floors away.  That’s the way things were done in 1937.

The wedding rumors immediately started.  County Clerk Michael Flynn helped the story by announcing he was ready to personally issue a marriage license to Katie and Howard.  When the County Building opened for business on January 21, a crowd had already gathered, hoping to catch a glimpse of the happy couple.

By mid-day, over 3,000 people clogged the corridors.  Many in the throng were County employees who had abandoned their offices to join the stake-out.  The few couples who came to get their own marriage licenses had trouble getting through the mob.

Closing time arrived.  Hepburn and Hughes still hadn’t shown up.  Now attention shifted to the Ambassador East, where photographers and hundreds more fans kept vigil.  Hepburn finally emerged and left for the theater, without Hughes.  The paparazzi followed.

After the performance, Hepburn tried to avoid her pursuers with a decoy—she dressed her maid in a mink jacket and slacks, and sent the woman off in a cab.  The trick didn’t work.  When the actress did leave, the press was still on her tail.

Hepburn returned to the hotel at 3 a.m., accompanied by her co-star.  When one waiting photographer snapped a picture, the escort stepped forward and smashed the camera.  Meanwhile, Hughes remained out of sight.

Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes never did get married, in Chicago or anyplace else.  They eventually went their separate ways.  Hughes became a billionaire and died an eccentric recluse in 1976.  Hepburn won three more Oscars and lived to be 96.

As a postscript, Cate Blanchett won an Academy Award for portraying Hepburn in the 2004 Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator.  So, does that count as a fifth Oscar for Katie H?






Miracle at Glenview (8-19-1948)

American Airlines.jpg

“There’s good news tonight!”  That was the greeting often spoken by a popular radio commentator of the 1940s.  On this date in Chicago, there sure was.

World War II had been over for three years.  Though civilian air travel was starting to grow, much of the public was still nervous about getting on a plane.  There always seemed to be some spectacular air crash in the headlines.

American Airlines Flight 383 was routed from New York to Chicago, with three stops along the way.  It was scheduled to arrive at Midway Airport at 4 p.m.  On the final leg of the trip, pilot Eddie Cycon discovered that the plane’s front wheels were jammed and would not descend.

Cycon’s twin-engine, propeller-driven craft was cruising at 300 miles-an-hour, and had 250 gallons of fuel left.  He radioed Midway traffic control.  After consultation, Cycon was advised to set down at Glenview Naval Air Station, which had the best facilities for handling emergency landings.

Before he could attempt a landing, Cycon had to burn off the excess fuel.  So when he reached Midway he circled the field for over an hour.  Meanwhile, back in the cabin, stewardess Agnes Mae Vaughn was soothing the 35 passengers and making sure they were all securely strapped in.

At 5:15 Cycon notified Glenview he was ready.  He came in nose-up.  The plane touched down on its rear wheels and skidded for nearly a half-mile.  Despite Cycon’s best efforts, the front of the craft dipped as it slowed down.  The nose hit the runway.  Sparks flew.  A last, harrowing 300 yards—and the plane stopped.

The five emergency doors opened, and the passengers quickly exited, sliding down nylon ropes.  Within two minutes the plane was empty.  Over a hundred naval fire-fighters were standing ready.  But an examination of the plane showed there had been no structural damage.

Except for a woman who fainted and had to be carried off in a stretcher, there were no injuries.  Pilot Eddie Cycon and First Office Erwin Boldt were hailed as heroes.  Stewardess Agnes Mae Vaughn was praised for her calm, professional performance.

Only Vaughn knew how much effort that had taken.  American 383 had been her first flight.


There Used To Be An Airport Here (3-30-2003)

Chicagoans often talk about building a third airport.  We did have a third airport until this date.  This was the day Meigs Field was destroyed.

Located just off the lakeshore near Roosevelt Road, Northerly Island is actually a man-made peninsula, part of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.  Burnham thought the land should be used as a park.  The 1933-34 World’s Fair was held on the site.

As air travel became popular, some planners got the idea Northerly would be a great place to put a downtown airstrip.  In 1948 a single 3,000-foot runway was constructed.  The facility was later named for aviation booster Merrill C. Meigs.

3-30--Meigs Field.jpg

Meigs Field eventually became America’s busiest single-runway airport.  Though much of the traffic was private planes, a few commuter lines ran scheduled flights.  There was also a helicopter service.

In 1994 Mayor Richard M. Daley announced plans to close the airport and return Northerly to its original purpose.  That set off a battle between aviation interests and environmental groups.  Lawsuits were filed.  Compromise solutions were worked out, then scrapped.

Nine years passed.  The mayor finally decided he’d waited long enough.  In the dead of night, bulldozers rolled onto Meigs Field and carved out huge “X” marks in the runway.  Now planes could not land or take off.  That’s all, folks!

Daley seemed surprised that anyone claimed his action was arrogant.  He’d been elected to a fifth term with 79% of the vote a month before.  Congress had failed to act on an agreement to keep Meigs open.  All he was doing was restoring a public recreational space that had been taken over by the fat cats.

3-30--Richard M. Daley.jpg

The mayor also cited public safety issues.  The al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center was still fresh in memory.  Daley said he was afraid a terrorist in a small plane might use Meigs to launch an air strike on the Loop.

Sixteen planes had been parked at Meigs, and were later able to depart using the taxiway.  One inbound flight had to be diverted.  The city was hit with a $33,000 FAA fine for closing the airport without sufficient notice.

Efforts to reopen Meigs Field failed.  The site is now a park.



O’Hare Opens (10-29-1955)

The future was coming, and Chicago was planning for it.  Today the city dedicated the world’s largest airport.  They called it O’Hare Field.

O’Hare’s development started during World War II.  In 1943 Douglas Aircraft opened a manufacturing plant 18 miles northwest of downtown, near the farm community of Orchard Place.  When the war ended, the small airfield on the land became Orchard Place Airport.

O'Hare Airport--the early years

O’Hare Airport–the early years

Back in Chicago, Midway Airport was the world’s busiest air terminal.  By the early 1950s it was getting crowded.  With jet aircraft replacing propeller planes, longer runways were needed.  Trouble was, Midway had no room to expand.

The Orchard Field site was big enough.  But all the nearby roads were narrow, with two lanes.  And the location was remote, miles away from the Chicago city limits.  Part of the property was actually in Du Page County!

Mayor Richard J. Daley

Mayor Richard J. Daley

Still, Chicago had to do something.  In 1947 the city began preparing the new airfield.  The name was changed to honor a Chicago war hero, pilot Butch O’Hare.  The aviation identifier code–ORD for Orchard Field–was retained.

After eight years and $24 million, O’Hare Field was ready for commercial flights.  For now, there’d be limited operation.  The entire project was scheduled to take seven more years, and another $60 million.

New mayor Richard J. Daley was present at the formal dedication.  He was joined by execs from 18 airlines.  Also on hand were two aldermen who flew in from Midway via helicopter.

A military air show had been planned, and up to 100,000 spectators were expected.  Then the weather turned rainy.  The air show was cancelled; the big crowds stayed away.

The rest of the program went on.  In his speech, Mayor Daley answered the critics who said Chicago didn’t need an airfield that covered 10 square miles.  “We have space for expansion,” he said.  “Future developments may now be entirely unguessed.”

At 10 a.m., the first regular flight out of O’Hare Field rolled down the runway.  Trans World Airlines 94 was on its way to Paris.