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Up in the Air

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

We all know that when we hear those high-powered planes overhead that the President is at Camp David. The Frederick Post has already told us in its own cryptic way that the roads will be closed around the Camp and we know what that means. Hoping to get a glimpse of these planes I scan the sky but they are flying too fast for me.

I am reminded that when I was four years old (1922) I saw an airplane for the very first time. There was a large open field outside our town where World War I fighter planes would occasionally come in. My father wanted his children to see an airplane and out we went. The pilot was sitting in the cockpit when we approached and offered to have the children sit up there with him. He was a real pilot, still wearing his helmet with the chin strap hanging down. That didnít mean much to a four year old, but the memory has stayed with mE. I was much too young to realize that I was seeing into the future.

As I grew older planes began flying over town frequently. Most of these planes carried advertising banners of events in the future. Carnivals, meetings, celebrations and others. It made no difference what the message was everyone would stop what they were doing rush outdoors and look skyward.

In 1929, Charles Lindberg flew The Spirit of St. Louis non-stop from New York to Paris. Parisians turned out by the hundreds to see him. Americans were excited because "one of us" had made flying history.

Because of his popularity, a tour of the entire country was arranged for him to fly from one airport to another as the citizens turned out to welcome the Hero. He even came to this little field outside my town. I can see him yet as he sat in the backseat of a touring car, the top down and waving as the car drove round and round the perimeter of the field.

One spring day a year or so later, an ad in the town paper announced a flyover by a plane of the Curtis Candy Company to drop Baby Ruth Candy Bars over the city at noon. I sacrificed my lunch to chase down one of these little parachutes carrying a miniature candy bar.

As the years oozed by, pilots offered rides to the public for a birdís eye view of the town. Iíve no idea how many took advantage of that offer, but in 1940 after a Tea that my mother gave to announce the date of Johnís and my wedding, John and I took a flight to celebrate.

I never flew again until 1953 after I got a phone call telling me that my father had suffered a massive heart attack. It was easy to get a ticket for a flight in those days. John drove to the Washington airport where I bought a ticket (no reservations) got on the plane and off I flew to Sioux Falls, South Dakota with several stops to change planes.

I flew from Washington to OíHare Airport in Chicago, way out in the country at that time. From there, a much smaller plane to Sioux City, Iowa and then on to three more little towns in Iowa and South Dakota. Up and down and up and down, until we landed in my home town. I remember I hated the take-offs and the landings. My father improved and I took the train home.

In the following years my children grew up and left home, one to Michigan and the other to California. We had many air trips to both states.

One memorable trip, however began by flying first to Rapid City, South Dakota to visit my sister. From there we headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico, going first to Denver and on to Santa Fe by way of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The flight from Albuquerque to Santa Fe was hair-raising. There was the pilot, John and me, in a tiny plane with the door on the pilotís side hanging by one hinge. The pilot was holding the door closed. After apologizing for the draft, we flew between two very high mountain ridges, safely I might add, into Santa Fe.

The trip back to Denver to board for San Francisco was a bit more relaxing. I was asked by the pilot to be stewardess on that six-seater plane, and as stewardess, I poured six cups of coffee from a Thermos pitcher into plastic cups and passed them around.

Since those memorable days, Iíve seen the Rockies and Lake Michigan many times from great heights. Iíve flown from England several times, a very long and boring trip. Then in 1986, we had a flight of flights, memorable not only in speed but also in luxury. We flew from London to Dulles on the Concorde.

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Concorde there was a celebration on each flight. From the time we got to the Concorde Lounge in London until we boarded the plane and put down at Dulles we were wined and dined ó china and silverware, fine glassware, choice of entrees for lunch and a packet of souvenirs.

Alas, the Concorde is no more. A terrible accident in Paris a few years ago played no part in its demise. What had taken Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and others at that time weeks to cross the Atlantic, we had done in five hours. Ah Me!

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg of old? 
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards