The Jerrie Mock Story

On this day in 1964 an Ohio woman set out to make history. Her name was Jerrie Mock and her goal was to be the first woman to fly solo around the world.

You likely think this record was set by Amelia Earhart but you would be wrong. It was an Ohioan, a housewife who wanted to do something important who set this record.

She departed Columbus in a single engine Cessna 180 that she christened the “Spirit of Columbus.” It took 29 days to cover the nearly than 23,000 miles, besting a California woman who was simultaneously attempting the same feat.

I had heard Jerrie’s story before but recently read a book about her. In fact, it’s the only book about her in print today. The only other book I know of is something Jerrie wrote about the journey that has been out of print for decades.

This particular book is a biography for young readers and it’s well done but it’s a biography for young readers, for crying out loud.

There have been shelves of books written about male aviators. The only female aviator to get much attention at all is Amelia Earhart and most of what is written is centered on her disappearance and the conspiracy theories surrounding what happens.

Even Bessie Coleman who I told you about earlier this year has just a few volumes despite her trailblazing life and career.

Some documentaries about the women’s air races of the twenties and work done about the WASPs of World War II have shown a fresh light on womens’ contributions to aviation but it seems like we can do better.

Jerrie Mock sounds like a real character and like my kind of gal. She struggled mentally to keep her schedule because she wanted to sightsee in the exotic places where she stopped!

I would be the same way, likely deciding halfway through to sacrifice the record for cultural enrichment and photo ops.

She set several records during her aviation career and received countless honors but her accomplishments have very much been lost to time. Instead of being a household name like Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh, she’s a novelty. A trivia question.

And that’s a darn shame.

If you’re interested, her plane is on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia. If you can’t make it there, I hope you’ll at least read the book and tell her story to others as a way to honor this woman.

Happy Birthday Bessie Coleman!

Do you know the name Bessie Coleman? She was born on this day 128 years ago and is an important figure in our history but most Americans don’t even know her name, much less recognize her importance.

This makes me incredibly sad because she’s the kind of woman that little girls everywhere should admire and respect.

Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman and first Native American woman to earn an international pilot’s license. That alone should be enough to give her a place in our history books but the road she traveled to get there is pretty incredible.

Bessie was born to Texas sharecroppers in 1892. After her father left the family, she was raised by a single mother in a house with a dirt floor. She picked cotton as a child and often missed school to care for younger siblings. But she finished the eighth grade and had a burning desire to do something more with her life.

All grown up, she took the train to Chicago where she joined older siblings who were somewhat established in the city. Here she became a manicurist and set to work using both her beauty and talent to network and build a client base.

This was important when she decided to fly.

You see, American flight schools at the time didn’t admit women or black people. But she persevered- she found a better job, saved all the money she could and used her connections to find financial backers.

She also spent this time learning French.

Then she sailed across the ocean to France where racism would not prevent her from pursuing her passion. She enrolled in a flight school where she learned the craft and went on to earn an international aviation license.

The year was 1921 and Bessie was a sensation in the African American press when she came home.

She worked as a barnstormer in this country, traveling all over as an ambassador for black women in aviation. It was her fondest dream to open a flight school for black women someday. She flew and frequently gave talks where she showed footage of her fearless flying.

I struggle to absorb the enormity of this.

The 19th amendment giving women the hard earned right to vote had only been ratified in 1920 so times were much different than we know today.

She was Cherokee, she was African American and she was a woman. Three strikes against her. Three.

And when she was denied the right to pursue her goals, she refused to take no for an answer.

Bessie raised the cash. She learned a second language. She traveled across the sea to a foreign land. She refused to be held back and she fought for her dreams.

What an incredible role model for us all!

Sadly, Bessie’s story does not have a happy ending. She died April 30, 1926 in Jacksonville, Florida during a test flight piloted by her mechanic. You see, she was planning a big show that included a parachute jump the following day. As she leaned out the open air cock pot, scoping the terrain for this jump, she was unable to wear a seat belt.

So when the pilot lost control of the plane and it flipped over mid air, Bessie plummeted to her death. A wrench used to service the plane had jammed the controls. She was just 34.

It makes me sad that her story isn’t celebrated and that hers isn’t a household name where I come from. She is known in the African American community and among aviation enthusiasts but I think her name should be as well known as Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh.

The US Postal Service issued a stamp in Bessie’s honor in 1995 as part of their Black Heritage series. Some roads and schools have been named in her honor but she wasn’t even induct into the National Aviation Hall of Fame until 2006.

Not enough, friends. Not enough. I say we help keep her story alive by telling it to others. Share this story, tell your friends about her. Do what you can to make sure this brave woman, this trailblazer for African Americans and women everywhere is not forgotten.

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday to this brave woman who was taken from us too soon!

Travel Delays and Making Do

Summer vacation plans are underway, causing some reminiscing about last year’s summer vacation. Being human, my brain goes straight to the negative – like the day I spent stranded in the Rapid City, South Dakota Airport because Chicago’s weather was screwing up air travel everywhere.

I found a corner with a comfy couch and an electrical outlet. From this vantage point, I could keep my phone charged while watching people without their notice.

This airport is small but has friendly staff and everything you need including a couple of restaurants. If you’re there, go through security to get to the better of the two. I did not know this and ended up eating a questionable veggie wrap with chips.

The wrap wasn’t great but I had a nice view of the rooftop garden so that made it better.

Plus there was this nice patriotic display, marking the place of American Prisoners of War and Missing In Action soldiers.

And there was this, especially poignant because my vacation pal has a daughter who is Air Force.

Yes, I did take one and yes, I still have it.

The airport also has a few pieces of nice art including this photographic exhibit dedicated to the construction of Mt Rushmore.

Life is what you make of it. The day long delay was unpleasant but it resulted in my being redirected from a layover at O’Hare where I didn’t want to be in the first place to Denver which I didn’t mind at all.

I got back to Columbus late but that gave me an excuse to spend the night with my aunt and cousin and to meet their cats.

All that free time at the airport provided opportunity to go through pictures on my camera and phone and to relax a bit before coming home.

And I tend to believe that when travel plans don’t go as planned, it’s the Universe plotting to keep me alive.

May this be a year of safe travels for us all!

Honoring the Memphis Belle

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Dad and I with the Memphis Belle. Notice that I’m wearing my Rosie the Riveter shirt? Yes, I am a nerd!

As a student of history, I was over the moon last year when the Memphis Belle was installed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton. They had a big weekend that included World War II reenactors, big band music and all sorts of other things.

My dad is a history buff too – he’s actually where I caught the bug from – so I dragged him along for a little father-daughter quality time. This was sort of a big deal because we don’t often get to do things on our own. Growing up, it was always me with my mother or all of us as a family but never dad and I alone.

Turns out the weather was horrible and rainy, ruining most of the outdoor fun but we had a nice time anyway.

If you’ve never been to this museum, it’s a great way to pass a day and it’s free. It’s packed full of planes and stories that you won’t read in most history books.

a crew.jpgThe Memphis Belle exhibit does a nice job telling the story of this plane and crew. The B-17 was vital to the war effort, having flown in every combat zone during World War II. The Memphis Belle was important because it completed 25 missions over Europe, a dangerous proposition and unheard of when it happened in 1942 and 1943.

The crew became symbols of the war effort, personifying all the young men who were doing their part to fight evil overseas. They ranged in age from 19 to 26 and came from across this nation. These were very young men, likely with little life experience, who were sent to hell and back 25 times.

I can’t imagine the terror they faced. I mean, can you imagine climbing into a plane time after time, knowing that you likely wouldn’t live through the day? And it wasn’t just the Memphis Belle crew – these guys beat very long odds to survive – but sixteen million Americans served in this war, asked every day to face the unthinkable.

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Many of these planes were lost to time following the war. But the Memphis Belle dodged that bullet, so to speak. It was sent to Memphis where it sat out in the elements for decades. Damaged by weather, vandals and looters, it was in pretty bad shape. But it was acquired by the museum and sent to Dayton for restoration several years ago. We were lucky to be there for the festivities when the plane was installed in Dayton in time for the 75th anniversary of the planes’ 25th mission.

Displays feature each of the crew members and there are some artifacts on display in addition to the plane itself. I especially loved this stained glass window.

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Want to visit the Memphis Belle at the Air Force Museum? Click here. I’ll write more about the museum another day.

 

 

 

 

Checking Off The Bucket List!

Most of us have a bucket list.

Mine should more or less read “go everywhere and do everything.”

That’s a slight exaggeration as skydiving and swimming with sharks aren’t on the list but it has become important to me that I try as many different things as possible.

One item on my list is to take a ride in an old fashioned biplane like the barnstormers use. You know the kind – it’s open air?

This is sort of an interesting goal for a gal who’s afraid of heights but I’m determined to not allow my fears to hold me back. That’s been the theme of the last year and a half and it has served me well in all areas of life but one.

I had the opportunity to take a ride earlier this month but chickened out and have regretted it ever since. So when I learned that biplane rides are being offered at a nearby airport this weekend, it became clear that it’s time to face the fear and check this item off my bucket list.

I’m wavering somewhere between excitement and terror but am trying hard to embrace the pure joy of anticipation.

I’m sort of an old soul and have a deep appreciation for old cars, trains, trucks and planes. There’s something romantic about these old biplanes and the tradition of barnstorming.

The plane pictured above is the one I’ll be riding in. It’s a 1929! How cool is that? This is the sort of bird you would normally see in a museum and I’ll be flying high above the earth in it in a few days!

What do you think? Would you take this ride? What’s on your bucket list?