The LuLac Edition #504, June 24th, 2008
Once in a while, we'll do a special feature on this site celebrating a local historical event in depth. God knows, none of the local newspapers do it anymore so someone has to. Our story is about when Charles Lindbergh had to make an emergency stop at Coxton Yards in Pittston. My father alluded to this incident many times but was fuzzy on the details since he was only 14 and working in a butcher store to help support his family. But years later, as a railroader he was headquartered out of Coxton Yards, the same place where Lucky Lindy landed. About a year ago, an old neighbor and world's greatest barber, Barry Prandy gave me the details. We worked on the story but held it until the 80th anniversary.
“LUCKY LINDY” LANDS
BY DAVID YONKI with BARRY PRANDY
Celebrity. Fame. It is something today that can be purchased very inexpensively. Andy Warhol said every American was destined to have their 15 minutes of fame. With today’s Cable News saturation, you could become famous just for spilling hot coffee on yourself or if you a modern day starlet, get five days of news commentary if you unwittingly or purposely forget to wear underwear. TV and Radio Talk shows have segments called “Your brush with Fame” where us regular folk tell the tale of how we met our favorite celeb.
Back in the twenties, there were a handful of famous people. Movie stars had to work long and hard before they could become a famous name that would roll off your tongue. The top tier were Baseball’s Babe Ruth, Football’s Knute Rockne and Red Grange, American business moguls Rockefeller and Mellon, politicos Hoover, Coolidge and Smith. A new addition to this “wall of fame” was aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh had become world famous by the end of the twenties for flying his “Spirit of St. Louis” plane clear across the Atlantic Ocean in what was then a death defying leap of faith and courage.
The celebrity of Charles Lindbergh intruded on the good people of Pittston Junction on June 23rd, 1928. Lindbergh was flying from Detroit to New York and was forced to land because of heavy fog at 7:45PM that evening. He was flying a near replica of his “Spirit of St. Louis” plane, a machine called a “Ryan monoplane”. Lindbergh was traveling easterly toward New York City when he ran into heavy fog banks at the junction of the Lackawanna and Susquehanna Rivers. He circled a large field at Coxton Yards seven or eight times before he landed. The field went from Duryea to the Railroad roundhouse at Coxton. Lindbergh was flying very low as he tried to find a location that would not damage his plane. According to news reports of the day compiled by Frank Nealis and Harold Myers, Lindbergh found a spot that was dead center in the marshy field of dense hay grass vegetation.
Once on the ground, Lindbergh found himself in a similar position as when he landed in Paris from New York: he was alone. Inspecting his plane, the aviator had a few moments of solitude, until being approached by a railroader from the Roundhouse. The state police at Wyoming were notified of the impromptu visit and in a matter of minutes, hundreds of Greater Pittston residents began to storm the field to catch a glimpse at “Lucky Lindy”.
One of the assembled multitude elbowing into the farmer’s field was a young eighteen year old girl, Josephine Knowles who lived on Cliff Street in the Junction section of Pittston. Josephine loved to take photos with a Kodak Box camera purchased by the family. When she heard Lindbergh had landed, she grabbed her younger brother, Arthur, then three at the time and headed toward Coxton Yards. Tall for a girl her age and that era, the young Josephine took long strides while her brother tried to keep up. Arriving at Coxton Fields that was right next to Coxton Yards, Josephine used her height to scope out the terrain. A plane landing on a warm summer night was an event in and of itself in Pittston for a young teenager but this was as they say in today’s vernacular, “huge”. Josephine steadied herself, and despite noise and confusion from the emerging crowd (the State Police already had put up a rope line) she aimed and took a few pictures.
When the film was developed, Josephine had herself a beautiful side profile view of Colonel Lindbergh and his plane. Over the sands of time, some interesting aspects of that photo emerge. There is a hand crank that was used to start the engine. Look at how “Lindy” was dressed, in a suit, vest and tie. It is a clear contrast to today’s airline passengers that favor Velcro band sneakers, running suits and sweats. Since there is no evidence that telephoto lens existed at the time, it is apparent that young Ms. Knowles used her height, her skills and plain old luck in snapping the photo. As any professional photographer will tell you, she was in the right place at the right time.
Looking at old newspapers of the day, the enormity of Lindbergh’s accomplishments and daring are just too much to comprehend. On the same day the Scranton Republican reported “Lindy’s” spur of the moment visit, its front page reported on the death of an Air Mail pilot in Emporia, Kansas and the demise of an Aviatrix in Norfolk, Virginia. The weather, Lindbergh’s own good common sense and skill as well as fate were on his side that summer day in Upper Pittston.
When Josephine Knowles took that picture back in 1928, she, nor could anyone in her family ever imagine that the photo she snapped would be accepted by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Archives Division. In a letter from Patricia Williams, Acquisition Archivist to Barry Prandy of Pittston, the Museum gladly added the photo to the National Collection where researchers could view it. More than eighty years later, a young girl’s random act of teenage enthusiasm and “celebrity star gazing” is now part of our national history. Young Josephine’s brush with early twentieth century fame, was not only a story she could share with her relatives through her life, but an enduring historical addition to the archives of our nation.