From Colonel to Keepsake

Nearly a century ago, a young man flew repeatedly across the length and breadth of North America with a lion cub in his cockpit for company. Largely a character of his own creation, ‘Colonel’ Roscoe Turner became a household name during a period when aviation was evolving as a viable method of international transportation, and the dashing pilots of the day became instant public heroes.

Unlike today, where celebrities are ‘famous for being famous’, the luminaries of the 1920’s and ‘30s actually were required to achieve something specific, especially the pilots, by extraordinary accomplishments and feats of daring. Altitude records, speed records, distance records, trans-oceanic flights; all were qualifiers for aviators willing to risk it all for a moment in the sun.

For World War I veteran Turner, his love of flying held the promise not only of notoriety, but a viable means of survival in an economically uncertain world. A master of self-promotion, Turner understood that an instantly recognizable persona was required to capture and hold the public’s attention, and he used his military-inspired uniform, diamond-studded pilot’s wings, waxed moustache, and lion mascot to great effect.

One of the West Coast’s largest oil refiners, the Gilmore Oil Company, became one of Roscoe’s early sponsors, and the aircraft he flew (and eventually raced) sported the company’s cream, red, and gold livery, while the brave little lion cub, who had his own custom parachute, was christened ‘Gilmore’.

A rapid way to achieve fame (and some fortune), was in the arena of air racing, with participation in popular events such as the Bendix Cup, Thompson Trophy, Schneider Cup, MacRobertson Trophy, and the Pulitzer Trophy. In North America, arguably the most prestigious venue was the National Air Races, held at the Cleveland Airport from 1929 onwards. During the week-long activities, hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the nation would gather to watch their heroes, like Roscoe Turner, defy death hurling their powerful racing planes around a ten mile course with fifty foot high pylons marking the turns. Some of the pilots did indeed perish pursuing victory, reminding all who participated that the stakes were incredibly high.

Turner, always striving for a competitive edge, struck a deal with Jimmy Weddell, a Louisiana racing plane manufacturer for one of his Weddell-Williams Model 44’s, a low-wing monoplane design powered by a Pratt and Whitney Hornet radial engine. The Model 44 was a proven design, having achieved a second place finish in the Thompson Trophy in 1931. Registered as NR61Y, Turner’s Model 44 appeared in Gilmore Oil colors for the 1932 Thompson, and eventually placed third, behind two other Model 44’s. 1933 saw Turner claim the top spot in the cross-country Bendix race, a first place in the Shell Oil Speed Dash, and a disappointing sixth in the Thompson after winning, then being disqualified. 1934 brought ultimate victory for NR61Y and Turner with an outright win in the Thompson Trophy, the climax of three years of hard work and innovation. The plane was repainted in the all-gold color scheme it wears today. The following year, Turner and the Model 44 took second in the Bendix Trophy, and by 1937 the aircraft was handed over to pilot Joe Mackey, as Turner was developing a new racer. NR61Y would continue to soldier on into 1939 where it continued to compete respectably in the Thompson.

Fast forward eighty years, when in 2019, the Hallmark Company produced a Christmas Ornament-sized replica of Turner’s Model 44, now registered as NX61Y, as it appeared in the late ‘30s. The miniature plane is part of the ‘Sky’s the Limit’ series of ornaments, and does a creditable job of depicting even the tiniest details of the original. It is fascinating that an aircraft that thrilled crowds so long ago remains in the public consciousness. The real Weddell-Williams Model 44, number NX61Y, is displayed prominently in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, hanging from the ceiling in the attitude of banking around a racing pylon. She remains the only original Model 44 in existence, representing a page from the ‘Golden Age’ of air racing we’ll never see again.

New Exhibition | A Stitch in Time: The Cleveland Garment Industry | Opening November 6th

New Western Reserve Historical Society Publication & Exhibition tells story of “the rag trade” and the immigrant entrepreneurs who left their mark on the region.

A new, illustrated history of the Cleveland Garment Industry tells the stories of the immigrant entrepreneurs and workers who made “the rag trade” part of the city’s economy. A Stitch In Time: The Cleveland Garment Industry, written by Associate Curator for Jewish History Sean Martin, Ph.D., and published by Western Reserve Historical Society, is now available.  A companion exhibition developed in collaboration with Barrie Projects will open at the Cleveland History Center in University Circle on November 6, 2015.

The garment industry, concentrated in the Warehouse District and along Superior between East 19th and East 25th Streets, left its mark on the city in many ways.  Throughout the 20th century, Cleveland was one of the nation’s leaders in the garment industry.  Small shops established in the 19th century by immigrant entrepreneurs grew to become leading manufacturers.  Companies based in Cleveland made dresses, blouses, sweaters, cloaks, and suits for men, women, and children. Successful manufacturers became prominent philanthropists, helping to turn Cleveland into the best location in the nation, and immigrant workers built lives as Americans.  Workers earned the money to get an education and start their families. The industry declined in the late 20th century, but its mark on the city remains.

The publication A Stitch in Time: The Cleveland Garment Industry is available for purchase now through November 5, 2015 at the Cleveland History Center Museum Store for a special preview discount of $25.00.  Following the opening of the exhibition, A Stitch in Time, on November 6th, the book will be sold at the Cleveland History Center and through other book dealers throughout Northeast Ohio for a retail price of $34.95.

The publication was made possible through generous funds from the Stone Rand Philanthropic Fund, Ruth G. and Sam H. Sampliner Fund, Adler Family Foundation, and the William & Barbara Klineman Philanthropic Fund. Martin explained the origins of the project, saying “A Stitch in Time was inspired by the efforts of Marc Frisch, whose family owned Frisch Knitting Mills, and Gary Rand, of Ohio Knitting Mills. Their desire to learn more about the industry their families were involved in motivated WRHS to tell the story of the industry and of companies such as Joseph & Feiss, Richman Brothers, Work Wear, Bobbie Brooks, and Dalton. Garment manufacturers helped immigrants find their way in a new country and contributed significantly to the growth of the city and region.”

The exhibition A Stitch In Time: The Cleveland Garment Industry will open November 6, 2015 and run through 2016 at the Cleveland History Center in University Circle at 10825 East Boulevard.  Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday noon to 5:00 pm.  Admission is $10 adults; $9 seniors (age 62+); $5.00 students (age 3-12). WRHS members and children 2 & under receive free admission.  Group rates are available.  For information call 216-721-5722 or visit www.wrhs.org.

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