Collector Donates Scrapbook Detailing Chattanooga's Early Days Of Aviation

Monday, July 29, 2019

A fascinating scrapbook about the development of Chattanooga's early air field, Marr Field, has made its way back to the Scenic City.

Arch Di Peppe, who wound up with the scrapbook in his antique shop in Fredericksburg, Va., contacted former county historian John Wilson. Mr. Di Peppe said, "I have a thick vintage scrapbook of Marr Field with many newspaper clippings and some original photographs of early airplanes at Marr Field. I was given your name as someone who might know who in your area might appreciate this scrapbook. I am a former high school history teacher, and I would gladly donate this piece to a good home. I am hoping to find a historical society or museum."

Mr. Wilson and Sam Hall of Chattanoogahistory.com immediately responded they would love to see the interesting scrapbook.

Mr. Di Peppe said, "I am 67 and have been a collector of one thing or another for most of my life. I had an antique shop in downtown Fredericksburg for 15 years, and I was an antiques appraiser for over 20 years. I wish I could remember where or even when I obtained the scrapbook, but I can't. It probably came in a box of things or sometime when I bought out an attic or basement full of things. I just remember setting it aside and hanging on to it. I came upon it recently when my wife and I were going through boxes.

"Somebody cared a great deal about the airport and the news clippings, and the original photographs are very interesting. I greatly appreciate what you and John are doing. Please send me an address, and I will ship it to you. I will cover the shipping. I will leave it to you all to decide what to do with it after you scan it. I am not looking for a charitable donation receipt. I just don't want the material lost to history. Thanks so much for your interest and help."

The valuable scrapbook was then sent to Mr. Hall, who has since scanned its valuable contents and placed on a page so they can be readily accessible to the public.

Mr. Wilson and Mr. Hall want to eventually donate the scrapbook to the local history of the Chattanooga Library.

The scrapbook was the work of Ben King, who came from Washington, D.C., in November 1927 to operate the early airfield in East Chattanooga. Mr. King was here for a year, while working under a contract with the city to help launch several phases of early aviation for Chattanooga.

It is titled: "Noting the Progress of Aviation in General, Chattanooga in Particular."

King was a civil engineer with Stewart and King. He said he had been "an aviation fan" for many years. He was in the Air Force, but never got to complete his training as a pilot. He was accompanied from Washington, D.C., by Lloyd D. Schaeffer, who had volunteered for the French air fleet before the U.S. entered World War I. He had been shot down and, after miraculously surviving the crash that killed the pilot and left him with five machine gun wounds, he spent 13 months in overseas hospitals.

King and Schaeffer were given exclusive use of the city-owned airfield for commercial, industrial and experimental aviation for a year for a consideration of $500. It was a good deal for the city, which had been spending $900 a year on the operation. King and Schaeffer said they expected to send two bi-planes to Marr Field with licensed pilots at once. They had plans for a flying and navigation school as well as for setting up regular air service between Chattanooga and nearby towns as well as offering short "hops." Another plan was for airplane sales and service at Marr Field. The ambitious partners also had in mind getting Chattanooga on the air mail express route with other larger cities.

Ben King said, "Chattanooga has the best airport, even as it now stands, that we have seen on our trip from Washington. That is, it has adequate spaces and good approaches. It can be developed."

However, one obstacle they noticed by looking out the window of a tall building was the amount of smoke filing the city from its industrial plants and smokestacks. King said it was be almost impossible to do any "sky writing" here. 

They soon received a new plane from the Travel Air factory at Wichita, Kan. It became part of the Tennessee Air Transport headquartered at Marr Field. Soon they were offering "short hops" for $3 and a flight over Lookout Mountain for $5. A trip that extended on to above Signal Mountain was $10. Potential riders were assured of "sturdy planes and licensed pilots." Riders were to contact Hemlock 407.

The partners agreed to extend to visiting pilots "all the courtesies of a municipal airport" and to not obstruct federal or air mail use of the field.

Apparently, King and his wife stayed the whole time at the then-elegant Patten Hotel. The manager at the time was John Lovell, the foremost advocate for aviation in the city. A later airport - at the current site - was named Lovell Field for him.

It was late 1927 when well-known pilots Bill Brock and Edward Schlee passed over Chattanooga on their way to Daytona, Fla. They were seeking to set a new endurance record with their monoplane, the Pride of Detroit. The world-traveling pilots did not actually set down at Marr Field, but their publicists did. It was said that the Pride of Detroit had no brakes and was too heavy to land at the Chattanooga field, especially with its cross wind currents. 

The Dixie Northern Air Line announced that it would definitely make Chattanooga one of its stops on the route between Detroit and Miami. William C. Wakefield, president, said Chattanooga had "the best field between Cincinnati and Atlanta." He said it only lacked some additional landing space. John Lovell arranged a dinner at the Patten in which the Dixie officials were the special guests. Those who had invested $100 in the line and received stock and 700 miles of travel included T. Walter Fred, Paul Carter, A.J. Koblentz, T.R. Preston, Mark K. Wilson, D.S. Etheridge, Sam Borisky, W.A. Sadd, Scott Probasco, Jo Conn Guild Jr., O.B. Andrews, Z.C. Patten Jr., A.C. Ragsdale, Frank Harrison, R.J. Maclellan, C.D. Little, John Lovell, Carrter Lupton and others.

A story from Friday the 13th (Jan. 13, 1928) told of wealthy Detroit resident Thomas F. Norris flying down in his own plane to Chattanooga for a stay at the Signal Mountain Inn. He said he was going to land at the municipal field "if there is one" but otherwise at Fort Oglethorpe.

It was next announced that "monster craft" that were on a goodwill tour would land at Marr Field. One of the largest of the planes bore the emblem of Texaco. It was said that "the ship landed without difficulty, gliding upon the landing without a sound other than the throttled motor." Mayor Ed Bass and other city commissioners were present for the landing. D.S. Etheridge supplied a car for the visitors and, of course, they stayed at the Patten Hotel.  

In early March, Chattanooga got a visit from Clarence Chamberlin, who made the second non-stop transatlantic flight and piloted the first passenger over the Atlantic. He was in town to visit friends. The noted aviator was in a small one-passenger plane, and he executed a "barrel roll" just before setting down. John Lovell hosted a dinner for him at the Patten, and he toured Marr Field with Col. Walter Marr and others. It was said that Chamberlin had been set to head across the Atlantic just before Lindbergh, but a problem with his financial backer set him back.

On Oct. 5, 1927, a few months after his trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh came to Chattanooga and landed his Spirit of St. Louis at Marr Field before being taken to downtown Chattanooga for a speech. Crowds lined the streets along the way and at the field to see him and cheer for him.

Ben King was quoted in a newspaper article that women were braver about getting on an airplane than men. He said since coming to Chattanooga he had met only two women who told him they would not venture into the skies, though about half the men were afraid to do so. 

In late March 1928, the Chamber of Commerce went on record as in favor of issuing $250,000 in bonds to build an airport at Chattanooga. Its officials said a large part of transportation of the future would be by air, and the city must have its own airport to keep up.   

Chattanoogans were excited in early April when it was announced that Gates Flying Circus would be putting on a show. "Five days of spectacular airplane sport" were planned at Marr Field. The show opened with an Army formation flight over the city and stunt flights above the Tennessee River. About 2,000 Chattanoogans took advantage of the $1 flights. The intrepid "Diavolo" staged a daring exhibition of "wing walking" with "only Mother Nature as his net." J.W. Croft, 76, of 1910 Miller Ave. in East Chattanooga, took his first flight with his long white beard waving in the wind. He said it was nothing compared to the cannon fire at Missionary Ridge not so long earlier. The Cleveland edition of the Chattanooga Times was delivered in a bundle by one of the stunt planes only 19 minutes and 33 seconds after taking off from Marr Field.  

It was announced that regular service between Chattanooga and Atlanta would begin on May 1, 1928. A traveler could now reach the Georgia capital from Chattanooga in less than an hour and a half. The Chickamauga left Marr Field at exactly 8 a.m. and landed at Candler Field at 9:15 a.m. The plane, piloted by Eugene Fricks, remained at Candler until time for the return flight at 2:15 p.m. The Chickamauga was back in Chattanooga by 3:30. Rules for the flights included no drunk persons on board, no intoxicating liquors, no smoking and no tossing of items from the plane. Passengers were to make no attempt to use field glasses or cameras during the flight and were strictly forbidden to try to talk the pilot into making an unscheduled stop. A one-way trip was $17.50 and round-trip was $30.  

Ben King got an interesting request from a Sewanee student and assistant professor trapped in Chattanooga by high waters - fly up to the Monteagle Mountain School. King said he did not know if there was any kind of landing strip up that way, but he was up for the challenge. The pilot was able to find an open field at Cowan to deliver the intrepid Sewanee pair.  

One entry was written on a Hotel Patten envelope by Ben King. It says: Parachute with golf ball & note for Mr. Lovell was dropped on the course at the Country Club, Feb 4 – by B. K.” Under that note is written, “Ben, Good stunt. It fell in front of me and my caddie got it. JEL”

 

Also, there is a hand-written letter from Mrs. W. T. Moore of Cleveland, Tn., It was addressed to Walter Marr, a mechanical genius for whom the original airfield was named. Mrs. Moore asked if a ‘safe a pilot as possible’ would take her four-year-old deaf son up in a plane and ‘loop’ – her friends having told her this might restore his hearing. Ms. Moore said, "I haven't much faith in this, but wouldn't it be wonderful if it did." Sam Hall posted this on the Cleveland TN History Page on Facebook and many people responded with memories of Tom Moore.

 

King and his wife went over to Nashville to enjoy a flight to Chattanooga on the 12-passenger Ford airplane. It was on a tour sponsored by the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce.

 

Ben King, who had helped pioneer aviation in Chattanooga, in October 1928 sold his interests in the operation at Marr Field to Interstate Airlines. He said he was confident that Interstate would continue to carry on and build the local aviation activities.

 

To view the scrapbook using "DeepZoom" technology on the Sam Hall website, go to

https://chattanoogahistory.com/marr-field

 

 

 

 

 


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