Thursday, September 10, 2015

Aviatrix Margaret 'Marge' Hurlburt of Painesville

Last weekend's Cleveland Air Show garnered thousands upon thousands of visitors.  I'd bet only a handful at best wandered over to the aerospace museum on the airport property and took in a part of American history seldom told.  It is the history of women's aviation.  It is a history rich in Lake County roots.  Margaret Hurlburt was a graduate of Harvey High School (1942) and local educator at Champion JHS.  Her gold medal approved by Congress in 2009 can be viewed at the Women's Air & Space Museum at Cleveland's Burke Airport.  She is one of nearly 1074 Women's AirForce Service Pilots from WWII and her story is shared today.

'Marge' Hurlburt was recruited in 1942 by famed aviatrix Jackie Cochran to become a member of a pioneering core of women aviators serving the Air Force and General Hap Arnold.  As production of aircraft increased throughout WWII, the lack of male pilots stateside was an issue.  Cochran and Arnold aligned needs and the 'WASP' was formed.  These selected woman pilots would be trained and used to ferry completed aircraft to the military bases assigned.  Hurlburt whose training and licensing occurred at the Willoughby Air Field (current North High School) was now part of a 1074 member women's society who would affect history.  Hurlburt ferried planes, tested new models and towed targets during gunner training sessions throughout the war.  She flew B-24s, B-17s and logged more than 300 hours before the war's end.  In 1946 the WASP was disbanded but Margaret was only one of two females asked to stay on.  She became a valued instructor and key aviator guru.

The year 1946 saw her career take on a new phase as her skills with an AT 6 and the new Piper aircraft were in demand.  She became a fixture on the air circuit and participated in the 1946 Cleveland Air Races.  In 1947 she set a new flight speed record of 292.2 MPH besting her mentor Cochran for the title.  'Marge' was now a reknown barnstormer.  Tragically her career ended July 4 that same year at the Iowa Air Show as she crashed using a borrowed plane.  Her plane had been damaged earlier that week while teaching student pilots.  She was flown home to Painesville and was interned at Evergreen Cemetery.  The woman aviators achieved veteran's status in 1977 and living female aviators were honored with gold medals at a 2010 Congressional program.  Margaret 'Marge' Hurlburt is another member of America's greatest generation and WWII veteran who hailed from Ohio's smallest county but one with the most history!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Nostalgia: How long's that been around?

Never has that quote by Bill Bailey proved so true as in Lake County.  It is a common theme in all sorts of print media and life experienced by ‘boomers’ like myself.  The landscape of America has been steamrollered over by time.  Seven day a week newspapers, hard bound books, LP records, typewriters and more lost to the passing of time.  Despite the new ‘age’ and way of the world, much remains from our past and is visible to us if we only look.  One can simply drive the roadways and follow the Historic Markers in the county and learn / view so much.  Here are just a few of my favorite sites – ones that have been around for how long?

  • Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad Depot – First established in 1848, this depot saw three U.S. Presidents stop here before its closing in the 1970s.  Stop by and visit this museum in progress on Railroad Street in Painesville.
  • Pheasant Run Airport – Now a part of Lake Erie College, this airport located in Leroy Township is home to aviation history.  Over 33 vintage planes may be viewed at this operational airport.
  • Indian Port Fort – Remnants of this Native America fort date back to 1650 and are still visible in this Lake Metropark property located in Painesville.
  • Pleasant Valley Road Bridge – Dating back to 1881 this Whipple Truss structure found in Willoughby Hills was a main thoroughfare until 1952 and was know as the GAR – Grand Army of the Republic Roadway.
  • Rabbit Run Theater – One of the last remaining barn theaters in the U.S., its history began in 1946.  The theater is located in Madison.
  • Grand River Lighthouse in Fairport – From 1825-1925 this lighthouse was at the center of our county’s history.  One of the few lighthouses still open regularly to visitors with tower access welcomed.
  • An 1834 Medical College history, dental history collection and more await visitors to the Willoughby Welcome Center on Spaulding Street.
  • Lake County History Center- The current historical home of all things Lake County, this county poor house was built in 1876 replacing an earlier structure dating back to 1852.
  • Downtown Painesville – A walk on State Street will reveal a hardware and bakery business with histories dating back to the 1800s.
  • Coulby Mansion – Home to one of Cleveland’s famous millionaires from 1900, this Wickliffe site is often missed by the public.  Just walk inside City Hall and relive the Gilded Era of Cleveland.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Beginning this weekend and continuing into early October a Historic Lake County Treasures Tour is available to all.  This family friendly educational tour challenges participants to visit over 14 historic county markers and learn some important history of the area.  Participants who complete the tour are eligible for several grand prizes.  Tour maps may be obtained (two dollars) at the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse, Lake County History Center,  Downtown Willoughby Welcome Center or Outdoor Market during open hours.   More questions - call Barb at 440-639-2945 between 10am-2pm Tuesdays thru Saturdays at the LCHS.