We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past.

Photograph from the Matthews (Burnita Shelton) Papers, Z/1965.000 (MDAH Collection).

Photograph from the Matthews (Burnita Shelton) Papers, Z/1965.000 (MDAH Collection).

This photograph represents one of those times when a researcher comes across an unexpected treasure in the archives.  The photograph, from the Matthews (Burnita Shelton) Papers, depicts (l-r) Judge Burnita Shelton Matthews; Mrs. Harvey W. Wiley, National Woman’s Party; Amelia Earhart, famous aviatrix; Anita Pollitzer, National Woman’s Party; and Mrs. Ruth Taunton at the White House in 1932. Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, is immediately recognizable because of her tall stature and short haircut. Matthews was a Mississippi native who was a prominent figure in the women’s movement.

Burnita Shelton Matthews. Accession Number: 1993.14.1 (Museum Division Collection)

Burnita Shelton Matthews. Accession Number: 1993.14.1 (Museum Division Collection)

Burnita Shelton Matthews (1894-1988) was born in Burnell, Mississippi, and studied music and voice in Cincinnati before marrying lawyer Percy Matthews in 1917. She studied law at the National University in Washington, D.C., (now George Washington University) and received the bachelor of laws degree in 1919. She practiced law in Washington, D.C., for twenty-five years and was actively involved in the National Woman’s Party. In the photograph at top, she is pictured with the leaders of the National Woman’s Party and Earhart, who also was a strong supporter of women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.

Matthews was appointed to the United States District Court of the District of Columbia by President Harry S. Truman on October 21, 1949, becoming the first woman to be appointed as a federal district court judge. She retired from that position in 1968 and continued to serve on other federal courts until 1983. She died in 1988 and is buried in the Shelton family cemetery in Copiah County.

Matthews is in the Mississippi Hall of Fame and the portrait above, as well as other Hall of Fame portraits, are on exhibit at the Old Capitol Museum.

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We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past. Special thanks to Nan Prince for writing this post.

Captain Parker's flag. Accession Number: 1962.355 (Museum Division Collection)

Captain Parker's flag. Accession Number: 1962.355 (Museum Division Collection)

This Mississippi state flag was carried by Mississippi native Captain Alton Parker while serving as a pilot on the Richard Byrd Antarctic Expedition of 1928-1929.  Parker served with distinction on Byrd’s earlier expedition to the North Pole and was chosen to accompany him to Antarctica.  On December 5, 1929, Parker piloted the flight that discovered the Ford Mountain Range. The expedition was the first to fly over the South Pole.

A native of Crystal Springs, Parker was honored by Mississippi on September 6, 1930, at a ceremony at the State Capitol after he returned home from the expedition.  The pilot gave this flag to his native state. The Jackson Daily News described the gift, saying, “The small flag was long in the frigid country, it whirred with its daring owner in airplanes over long stretches of the Antarctic wastes and eventually, with its owner, back in Mississippi.“1 Parker became a commercial pilot and logged more than two million miles in the air before his death in 1942.

Artifacts from the Museum Division collection that are not on exhibit are available for viewing by appointment only. Please contact Nan Prince, Asst. Director of Collections, by email to schedule an appointment.

1 “State’s Flag with Parker at South Pole,” Jackson Daily News, September 5, 1930, page 23. MDAH microfilm #21015.

We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past.

Program from banquet for Lindbergh. Call Number: B/L7425b/1927 (MDAH Collection)

Program from Lindbergh banquet. Call Number: B/L7425b/1927 (MDAH Collection)

In May 1927, Charles Lindbergh became an instant celebrity when he completed the first solo transatlantic flight. He then embarked on a tour of the United States to promote commercial aviation, which was still in its infancy at that time. Lindbergh arrived in Jackson, one of the tour stops, on October 7, 1927. One eyewitness described the landing at Davis Field (now Hawkins Field):

It was a pleasant, mild October afternoon. The Spirit of St. Louis came in from the west, passed the reviewing stand at a a few hundred feet, then pulled up sharply. The first wing dropped and the plane did a half-roll, then, having reversed course, glided, landed and rolled to a stop in front of the stands. It should be noted that the plane had no brakes. I knew enough about flying to recognize that Lindbergh had executed an Immelmann Turn, one of the most demanding of all flight acrobatics, one for which the Spirit of St. Louis was about as well-suited as a Model T Ford for barrel-jumping.1

It should also be noted that there were no front-facing windows on the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh had to turn to the side in order to see ahead of him!

Lindbergh rode on the backseat of car for a parade down Capitol Street and spoke to the crowd from the steps of the New Capitol. A banquet was given in his honor by the Jackson Chamber of Commerce that evening. The banquet program is pictured above. It was “Lindbergh Day” and his visit sparked aviation fever in Jackson and helped spur the city to construct the state’s first municipal airport at Hawkins Field in 1928.


1 William Ewing, “The day Lindy flew to Jackson,” Clarion-Ledger, October 7, 1988. From “Lindbergh, Charles Augustus 1902-1974″ subject file, MDAH.

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We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past.

"Aviator Fowler Passing over Gulfport, Miss." Cooper Collection. Call Number: PI/1992.0001 (MDAH)

"Aviator Fowler Passing over Gulfport, Miss." Cooper Collection. Call Number: PI/1992.0001 (MDAH)

The “Aviator Fowler” described in the caption of this postcard is Robert G. Fowler who flew via the Gulf Coast while attempting to make the first transcontinental flight in 1912.1 Fowler started the trip in California, but crashed his plane and while it was being repaired another aviator completed the flight. Despite this setback, Fowler continued his journey, arriving in New Orleans on December 31, 1911. He flew to Pass Christian on January 4, 1912 and the next day, flew over Gulfport on his way to Biloxi. Local newspapers covered the flight:

From The Daily Herald, January 5, 1912, page 1. Microfilm #29251 (MDAH).

From The Daily Herald, January 5, 1912, page 1. Microfilm #29251 (MDAH).

Fowler performed a short exhibition in Biloxi before flying on to Pascagoula. The Daily Herald said:

This is the first aviation exhibition ever seen in Biloxi, and aside from its spectacular features, it is highly educational as aviation is undoubtedly the newest conquest of man over the elements and one of the greatest sports in the world, representing not only a scientific triumph but a great deal of courage and hardihood on the part of those who pilot the air-craft.2

Fowler was flying a Wright airplane with a thirty-five horse power engine, open cockpit, and a twenty-four gallon fuel tank! He planned to attempt a transatlantic flight after reaching New York, and for that he said he would need a one hundred gallon fuel tank. He told a reporter that “The weather is very cold to fly now and my fingers are frost bitten from yesterday’s flight.”3

Fowler would become the first person to fly across the United States from west to east when he reached the Atlantic a few weeks after leaving the Mississippi Gulf Coast.4

Sources:

The Daily Herald, 8/28/1911-1/10/1912. MDAH microfilm #29251. This newspaper covered Biloxi and Gulfport.

Forrest Lamar Cooper, “Fowler was first: nine years after Kitty Hawk, the first flier touched down on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast,” Mississippi Magazine 23, no. 5 (May/June 2005), 25-30, 126. On file at MDAH.


1 Forrest Lamar Cooper, from whose collection this postcard was scanned described its provenance in Mississippi Magazine: “Gulfport novelty shop owner E.J. Younghans, ever the entrepreneur, had a photographer ready atop the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad headquarters building. A photo taken by the photographer, perhaps the only one professionally taken, was made into a postcard that became a popular seller for months.” (May/June 2005), 27.

2 “Fowler Faces Head Wind Delays Departure East,” The Daily Herald, January 6, 1912. page 4. MDAH microfilm #29251.

3 “Fowler in Biloxi,” The Daily Herald, January 6, 1912, page 4. MDAH microfilm #29251.

4 Cal Rodgers, the aviator who completed the first transcontinental flight shortly before Fowler, flew from east to west.

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Aviation in Mississippi: The Flying Keys

On July 1, 2011, in Film, by Amanda
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We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past.

Today in 1935, two men from Meridian set a world record. The story of the Key Brothers is documented in a rare MDAH film collection, of which we show short clips below. Special thanks to Preston Everett, Image and Sound section, for writing this post and Cecilia Tisdale, audiovisual curator, and Derrick Cole, webmaster, for formatting the video.

***Due to the way this video is hosted, email and feedreader subscribers will be unable to view it within their email/internet feed. Please click through to the actual Sense of Place website to view the video. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.***

Description: Al and Fred Key with their wives and Al’s daughter. The Keys inspect cat walk on front of plane. Al and Fred shown with parents Dr. Elmore and Mary Key.  Key Field hangar in background.

In 1929 Meridian brothers Al and Fred Key were hired to manage the new Meridian Municipal Airport that opened in November of 1930. The Key brothers managed the daily operations, a flight school, and airmail schedule.  The onset of the Great Depression nearly shut down all aviation operations for the Keys and the Meridian Municipal Airport.  On the verge of shutting down, the brothers had a unique idea that would promote aviation as well as their struggling air field—they would attempt to break the flight endurance record of twenty-three days.

Before they could take off on their record breaking flight, they had several obstacles to overcome, the two biggest being air-to-air refueling and maintenance of the plane’s engine.  The solution for refueling presented itself in the form of an automatic shut off valve invented by Meridian resident A.D. Hunter.  The valve prevented fuel from spraying on the engine once the nozzle disengaged from the air craft’s fuel tank.  The second problem was solved by Dave Stephenson who welded a metal “catwalk” linking the plane’s cockpit to its engine.  This allowed the Key brothers to keep the engine properly oiled and lubed without having to land the plane.

Description: “Ole Miss” taking off from the Meridian Municipal Airport on June 4, 1935.  One of the Key brothers shown during air refueling.  James Keeton and Bill Ward (not shown) operated the refueling plane which made 484 mid-air contacts. Notice the black fuel line on the right side of the frame.

The Key Brothers took off in the “Ole Miss” on June 4, 1935 and stayed in the air for twenty-seven consecutive days, breaking the previous record by several days.  Their wives and families stayed at the air field during the flight and cooked their meals, which were taken up to the brothers in the refueling plane. When they landed on July 1, 1935, the national press and enormous crowds were there to greet them. They became local heroes. The Meridian Municipal Airport was later renamed Key Field in their honor.

Description: “Ole Miss” lands on Key Field July 1, 1935.  Estimates showed the plane flew 52,320 miles a distance that would have circled the earth twice—the record has never been broken by an airplane.

Description: After landing, Fred Key standing up in plane holding his son while his wife sits next to him.  Fred Key is carried away.  Fred and Al Key speak in hangar about the flight.

During World War II, Key Field was used as a training field for pursuit and bombardment groups.  Both Fred and Al volunteered and flew missions in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico.  The Key brothers were recognized by the Smithsonian Institution in 1955 when their plane, “Ole Miss,” was placed in the National Air and Space Museum.

Today Key Field in Meridian is a base for the Mississippi Air National Guard.  The field from which the Key Brothers took off for their twenty-seven day flight is also the headquarters of the Mississippi Air National Guard 186th Air Refueling Wing.  This wing is dedicated to refueling aircraft during flight, a duty made possible by a group of aviators in Meridian over seventy-six years ago.

The entire Key Brothers Film Collection, 1933-1935 (MP/1978.02) may be viewed in the library at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson.

Sources and Further Reading:

186th Air Refueling Wing website. http://www.186arw.ang.af.mil/ (accessed June 22, 2011).

Martin, Nathan. “37,843,200 minutes of fame … and counting.” Meridian Star. June 30, 2007. http://meridianstar.com/local/x681085427/37-843-200-minutes-of-fame-and-counting (accessed June 22, 2011).

Owen, Stephen. The Flying Key Brothers and Their Flight to Remember. Meridian, Miss.: Southeastern Print. Co., 1985. On file at MDAH.

Park, Edwards. “They Flew & Flew & Flew.” Smithsonian Magazine, (October 1997). Abstract at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/flew-abstract.html (accessed June 22, 2011). On file at MDAH.

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