Airplanes and Cemeteries don’t mix!

They just don’t play well together.  On two separate occasions both an airplane and a helicopter  crashed into Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park .  Another airplane went down into St. Casimir’s cemetery.

Over the years, there have been numerous airplane vs. cemetery crashes in other areas as well.

Hillside Cemetery, Alberta Canada
Hillside Cemetery, Alberta Canada

In 1927 in Lincoln Nebraska, two died in a cemetery crash.  In 1928, an airplane crashed into a cemetery between Burbank and North Hollywood California. Another in 1950 in Mt. Olive Il.  In 1955 a plane crashed into Forest Cemetery near Circleville Ohio. Two died in a cemetery near St. Louis in 1968. Eastlawn Cemetery near Bloomington Illinois had a plane crash into a graveyard in 1972. In 1999 a plane crashed into Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Farmingdale New York. 2006 Hillside Cemetery, Alberta Canada, Holy Cross Cemetery in Butte Montana, a jet plane in 2009. And many more.

schoppe Long before O’Hare Airport, the Orchard Place was the site of three cemeteries, which later were simply deemed “in the way” for airplanes. Only one still remains on airport property. The other two were removed in the name of progress.

With early aviation in Chicago, we had landing fields, airdromes,  flying fields,  aerodromes, Airmail stations, and aviation fields. The pilots were a daring bunch of daredevils with airplane races,  some even known to have been rum running between Detroit and Chicago. Many pilots, however, died in crashes, some into cemeteries.

We start with Charles Nimmo Black, best known as simply Nimmo Black. He was born in Chicago  on February 3, 1896 to Maxwell Black and Mary Nimmons. He was a war hero and a pioneer in Chicago aviation, some people calling him a Birdman or Barnstormer. He flew in and out of several early Chicago aerodromes,  flying mail sacks between to and from several cities. 1911aloft550x374chihangars484x400 In 1919, the U.S. Post Office Department extended its air mail service from Cleveland to Chicago using a landing field in Grant Park, but winds from Lake Michigan made landing scary..  Grant Park  was replaced by the Cicero Flying Field also known as Ashburn field, the headquarters of the Aero club of Illinois, located at 83rd and Cicero; There were dozens of accidents in these early years.poster475x324lunch400x395cowling380x350acicard400x272

chiaur650x420cic1post250x390Maywood’s Checkerboard Field was located on the southeast corner of First Avenue and Roosevelt Road (12th Street) . Nimmo often used both Grant Park and Checkerboard Field. The first air mail hangar was built on Checkerboard Field in January 1920, Later the field was part of a plan to implement coast to coast airmail service from San Francisco to New York in about 30 hours. It was described as one of the largest airmail stations in the country for its time.stoneMaywood_IL_28topo

It was in the shadow of German Waldheim and Forest Home Cemeteries and where in 1920, an airmail plane  banking for a landing at Checkerboard,  crashed into Forest Home Cemetery. The pilot walked away unhurt.crash

There were many other Chicago area flying fields in the 1920s. There was Lincoln Tavern Field on Dempster near Lincoln in Morton Grove, the Burmeister Airdrome on Dempster at the North Shore channel and the Chicago Flying Field at Irving Park Road near Cumberland, also known as Greer or Wilson Field to name a few.Airfields_IL_Chicago_C_htm_m78efcb9f

And even Nimmo Black had his own flying field between 1921 and 1924 at 3000 Peterson Ave, near Lincoln and the drainage canal.. It was incorporated it as Nemo Black Airport Inc, more commonly known as “Blackie’s field”. He also started a ground school with twenty students at 1503 Devon.  Nimmo Black died on March 23, 1933 at the National Soldier’s Home in Los Angeles California. He carried photographs of important events from other cities to Chicago newspapers.

600588_10151476112141923_1777629609_nEarly aviation was also a sport. A race on September 3, 1921 boasted 12 airplanes flying at an astounding 75 miles per hour, on a a route of 50 miles from Ashburn,  touching down on four flying fields before returning to Ashburn. death


Air races in the 1930’s featured faster and better planes , but by the 1930’s most early flying fields slowly disappeared, as the era of viable commercial passenger aviation evolved. Curtis-Reynolds became Glenview Naval Air Station. Airfields_IL_Chicago_N_htm_m48d45d89Airfields_IL_Chicago_N_htm_m202a4e0a


photo-chicago-midway-airport-plane-approaching-for-landing-mobilgas-sign-motorola-portables-billboard-1955Chicago Municipal Field (now Midway Airport) opened 1926. O’Hare began as an airfield serving a Douglas manufacturing plant for C-54 military transports during World War II. About 1945 it took the name of Orchard Field Airport, and scheduled passenger service began in 1955 as O’Hare.

There have been three cemeteries within O’Hare International Airport, that being Wilmers, St. Johannes, and Resthaven. Only Resthaven remains today. I have posted information on Wilmers here:

sik_s-58t_1As O’Hare Airport grew, regularly scheduled helicopters flew to Midway and back.  On July 27, 1960, at about 10:30 pm , a 12 passenger helicopter left Midway  for the 11-minute , 18-mile flight between Midway and O’Hare airports.  With 11 passengers and two crew members, it began following the Des Plaines River when only five minutes later, the Sikorsky S-58 helicopter  burst into flames and crashed among tombstones in the western section of Forest Home Cemetery. Wreckage was spread over the length of several blocks.  All thirteen people sadly died in the wreck. The FAA determined the helicopter had structurally disintegrated in flight because of a fatigue fracture within a 23 foot long main rotor blade.chicago_helicopters_airways

On Friday November 5 1976,  Two men flying from Lansing Illinois to Midway Airport  encountered engine failure and crashed their Cessna 150 just inside the fence of St. Casimir Cemetery on 112th and Pulaski. They lived to fly another day.

Lastly, Avrom Goldbogen left a Burbank Airport on March 21, 1958 aboard a Lockheed Loadstar. A few hours later “The Lucky Liz” crashed about 20 miles southwest of Grants New Mexico in the rugged Zuni Mountains

toddWe knew him as Mike Todd, well known producer of theater and film,  third husband of Elizabeth Taylor, and second husband of Joan Blondell.  Born in Minneapolis on June 22, 1909— the seventh of eight children. Mike (the Anglicized version of his grandfather’s name, Moishe) moved to Chicago in 1918. The family settled into a house on Le Moyne Street just west of Wicker Park.  His Polish-born father Chaim Goldbogen became the rabbi of a Jewish congregation on the city’s Northwest Side.

Mike Todd’s remains arrived in Chicago aboard a Santa Fe Railroad train.  He was buried within the Beth Aaron gate #66 of Jewish Waldheim with 5,000 rather impolite people looking on. The tragedy worsened the next month when his grave was violated and his remains were stolen. Under odd circumstances, the remains were later “found” beneath a pile of branches, leaves, and dirt about 75 yards from the opened grave by Anthony Pellicano, a publicity-hungry sleuth. Avrom Goldbogen was then quietly reburied in a secret location.toddmichael

So cemeteries and aviation seem somewhat intertwined, not always getting along, but an interesting topic nevertheless.

6 thoughts on “Airplanes and Cemeteries don’t mix!”

  1. I saw the crash at St. Casimir. We lived East of the Ag School (it was still the last working farm in Chicago then) at 113th & Hamlin. The pilot was working on his IFR.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My grandfather told me that there was an airfield on Peterson Ave at the site of Mather HS. in the late teens, early 1920’s.


      1. Thank you Barry,
        I saw the one in the story at 3000 W. Peterson & canal.
        From the family farm, with the stories of limited travel / movement. ( Horse & wagon). I wonder if he would have traveled that far west?
        Any info / stories on the various brick works that sprung up along the canal? They took the free canal spoils to make the bungalow’s of Chicago bricks? My great grandfather was involved in a high pressure steam boiler explosion in 1925. He passed away from 3rd degree steam burns within a day or 2. St. Francis Hospital, Evanston, would not treat him, as they told the family that they didn’t take in negro patients, ( skin was black from the 3rd degree steam burns). By the time they got to Cook County hospital via horse & wagon, there wasn’t much that they could do for him. I was told that the company was at Touhy & the canal. (???)
        Any info on that boiler explosion would be very interesting. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Greetings, Note, this section of Chicago had the natural north branch of the Chicago River at Lane Tech’s back door. The MWRD built the man made canal from Lawrence Ave., northward to it’s outlet on Lake Michigan at the Bahai Temple. The spoils from the canal diggings were the ‘free’ material for a number of brick companies that lined the ‘sanitary’ canal. Great piece on Lane Tech. Thank you. All the best,

        Liked by 1 person

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