An airport in Skokie Illinois – Planes landing at Eadie Field!

During the Cold War of the 1950s, Americans were so concerned with surviving a nuclear attack. The Civil Defense act of 1950 was created to deal with the immediate emergency conditions that an attack would create.We heard air raid sirens every Tuesday morning at 10:30 AM. Public fallout shelters were created in buildings and subways. Civil Defense units were created in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Skokie civil Defense felt the need to build an emergency landing field in the area, reportedly the first civil Defense airport in the nation.

The land for Eadie field was graded and ready for use in mid-October 1953. It was located between Dempster and Church Street, along the west side of the sanitary Canal in Skokie (also known as the north channel of the Chicago River.) It was just a few minute drive north from the beloved Hollywood Kiddieland and Thillens Stadium. Newspaper accounts said that it could accommodate 50 airplanes.

 Eadie Field was dedicated on Sunday, May 9, 1954 as a Skokie Civil Defense emergency landing field, It was of course much smaller than Palwaukee in Wheeling. Curtis-Reynolds Field in Glenview, or Sky Harbor in Northbrook. But yes, planes actually landed and took off from Skokie! The unpaved runway was only 1616 feet long by 75 feet wide Eadie Field was for civil Defense use exclusively and was closed to all regular air traffic. As you might imagine, there was no terminal building or control tower, the only structure known was a civil Defense tent.

 

Eadie Field was dedicated on Sunday, May 9, 1954 at 2pm as a Skokie Civil Defense emergency landing field,and it was agrand event indeed. McCormick Boulevard was closed to traffic for the dedication. Spencer Allen, WGN – TV announcer was the master of ceremonies who broadcast over a loudspeaker system from the grandstand on McCormick Boulevard

Evanston Mayor John Kimbark gave the presentation address and Skokie Mayor George Wilson introduced the principal speaker, Rear Admiral. Daniel F. Gallery, the Glenview naval air reserve training commander. Participating in the ceremony was the parents of William Eadie, as well as representatives of state, county and Chicago civil defense organizations, and members of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Robert Porter of Libertyville was the narrator for a civil air patrol demonstration of the movement of personnel and supplies by air. Six airplanes flown by civil air patrol members landed at Eadie Field. Having taken off from Palwaukee Airport in response to a simulated emergency call from three Evanston hospitals. In this simulation of civil Defense airlift operations, three of the planes flew in medical personnel. The other airplanes evacuated a (dummy) baby in an incubator, four dummy bassinet babies, and three “polio cases”.

The field was named after the late Lieutenant Commander William Fisher Eadie, Evanston’s own naval  flying hero of World War II, the pilot who rescued Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and his crew after they had been afloat on rafts in the Pacific 24 days in World War II.  William was born on July 25, 1913 in Chicago, the son of William Glass Eadie and Lydia (Fisher) Eadie of Evanston. He graduated from Evanston high school in 1930 and he attended Northwestern University until 1934 when he enlisted in the Navy. He married Phyllis Lundell in 1941.

This Skokie civil Defense landing field named after William Eadie has a short but very interesting history.

On Sunday morning, May 20, 1956 at 7:30 AM Skokie’s four huge sirens began blaring. At 7:31 AM the Skokie police switchboard was deluged with many callers asking whether an air raid was expected. Others were just very angry having tumbled out of bed. Evanston and Wilmette switchboards were also bogged down , flooded with calls. The purpose was an alert known as “Operation Rescue” to rehearse what Skokie civil Defense would do if an atom bomb fell on Chicago and evacuated Chicagoans were supposedly streaming toward Skokie . In this simulated scenario 300 volunteers would be rushed to emergency stations. Rescue planes would has begun landing at Eadie field. An emergency hospital would have been set up. Bulldozers would have been sent off for Chicago to clear away the debris. Obviously not much anything like that happened in real life.

Then there was “Operation alert 1958” held  May 6 and 7 1958 a nationwide civil Defense mock enemy attack. Sirens were scheduled for Tuesday morning in both Skokie and Evanston. Sirens would be sounded followed by an all clear siren 15 minutes later. The scenario was a planned mock bombing of a World War II bomb at O’Hare international Airport . An appeal will be sent to suburban districts for both fire and medical assistance. Mayor Daley will fly by helicopter 11 AM from the civil Defense command post in Soldier Field to the county control center in LaGrange.

This event included a mock evacuation of Skokie residents fleeing the village, theoretically to Antioch. The 600 volunteer evacuees would travel via US Highway 41 and Illinois Highway 173 a distance of some 45 miles. They would sleep in an open area near Antioch in this realistic disaster test. Experts figured that the average home in Antioch, a small community, could accommodate about 30 persons each. A rear guard will remain in Skokie to send word to Antioch when it will be safe for residents to return. Skokie civil Defense who will coordinate  pre-attack supply flights at Eadie Field beginning May 4, 1958

In May 1961 there was another “Operation Alert” in McHenry Illinois. Skokie sent

14 civil Defense personnel to Eadie Field to be part of this operation.

On Friday, September 7, 1962 the Evanston city Council spent $28.10 for a sign reading caution “low-flying aircraft” in anticipation of a joint civil Defense exercise at Eadie Field involving Evanston and Skokie held on Friday, September 13, 1962 and Saturday, September 14, 1962.

The exercise consisted of simulated decontamination of  the civil Defense emergency landing field and surrounding area. Both communities simulated that the airplanes, personnel, and equipment have been exposed to radioactive fallout three’ days after a mock nuclear detonation at O’Hare international Airport.. Eadie Field would host some 200 people and an array of equipment from moving vans to milk tank trucks.

I cannot tell you the last time the airfield was used, but thankfully there was never a nuclear detonation over Chicago or other disaster needing Eadie Field.

The role of Skokie civil Defense changed in the 1970s to one that assisted the Skokie fire Department and the village in times of emergencies. With well-trained rescue and communications units, they responded to fires, severe weather, explosions, gas leaks. They also provided services and traffic control for large community events. In addition to well-equipped vehicles, Skokie civil Defense maintained a well-equipped communications center in City Hall. Members were on call 24 hours a day and participated in weekly training sessions. I was a member during the 1970’s, a lieutenant assigned to plan field training. We staged mock accidents to train and assess the members.

Today the land along the sanitary Canal where the landing field was now provides recreation for Skokie’s citizens.

The namesake of Skokie’s Eadie Field, William Fisher Eadie died January 8, 1945 in Pearl Harbor as a result of injuries incurred in a Jeep accident. He was buried in the Honolulu Memorial Cemetery

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