Tuesday, July 09, 2013

1938 Plane Crash in Residential Anacostia, DC

The house in the background was later razed for the freeway.
Anacostia residents today are likely unaware that their historic community was once the site of a fatal plane crash, with the deceased pilot eventually having an Air Force base named after him.  Neighbors were then well used to low flying military aircraft, however, because they were not far from Bolling Field, and Army Air base with an active runway.  The crash occurred right next to 1847 13th Street, SE on November 9, 1938.   
The photo caption read:  "Two U.S. Army fliers -- Lieut. Col. Leslie MacDill, General Staff Corps Officer, and Private Joseph G. Gloxner -- were burned to death today in the worst aerial tragedy in the history of the Capital when their plane crashed on a street in Anacostia, a short distance from Bolling Field. Three automobiles were wrecked in the crash. Col. MacDill was piloting the plane."  (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative)  Col. MacDill was flying a North American BC-1, used by the Army Air Corps from 1936 to 1940.
Two employees of Mandell Chevrolet at 13th Street and Good Hope Road rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers, but were rebuffed by the flames: Louis Fiedler, mechanic, and the manager, Harry Rosenthal.   As did Earl Hazel, of 1235 U street, SE.

As we’ve warned readers before, newspapers reporters were fairly verbose and not shy of telling it like it is, and the scene of a deadly plane crash is certainly not pretty.  The Washington Post of November 10, 1938 filed this story:   

Army Studies Cremation of 2 Fliers Here

Crash in Anacostia Fire Destroys Plane

Officer is Killed, Pilot Dies Also

“A special Army board last night was investigating the crash which killed and cremated two Army fliers when their pursuit plane went into a spin, narrowly missed two houses and smashed to earth in Anacostia, 2 miles from Bolling Field.

The dead were Col. Leslie MacDill, 49, of the War Department general staff, who lived at 3105 Cathedral avenue northwest, and Private Joseph G. Gloxner, of First Staff Squadron, of Reading, Pa. Both were instantly killed.

Maj. Charles P. Prime, chief investigator, said last night that eyewitnesses have given conflicting reports regarding engine trouble. Coroner A. Magruder MacDonald said he would postpone decision on holding an inquest into the deaths until he had received the Army report.

The house at 1847 13th Street, SE in the background
Trouble With Motor

The BC-1 pursuit plane piloted by Col. MacDill took off from Bolling Field at 9:36 a.m. Three minutes later it crashed on S street, a block away from the busy intersection of Good Hope road and Nichols avenue.

Accounts pieced together from numerous eyewitnesses indicate that something happened to the motor and Col. MacDill tried to get back to his field, and then with death staring him in the face aimed his plane for a narrow space between two houses in order to land on Thirteenth street, headed for an alley.

The plane cut down telephone and power wires, knocked down a pole, clipped off tree limbs and plunged into the earth between the curb and street in front of the home of Robert Thompson, 1807 Thirteenth street, southeast.

The plane immediately burst into flames, settled back on a parked car. Burning gasoline flowed down the street and destroyed three other parked cars.

One civilian came within 10 feet of being killed in the crash. That was Clarence W. Ohm, plumber of 1612 W street southeast. He had parked his car directly across the street from the crash, and was just getting from his car when the plane struck.

1847 13th Street, SE today.
Flames Leap 50 Feet

Both bodies were burned beyond recognition by the flames which leaped as high as 50 feet. One of the bodies was thrown from the fuselage, while the head was torn from the other. Fireman fought half an hour with water and chemicals.

Louis Fiedler, mechanic, and Harry Rosenthal, manager of Mandell Chevrolet garage at Thirteenth street and Good Hope road, and Earl Hazel, of 1235 U street southeast, rushed to the plane with fire extinguishers. The heat drove them away. Fiedler's face was scorched.

The street at the time of the crash was deserted except for Ohm. Few people were attracted by sound of the plane until it exploded because Anacostia residents have become accustomed to low-flying planes.
Heard Body Plop

Ohm related that because of a broken gasket on the exhaust pipe of his automobile, he heard nothing until a plop which suggested to him falling of a human body. From his parked car he heard a scream and saw a body on the pavement before an explosion "like a 16-inch gun" shot up huge clouds of black smoke and flames.

Still shaking from his experience last night he said, "it was the most horrible thing I ever saw. I thought the world was coming to and end. I have felt so bad all day I couldn't clean up the brains splattered on my car."

Col. MacDill was a graduate of Hanover College, University of Indiana, and the Army War College. He leaves his wife, Mrs. Marilla Augusta MacDill, and two daughters, Katherine Rose, 14, and Rose, 11.

Col MacDill was first commissioned a second lieutenant, Coast Artillery Corps, in 1912. By time of the World War he had been promoted to captain of Air Corps. Overseas he organized the Aerial Gunnery School at St. Jean de Monts, France.

In 1920 he was graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and held several commands until 1930 when he came to Washington in Plans Division, Office of Chief of Air Corps. After attending the Army and Naval War Colleges, he returned here in 1934.  The bodies of both men are being held at Walter Reed Hospital.”

Col. MacDill was a graduate of Hanover College, Indiana University, and the Army War College.  MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida, is named after him.

Copyright Paul K. Williams

Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Drive-In Once Across from Union Station? It's True!

Matchbook Cover from the Red Circle Food Shop

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that an Art Deco styled drive in once sat right across from Union Station.  Who would have though that land values and urban density would allow that to exist?  Well, construction began on the Red Circle Food Shop on February 25, 1937 - it was located on the northwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street, NW.  The unique round design provided both counter service inside, and curbside service for automobiles on a large rear parking lot.  It was designed by architect E. Burton Corning and built at a total cost of $24,450.   

Photographs and plans appeared in the March 1938 edition of Building News, seen here.  Its unique design of duel service meant that one kitchen was located on the ground floor, and a smaller one in a basement.  "The circular plan, says the architect, is the result of an attempt to 'get something different from the ordinary run of drive-in restaurants and at the same time keep the cost comparable" (Building News).  The angular size of the lot also played an important role in the circular design, and in fact, the building located there today follows this same curvature - the National Guard memorial Building (built 1990). 

The plan allowed for a small serving area, and a cashier that was able to handle transactions from both interior counter patrons, and those seated in their car.  Waiters entered one side, pick up their orders, pass
the cashier, and exit ont he other wide in a continual loop.  The exterior was clad in enameled red panels, lending a visual to the name Red Circle Food Shop.  A neon sign sat on top the roof, whose soffit concealed spot lights illuminating the chrome and enamel walls.  It was noted that the entire structure had year-round air conditioning.

It certainly is more interestigng than the bland food court now located on the lower level of Union Station, and would have been a fun place to catch a meal, waiting for a delayed train.    

Table service was handled from the swinging door at the right; windows were covered with flesh colored mirrors.
Dining room looking toward the cashier booth and entrance doorway. 
         Copyright Paul K. Williams