City's commercial air era began in a Dundalk field


Back Story

October 13, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

If you know where to look, reports Harry E. Young, a Dundalk native and member of the board of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society and Museum, there are still a few concrete remnants that recall the era when Logan Field, the city's first municipal airport, was called the "finest airport on the East Coast."

"There are some old foundations that stick up a little," Young, 78, said the other day. "A plumber doing some work up there recently unearthed an old piece of metal, a tie-down, that was used to tie planes down. It's now in our museum."

But for most people, Logan Field, if they've even ever heard of it, is a distant memory, and for all intents and purposes, its civilian aviation functions ceased in 1941.

The cause for renewed interest in the old airfield is the unveiling at 2 p.m. next Saturday of a historical marker sponsored by the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society at Logan Village Shopping Center, which is bounded by Dundalk Avenue and Belclare Road.

The shopping center occupies the former site of Logan Field, where airmail planes once landed and discharged pouches of mail, and idling Ford Trimotors - which had room for only 12 passengers - and Fokker F-X aircraft of the Eastern Air Transport Co. - later Eastern Airlines - carried aloft and delivered Baltimoreans bound for Boston, Richmond, Va., Atlanta and Miami, during the early 1930s.

"In its day, however, Logan Field was the pride of Baltimore, an airport which brought praise from fliers as far away as California, and caused The New York Sun to chastise its home city for permitting Baltimore to take the lead in Atlantic Coast aviation," reported The Sun in a 1948 article.

The original 100-acre site on the Patapsco had once been a farm, and in 1919, W. Frank Roberts, the air-minded manager of Bethlehem Steel Corp., sponsored the field, whose name had a vaguely English-sounding ring to it - the Dundalk Airdrome.

In 1920, the 1st (later the 104th) Observation Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard was formed at the airdrome, which had been leveled and replaced with two canvas hangars.

During an air show on July 4, 1920, before 2,000 spectators who had gathered at the field, Lt. Patrick Henry Logan - who was regarded as one of the "most daring aviators in the United States Army" -fell 1,000 feet to his death when his bi-plane, the Red Devil, went into a tailspin at 2,000 feet, reported The Sun.

Logan, 27, was "injured fatally yesterday afternoon when his Nieuport machine crashed to the earth at Dundalk Flying field," reported the newspaper, and he died a few hours later on the operating table at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Three days later, Logan's casket was placed aboard a waiting Baltimore & Ohio passenger train at Camden Station for the trip to Howell, Mich., near Lansing, where he was buried.

Plans for five planes to escort the train and scatter flowers until it reached open country had to be abandoned because of bad weather.

Logan "was born and raised in Seney, Mich., on the Upper Peninsula," said Kathleen G. Brooks, of Dundalk, who has researched the history of Logan Field and visited and photographed Logan's grave.

"Logan Shopping Center and Logan Elementary School - and there is no connection to Logan [International] Airport in Boston - are named for him," said Brooks, a substitute teacher who often teaches in the school named for the ill-fated aviator.

The airport was dedicated to Logan on July 11, 1920, the closing day of the air show in which he had been a participant.

Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell, deputy chief of the Army Air Service, and Baltimore Mayor William F. Broening were principal speakers.

The Rev. Louis C. Vaeth, who represented Cardinal James Gibbons, gave the invocation, and Lt. Harry McGinnes addressed the 4,000 spectators at the dedication.

"He asked that, in naming the spot Logan Field, it be remembered that the name should imply the spirit which animated Logan to his deeds of daring for the advancement of aviation," reported The Sun.

"The guy was only in Dundalk no more than nine hours when he was killed. He was a guy who did nothing but drive a plane into the ground, and now his name is synonymous with Dundalk," said Young, who is retired from Baltimore County, where he worked in land acquisition. "He couldn't have been much of a pilot."

During the 1920s, the city paid $2,000 a year rent for the airport, while the state contributed $500 for operating expenses. Additional hangars were constructed, dangerous telephone wires at the end of the field were removed and lights were installed for night flying.

"In some respects, 1929 marked the height of Logan's glory. The opening of a Department of Commerce office there made it the headquarters for Maryland and Delaware aviation," reported The Sun in a 1948 article. "In a great air meet, 30,000 cheered a new speed mark of 258 m.p.h."

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