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PURSUITS HAVE an interesting way of evolving. I was perusing Minute Epics of Flight, a wonderful collection of one-page vignettes in the Minute series. (See “Minutes of Knowledge,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-1rI, for others). This 1933 book has an item titled “A Great Airport is Established—1909.”
This was Roosevelt Field, and that got me thinking about La Guardia Airport recently in the news because it got socked again as America’s least favorite, but that’s yet another story.
I wondered, did Roosevelt Field evolve into La Guardia?
No, it turns out La Guardia is in the New York City borough of Queens. Roosevelt Field was 15 miles farther east on Long Island, near Mineola. Both have interesting tales to tell, but today I share a related story of Aline Rhonie, Golden-Age aviatrix and Roosevelt Field muralist.
The Hofheimers were a wealthy family of York Township, Pennsylvania, and Aline used part of her inheritance to fly solo on her 21st birthday, August 16, 1930. The year is generally celebrated as the beginning of the Golden Age of aviation. Aline took part in this celebration in a good many ways.
Aline bought a new Stearman biplane in 1931 (for $15,000, hardly chump change, the equivalent of perhaps $235,000 in today’s dollars). She flew with the likes of Jimmy Doolittle (http://wp.me/p2ETap-1cG) and Charles Lindbergh (whose famed New York-to-Paris flight originated at Roosevelt Field, Rhonie’s home airport).
Aline got her British pilot license in 1936 and was the first American to earn an Irish Commercial license in 1938. During World War II, she flew for the French Ambulance Corps (gaining multiple honors) and for the British Air Transport Auxiliary (see “Diana Barnato Walker,” http://wp.me/p2ETap-1Kf, for a tale of another ATA pilot).
Aline studied art with Diego Rivera in Mexico in 1935. It’s said she taught him the use of tempera paint; he taught her the art of murals.
Upon returning to New York, Rhonie applied her muralist skills in a major work: a fresco mural on the north wall of Roosevelt Field’s Hangar F. More than 100 ft. in length and 12 1/2 ft. high, the mural depicts aviation history of Roosevelt Field from its 1909 origin as Hempstead Plains Aerodrome to 1927 when Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis lifted into the air and headed toward Paris.
Exact counts differ, but the mural, which took three years to complete, contains more than 700 aviation personalities and perhaps 268 aircraft.
The Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register offers details of the mural, including a person-by-person and plane-by-plane guide to its World War I portion, when the facility was known as Hazelhurst Field.
Upon completion of the work, there was an all-night party and barn dance given in Aline Rhonie’s honor at Hangar F on October 15, 1938.
The Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra played. There was an auction with Monte Carlo currency (i.e., scrip bought with real cash) and “Gamboling at its Best.”
The mural was an attraction of Roosevelt Field until its closing in 1951. When Hangar F was scheduled for destruction in 1960, Rhonie brought over an Italian fresco specialist, Leonetto Tintori, to help in preserving the mural, no mean task given its size.
The mural is currently in storage at the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens, New York.
Aline Rhonie Hofheimer died in 1963, at age 53, of a chronic asthmatic condition.
My respect for Aline Rhonie soars even higher when I recall a comment she made in a 1940 newspaper interview: “I hit a man once, socked him in the nose—and it bled. He said that women weren’t any good for anything but having babies.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014