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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
I am her niece and am skeptical about the Lindbergh connection. There is a picture of her with Doolittle. I also question the price of her first plane as that would have been a big chunk of her Trust fund. I come to that conclusion by knowing how much my mother (about 6 years Aline’s junior) got when she was 25 and I think the Trust
Funds set up by their grand-father (Nathan) were not available to the til they were 25.
I took all my material to the Air & Space Museum last Fall.
Also, you should take with “a grain of salt” her remark about hitting a man because of a remark he made.
Am happy to answer any questions
I am her niece and question the Lindbergh connection. I also question the price of her first plane as that would have been about 1/ 4 of her net worth. I am using those figures as my mother was about 6 years younger and her trust fund when she was 25 was $800,000. I have taken all the material I had about Aline to the Air and
Thanks sincerely for your thoughtful comments. The mural is proof positive of your aunt’s superlative nature. All the rest may be mere folklore, but it’s marvelous folklore. She must have been quite an aunt.
I wrote a reasonably detailed article about Aline Rhonie’s remarkable mural, which appeared in WWI Aero – The Journal of The Early Aeroplane,Nov. 2005, issue # 190, pp 64ff, and am confident that Charles Lindbergh was involved in arranging for the preservation and storage of her masterwork.
As I note in my article, the Stearman wasn’t her only airplane.
Carroll F. Gray
Thanks, Carroll, for your input.
Hello….My husband and I own Aline’s Stearman Model 4 biplane which was registered in 1931 as NC796H. When restored in 1983 it was painted in the colors of Western Air Express and the registration number changed to NC774H. This aircraft will soon join the collection of the Western Antique Aero and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon. All the information I have regarding Aline on my website, opencockpit.net, is taken from her log book of which I have a copy. The original is in the Smithsonian. In that log book, she mentions Lindbergh. Here’s the entry: “October 30, 1934: “Lindbergh’s ship – up with Peter, I flew it.” The aircraft was Lindbergh’s Monocoupe registered as NR211 with a Warner 145. This same aircraft is now hanging at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. (It has the wrong registration number on it…NX211 which was the Spirit’s “N” number.)
– Carol Rex
The remark regarding hitting a man in the nose was taken from a newspaper interview of which I have the clipping.
I have also spoken to Nancy Hopkins Tier many years ago. She was still flying a Cessna 170 at that time.. She was acquainted with Aline Rhonie and Pete Brooks through Roosevelt Field and possible other connections. A well known aviatrix herself, she was one of only 4 women on the 1930 National Air Tour flying a Viking Kitty Hawk B4 Biplane. (Believe that a/c is in the Bradley Air Museum in Connecticut) A society girl, a niece of Lady Astor , (Peter Brooks connection perhaps)…her mother, a sister of artist Charles Gibson, creator of the “Gibson Girl.”
From my research Aline owned three aircraft. The P & W Wasp Jr. powered Stearman, a Lambert Monocoupe of 90 hp and a Luscombe Phantom, 272Y. with a Warner Engine of 145 hp. The Phantom was a prototype and she flew it at the opening of the Bendix race, I believe. It is still in existence. She was a partner of aircraft designer Don Luscombe and was instrumental in him moving his factory to New Jersey
The cost of Stearman, $15,000 was the ‘going’ price of that airplane in the 30’s. Besides that she had it ‘fully equiped’ with the instrumentation of the day. I hope my comments have answered many questions. I lived on Long Island for many years..and Roosevelt Field is now a shopping center. During my residence in New York State years ago, I often drove by the field and there was one original hangar left. Art Deco in style, there was a prop image embedded over the entrance in the hangar’s concrete . i could just imagine Aline and the rest of the society flyers having their aircraft brought up by line boys for a days worth of flying adventures…..
If there are any lingering questions please contact me through my web site, opencockpit.net
– Carol Rex
Thanks so very much for adding to the information on this fascinating woman. I encourage others to visit your website!
I find irony in Roosevelt Field being now a shopping center, particularly as I read that these quaint establishments are seemingly giving way to purely online shopping.
LaGuardia was originally called North Beach….named after Fiorello La Guardia, N.Y City Mayor. I believe he was responsible for both LGA and Idlewild, now JFK .My family used to ride out to LGA and we would fence sit and airplane watch on the observation deck. Of course everything was radial engined and prop driven. The old PanAm Terminal has been restored and there are some marvelous murals which were uncovered. The tracks for the Clipper Flying Boats were still seen going down to waters edge. I would assume that Aline Rhonie used this airport frequently because it is so convenient to New York City…In fact I have an image that shows the Stearman on a ramp, and I think it was taken at old North Beach Airport…
Does anyone know if Roger Wolfe Kahn is on the ALINE RHONIE mural? Also, is there a comprehensive list of all the names of the pilots on the mural? Many thanks for your help with this matter.