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You Can't Walk Home From an Aeroplane

How this writer's mother, Clara Dietsch Mosley, is connected to the history of flight, and to Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Finding an old photo showing my mother, Clara Dietsch Mosley, as a young girl in the 1920’s, opened up a lot of questions. 

First, who was the other girl in the photo, and what were they doing standing in front of a bi-plane next to a handsome pilot? We guessed that it was taken around 1930, and probably at the amusement park in North Aurora. A trip to the Aurora Historical Society to search their archives would turn up some surprising clues.

My mother’s photograph came from her friend. The inscription read, “Remember? Want to go for a ride girls?” On the back someone had copied a few lyrics to a popular song of the day. “Oh, you can’t walk home from an airplane girls, what are you going to do now?” 

From youtube.com the rest of the lyrics can be found, accompanied by a band playing a jumpy fox trot:

Boys we’ve had it mighty tough,
Girls have fooled us long enough,
And we’ve let them go on and deceive us.
They want food and then besides,
They want nice long auto rides,
But just try and kiss them
And they up and leave us!
After they get all they want,
They walk home, they don’t care.
But Girls, we soon will take you out
A riding thru the air!
And you can’t walk back from an aeroplane,
So what are you girls going to do?

There are six more delightful stanzas, each containing a different warning of the dire consequences of being trapped in an aeroplane with a persistent suitor.  The photo is signed Cookie.

The handsome pilot standing next to her was John Livingston, a popular and famous stunt pilot. This was revealed when the museum’s photo collection turned up another photo taken of the same plane, and this one gave the pilot’s name. 

Now, here is where the story gets interesting. Mother’s younger sister is listed as the donor of the picture in 2004. She is no longer with us, so we can’t ask the important questions. Other background information she gave then tells that it was taken at the Aurora Airport in 1931, two years after the airport opened adjacent to Exposition View Amusement Park.  

The pilot, John Livingston, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, lived in Aurora in the '20s and '30s and was the inspiration for the book and movie, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The book and movie were a big hit in 1970 and the author Richard Bach wrote: “To Johnny Livingston, who has known all along what this book is all about.” 

In the 1935 City Directory of Aurora, he is listed as John Livingston, aviator, at 419 Main Street, the address of the Parkway Apartments. In fact, John Livingston was world-famous as a stunt pilot and championship racer.  He won a large majority of the races that he entered. 

In the early days of aviation, other amateur pilots were known as barnstormers. They owned their own airplanes, often built them as well, and they traveled around the country, stopping at local fairgrounds where they gave rides for a fee.

From Volume 48 of the Thrift Corner Yarns, I learned the following: In 1910 the Aurora Driving Park was the scene of the first airplane flight in the state. Orville Wright came in with 2 bi-planes to make the arrangements. The Wright Brothers Flying Shows brought a pilot, but on the day of the demonstration, the winds were gusting so strong that the pilot would not go up. 

After a two-day wait, he finally was able to get the plane up in the air, but the gusts soon sent it hopping and it landed in an oats field. When the five broken ribs were replaced, it was ready to fly again. They pulled a portable runway into the field and gave a 55-minute demonstration; then it took off 500 ft. above the ground and flew on to the state fair in Springfield.

This event was well before my mother’s trip. She was always bold and unafraid. When she was 14 years old, she graduated from Holy Angels Grammar School in Aurora, at a time when not every child went to high school.

So that fall, when she learned that the telephone company was training girls to be telephone operators in Chicago for jobs in Aurora, she joined the line of applicants.  Age must not have been a consideration then, or at least it wasn’t to her. She told us that after a summer of going barefoot, her feet complained at being stuffed back into shoes for the trip on the third rail to downtown Chicago. 

She had just one suitable dress to wear and unfortunately, it happened to be white. After one wearing it was dirty from the soot and dust of the train, so she had to wash it every night and press it every morning. I don’t know how many days she did this, but soon she finished the training and landed a job as a telephone operator.

She was a hero to her younger sisters. One of them once said, “Clara was always the gutsy one.” We already knew that.

She taught herself to drive an old Model T Ford that had to be cranked to start. She was lonely at her mother-in-law’s house in Montgomery while everyone was working, so she would take the car and drive up River Street to spend the day with her own mother. 

The dirt road was very lightly traveled in those days. She never ever took a driving test. All that was required was to send a small fee to the state for a license. Until she died in 1977, she drove all over the state, never had a ticket or an accident, and never had to take a test to renew her license.

But the ultimate proof of her courage was when she gave birth to her fifth baby. She was alone, in an old isolated farmhouse at the end of Aucutt Road, next to Blackberry Creek. There was no electricity, telephone, or running water. My father was en route to Yorkville to pick up Doc Perkins when the baby decided to make her appearance.

She made not a sound to wake up the sleeping children in the adjacent bedrooms, who were totally surprised to see the little sister the next morning. She was amazing.

No, it would never surprise anybody who knew her that she was one of the “gutsy” ones to take a ride in the new flying machine. Not for a minute! She was utterly unafraid. Just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

For airplane fans, an Open House will be held at the Air Classics Museum at the Aurora Airport Saturday, June 16 from 9 to 3.  It is located on Rt. 30, two miles west of Sugar Grove. 

Nan Peck June 14, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Lovely column. I enjoyed reading it and learning more about my grandmother, Clara. Nan Peck, Springfield, VA
donald Heldenberg June 21, 2012 at 01:19 AM
great one your Mother was a great person Don H
donald heldenberg June 21, 2012 at 01:19 AM
great one your Mother was a great person Don H

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