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CLARENCE DUNCAN CHAMBERLIN
Clarence Chamberlin is signed into the Pitcairn Register on March 22, 1928. His home base was New York, NY. Frustratingly, he entered no information about his airplane or his destination. The purpose for his flight and landing at Willow Grove is unknown. Photograph, right, from Popular Aviation (PA) magazine, March, 1937.
Clarence Chamberlin was born November 11, 1893 at Dennison, IA. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, his first, six-year-old Chamberlin's parents were Jessie Duncan Chamberlin (age 30) and Elzie (Clarence) Chamberlin (30). They lived in Denison, sharing their home with Chamberlin's sister, Ethel (3) and three boarders. Elzie Chamberlin was listed as a "Jeweler."
The 1910 Census placed him at age 15 still living with his parents and sister in Denison. His father was identified as a "Retail Jeweler." His mother was not employed outside their home.
Chamberlin served in World War I as a Second Lieutenant in the Air Service. His WWI draft card is below.
As with many things, the details are in the fine print. If you look carefully at the diagonal printing at the lower left of this card, the text says, "If person is of African descent, tear off this corner" an example of Jim Crow at its worst in the early 20th century. Some things change; some things remain the same.
On January 3, 1919 Chamberlin married Wilda Grace Bogert (born November 3, 1894). The 1920 U.S. Census placed him at age 27 living at the home of his parents with Wilda (24?) and sister Ethel (24). None of them were employed, but his father was now a "Jeweler" in his "Own Business." According to the Census, he owned their home free and clear. There is some information that says Chamberlin was employed for a time in his father's jewelry business. He was very mechanically inclined, which probably also accounts for his work as an "automobile dealier" cited on his draft card, above.
Chamberlin gained fame as the first American pilot to fly a passenger across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. He was trying to beat Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight and flew from New York to Eisleben, Germany, setting a record of 3,911 miles. While he was only the second person to fly across the Atlantic, he did fly farther than Lindbergh and also carried the first passenger, Charles A. Levine.
A year later, Chamberlin was an early adopter of international commercial air travel. Below, from February 27, 1928, is a U.S. Immigration form citing Chamberlin and Wilda flying to Havana, Cuba aboard NC53, a Fokker F.VIIa-3m (S/N 703), operated by Pan American Airways and named the "General Machado." Fortunately, they missed the final flight of this airplane. It was ditched in the Gulf of Mexico six months later on August 15, 1928.
Note on the form above their destination was Meacham Field in Ft. Worth, TX. Another U.S. Immigration form captured him sailing from Southhampton, England to New York City on November 2, 1928. No purpose for this voyage was cited, but it could have been a return from a business trip to Europe. Chamberlin was a pilot for the Columbia Aircraft Company at the time, and involved in local New York City aviation administration and consulting.
In 1936, Chamberlin divorced Wilda. They had been estranged, and in Chamberlin's absence, she had conceived a daughter, Luda, in France in 1933 with a French photo-journalist, Ludowic Geiskop, shown at center in the photo above. Through it all, Chamberlin and Wilda remained amiable, inventing a ruse that Wilda and her daughter were remaining in Paris in order to prevent a kidnapping attempt as had happened with Charles Lindbergh, Jr. Their ruse was published in The New York Times of April 14, 1935.
As well, privately, Wilda stated that she would accept a divorce whenever Chamberlin wanted one. Her daughter remained with her after the divorce, and she married Geiskop.
Wilda died in 1943, as published in the Waterloo Daily Courier (IA), March 9, 1943, right. After the newsreel era, Geiskop went to NBC News for a few years before his death in 1954.
In June, 1936, Chamberlin married Louise Ashby, daughter of Senator George Ashby of Maine. Their marriage was reported in The New York Times of June 26, 1936, left. In the article we learn that Chamberlin was superstitious.
The Chamberlins planned an "aerial honeymoon" to Europe (actually Newfoundland to Ireland) as described in the article below from the November, 1936 issue of Popular Aviation (PA). Louise is pictured at right. Louise had one son, Phillip (1925-2011), who came into the marriage and was adopted by Clarence. Later, he and Louise bore two daughters, Clarisse and Cathy born in 1940 and 1942, respectively. Clarisse and Phillip are featured in a documentary cited further below.
Page two of the article follows. Notice the new navigation instrument described in the separate article at right.
Louise Chamberlin was formerly an "air hostess" for Chamberlin's air circus, which he operated in the mid-late 1930s. Please link to Chamberlin's biography page over at the Parks Airport site to learn about the air circus. Below is a photograph of Chamberlin and two of the Curtiss Condors and the other biplane (far left) used to give people rides. The photograph was taken at least after June, 1936, because the Chamberlins are married.Tucked between the two Condors is Chamberlin's Lockheed Sirius, NC13W (see below), that he planned to fly to Europe in the stratosphere. The engine nacelle is just behind Chamberlin's head in the photograph.
Below, the identifications of the people inscribed on the back of the photograph above. They are, left to right, M. Murphy, Bob Harris, Art Bussey, Louise Chamberlin, Clarence Chamberlin, Jack Wall, Bruce Huppert and "Snyder." None of the others are Register pilots as far as I can tell.
Regarding the Chamberlins' stratosphere flight to Europe described in the PA article, it didn't happen. In preparation for it, however, in 1936 Chamberlin purchased from Joan Fay Shankle her Lockheed Sirius (converted to Altair) NC13W, S/N 143. He named it "Miss Stratosphere." Many photographs of this airplane, including one showing Chamberlin and Louise in the cockpits, and one showing a razorback canopy modification performed by Chamberlin for the stratosphere flight, are at the airplane's link, above.
Below is an autographed photograph of NC13W from the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC) Digital Special Collections. This photograph is similar, but earlier, to the third one down at the link for 13W (q.v). I say that because the name of the airplane has not yet been painted on the engine cowling in the photo below.
Detailed plans for the flight appeared in The New York Times of June 28, 1936. More plans appeared in the Times of August 7, 1936, right. Their Lockheed was registered under Louise's name (she was a student pilot, taught by Chamberlin). From the article at right, it appears that it was given to her by Chamberlin as a wedding present. It was flown by them 1936-1940. It was sold to aircraft broker Charles Babb in 1940. With the coming of WWII, "Miss Stratosphere" was assigned to Army Engineers who used it for anti-radar work until it was written off in an accident near Bakersfield, CA before the end of the war.
The 1940 Census placed Chamberlin (age 46), Louise (33) and Phillip (14) living at 236 Washington Place, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. His occupation was cited as "Pilot" of "Airplanes." At Google Earth, his neighborhood today is one of neat clapboard homes, probably of 1940s vintage. If you're following along, note that his surname in the 1940 Census was coded as "Chamkelin" making that record difficult to locate.
During WWII, most able men were called to the draft. Chamberlin's draft card, dated 1942, is below. At the time he was operating the Chamberlin Aircraft Company in Newark, NJ. During the war, he opened a series of aviation trade schools (aircraft maintenance, metal working, etc.) vital for the war effort. After the war, he served briefly as sales manager for Bellanca Aircraft Corporation.
Chamberlin died in Derby, Connecticut, October 31, 1976, at the age of 83. His and Louise's grave marker is below. Louise (born March 30, 1907) passed away February 14, 2000 at Ft. Myers Beach, FL.
Chamberlin flew West carrying Transport pilot certificate T190. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1976. The brass plaque from his head stone details some of his earlier aviation accomplishments and records, left.
Almost two years after his landing at Willow Grove, Chamberlin landed at Parks AIrport, East St. Louis, IL on February 16, 1930. He flew his Crescent C-8, which he identified as NC9769. Please direct your browser out to the East St. Louis link for additional biographical information and photographs.
Chamberlin has a good Web presence, including a 2011, feature-length documentary about his life posted on YouTube at the link (1hr. 50min.). An article appeared in Skyways magazine (v. 93, April, 2011) describing the documentary. You can download the article at the link (PDF 795kB). The film includes footage of his son, Phillip and daughter, Clarisse, speaking about their father. It exhibits images of his wives, Wilda and Louise. There is moving picture coverage of his reception in Germany in 1927 after his and Levine's trans-Atlantic record flight. The film was posted online during June, 2016. It's worth your time to watch.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 07/14/16 REVISED: