In a recent blog post, Kathleen Hanser told the story of the “Shrine of the Air” in Berkeley, California, and highlighted various artifacts from “Mother” Tusch’s house that became a part of our collections. The paper documents from Tusch’s house can be found in the National Air and Space Museum Archives as part of the Mary E. “Mother” Tusch Collection (Acc. No. XXXX-0128).
Famous and not so famous visitors to Tusch’s bungalow usually signed her register. One page from March and April 1946 bears the signatures of General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold; Frank T. Coffyn, early aviator and student of the Wright brothers; Robert G. Sproul, president of the University of California; and E.C. Koerper, a captain in the Air Reserve, who visited with Sproul. The registers were highly valued. One year, the register was stolen on August 9, but had been returned on September 30, a theft worthy of local newspaper coverage.
A unique item in the Mother Tusch Collection is her birthday book. The book itself was given to Tusch by Sergeant Hugh J. Williams in 1918. Williams was a member of the medical department who completed the School of Military Aeronautics on August 5, 1918. For years, Tusch recorded the birthdays of the men (and women) who visited her.
The very first entry in the book on January 1st is “Father Time – A plodder but he gets there.” George Washington is featured on February 22, “The Father of His Country,” and Tusch’s daughters Dorothy Belle, “Fairy of the Household,” and Irene can be found on March 18 and July 10, respectively. Although every person in the book has his or her own background story, sometimes Tusch herself provided a little history on the names. For example, on November 27, next to John W. Benton, Tusch noted: “Killed in Goodwill trip to South America.”
First Lt. John W. Benton was a pilot in the United States Army Air Corps. In 1926, the Army Air Corps and State Department planned a Pan-American goodwill mission to Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. The goal was to showcase American-made aircraft and engines and highlight air travel as a possibility in regions that did not have many transportation options. Five Loening OA-1A amphibian aircraft were chosen for the trip and named the New York, the San Antonio, the San Francisco, the Detroit, and the St. Louis.
On February 29, 1927, the New York and Detroit collided in mid-air as they were landing at the Argentine Air Service Field at Palomar, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The crash destroyed both aircraft and killed the crew of theDetroit, pilot Capt. C.F. Woolsey and Benton. Both men were awarded the Distinguished Flying Crossposthumously.
The other aircraft completed the flight and returned to Bolling Field, Washington, DC, where they were congratulated by President Calvin Coolidge. The Loening OA-1A San Francisco is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
John W. Benton is just one of many possible stories that can be told from Mother Tusch’s birthday book. She even had a special story celebrating her birthday, December 26: “Mother Tusch—(the best Xmas present of them all).”