Factory whistles shrieked and firetruck sirens wailed.
All eyes turned upward as downtown Akron traffic came to a standstill.
Waves of cheers arose from the streets and buildings as spectators recognized a silver glint in the sky and heard the steady drone of an approaching airplane.
Lucky Lindy was on the way.
Col. Charles Lindbergh, 25, piloted the Spirit of St. Louis over Akron on. Aug. 3, 1927, during a barnstorming trip to promote commercial aviation.
Only a few months earlier, he had become an international hero when he guided the single-engine monoplane from New York to Paris on the first solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight. The historic trip May 20-21 took nearly 34 hours to complete.
This journey was much easier: Lindbergh was en route from Cleveland to Pittsburgh. A day earlier, more than 150,000 people had greeted him at Cleveland Municipal Airport. In brief remarks before the massive crowd, he congratulated city officials on their “foresight in building one of the best airports in the United States.”
“You have seen the development of aviation here in Cleveland as only a few cities in the world have seen it,” he said.
Lindbergh rode in a parade with City Manager William R. Hopkins, founder of the airport that would eventually be named Cleveland Hopkins International. Another 150,000 people swarmed the route of the Monday procession to hail the pilot.
He served as the guest of honor at a 1,000-person banquet at the Hotel Cleveland, where he predicted that regular air service between the United States and Europe would be established within five years. He spent the night at the estate of U.S. Ambassador Myron T. Herrick, a former Ohio governor, near Chagrin Falls.
And then it was back to the Spirit of St. Louis for a Tuesday morning flight to Pennsylvania. Word quickly spread that Lindbergh would soar over Akron.
“Windows of downtown buildings and streets were crowded with people, who craned their necks for a glimpse of the silver monoplane that roared above the streets, though no previous announcement of his flight had been made,” the Beacon Journal reported.
Notified by reporters, Goodyear and Goodrich sounded factory whistles and firefighters blared sirens to alert the public to the high-flying visitor. Workers poured out of buildings to gawk.
An Army airplane, the official escort for Lindbergh’s flight, buzzed the city shortly before 11 a.m. and then the Spirit of St. Louis flew into sight from the northwest.
“Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!” onlookers cried.
“The shouts of the crowd came in an almost incessant roar, drowning for a moment the throb of the 200-horsepower motor,” the Akron Times-Press reported.
“Gracefully the big ship dived to a level of [a] few feet above the buildings. The hand of the master check-reined the mad descent and the plane zoomed upward in a slow circle that carried it westward.”
Over the next 15 minutes, Lindbergh circled Akron five times to give everyone a chance to see his airplane. He dipped his wings, swerved around church steeples and buzzed the Beacon Journal building twice on East Market Street.
Message from sky
Unexpectedly, the flying colonel dropped an orange streamer that fluttered down toward the Summit County Courthouse, where judges, bailiffs, attorneys and defendants had recessed to watch the impromptu air show.
Pedestrians scrambled to retrieve the falling object. Kenmore resident John L. Hudak, an engineer with the Electric Motor & Repair Co., grabbed it a moment before Akron attorney O.L. Daily could reach it.
The streamer was tied to a canvas cylinder that contained a message addressed to Akron Mayor D.C. Rybolt:
“Because of the limited time and extensive itinerary of the tour of the United States now in progress to encourage popular interest in aeronautics, it is impossible for the ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ to land in your city.
“This message from the air, however, is sent you to express our sincere appreciation of your interest in the tour and in the promotion and expansion of commercial aeronautics in the United States.
“We feel that we will be amply repaid for all our efforts if each and every citizen in the United States cherishes an interest in flying and gives his earnest support to the air mail service, the establishment of air ports and similar facilities. The concerted efforts of the citizens of the United States in this direction will result in America’s taking its rightful place within a very short time as the world leader in commercial flying. — CHARLES A. LINDBERGH”
The Spirit of St. Louis disappeared over the horizon, passing over Canton, Alliance and Youngstown and then landing in Pittsburgh before another cheering crowd.
U.S. Rep. Martin L. Davey, the Kent Democrat and future Ohio governor, invited Lindbergh to visit Akron the next time he was in the neighborhood.
“The influence of this community is very far reaching — it is much more than local, and I am convinced that one of the best things you could do for the cause you so ably represent is to visit in Akron.”
In fact, Lindbergh did land in Summit County several times over the next few years, although usually incognito and quickly taking off before drawing a crowd.
The day before Lindbergh flew over Akron, B.E. “Shorty” Fulton, manager of Fulton Field, had offered his Massillon Road site to an airport committee studying where to place a municipal airport. Fulton had 160 acres in use but said 550 adjacent acres were available to be acquired.
Other tracts under consideration were in Barberton, Norton, Darrowville, Ravenna Township and southwest Akron, but Fulton’s plan was the one that was selected. Ground was broken in 1928 on Akron Municipal Airport, later renamed Akron Fulton International Airport and now called Akron Executive Airport.
The city had accepted Lindbergh's challenge to reach for the sky.
For those who didn't get to see the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927, the famous plane is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Visitors can almost hear the crowds.
“Lindy! Lindy! Lindy!”
Mark J. Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3850.