No. 39 EARLY AIR MAIL IN STONE HARBOR: NEVER-BEFORE SEEN PHOTOS COME TO LIGHT FROM AUGUST 1912 By Harlan B. Radford

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while I will hear from some interested reader informing me that they have some information and even new photographic imagesto share. This particular post will be a follow-up to the article that I published on the Stone Harbor Museum website back on January 21, 2022 under the title of “Harlan’s Histories: Number 2 – The First Air Mail Flights in South Jersey – 1912.”

 

It all started when I received a telephone call from an individual by the name of Jeffrey Arrington of Baltimore informing me that he had been to the Historical Society of Riverton (N.J.) website and had read an article that I had written back in September of 2015 entitled “The First Air Mail Flights of South Jersey – 1912”.  Furthermore, Mr. Arrington wanted me to know that he had in his possession five very interesting photographs that he believed could serve useful to me and readers interested in Stone Harbor history.  Mr. Arrington went on to indicate that three of the photos specifically depict air mail pioneer pilot Marshall Earl Reid and his Wright Brothers flying machine carrying mail to the seashore resort of Stone Harbor in late summer of 1912. Furthermore, he also related an account of how he came in to possession of these photos by way of a family member and this is where our story begins.

 

Tucked away for many, many years, this account starts with the discovery of five very interesting and dramatic photographic negatives seeing the light of day.  I will let Jeffrey Arrington’s very own words serve to introduce these new photographic discoveries and how the story and the images taken at Stone Harbor are directly connected to two members of his family.  Here is what Jeffrey had to say…

 

“Harlow C. Simpson (1891-1959) was my maternal grandfather.  I was born in August 1959 and he died in September.  He saw me once but I never knew him personally.  Harlow ran the family’s seed mill in Norristown, Pa. after his father, Edward D. Simpson who died in 1918.  My uncle Henry (Hank) Simpson , helped his father run the mill and inherited it when he died.  Harlow had placed family portraits and two envelopes of large format negatives of the mill.  When the mill closed down after damage caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, Hank moved the portraits and negatives to a box in the attic.  Henry died in 1996 and his wife Betty died earlier this year.  While preparing the house (a 1700’s home) for sale my cousin, Amy Simpson, discovered the box (and knowing how much I follow our family history) gave it to me.  I couldn’t make out what was on the negatives but in the envelope marked “Stone Harbor beach” I saw what looked to be an early plane.  I sent all the negatives to a Baltimore photo lab where they were developed.  Looking at the blurry action photo of the plane I could make out the elongated word “MARSHALL” on the underside of the wing.  A Google search of Marshall, Stone Harbor and Early Planes brought me to your excellent article.  I did a search on your name and found your contact information.”

That being said, let’s turn our attention now to those actual photographs.  Based on additional documented information provided to me by Jeffrey Arrington, I will attempt to reconstruct the circumstances regarding each image and provide a brief narrative about who and what are depicted.  In addition, I will seize the opportunity to expand on the information and provide many more facts surrounding the establishment of the 1912 pioneer air mail service between Ocean City and Stone Harbor.  Lastly and in conclusion, I will also interject just a couple of other related Stone Harbor post cards to enhance the visual aspects of our story.

The first image is a circa 1920 view of Harlow Simpson in a relaxed pose and dressed in his dapper suit with tie and brimmed hat.  We are told that Harlow was an “avid photographer” and was known for taking pictures of Spanish-American War veterans marching in a parade in Norristown.  Harlow in addition to taking many candid photos also is now known for capturing a key moment in Stone Harbor history when he was on the scene on or shortly after August 3, 1912 when a temporary air mail service was briefly established between the South Jersey seashore resort communities of Ocean City and Stone Harbor.

It must be understood that these new Arrington photos represent images that have only been published once before and that occasion occurred when I included them in an illustrated article that I wrote for the Historical Society of Riverton’s website back in May of 2021.  We are indebted to photographer Harlow Simpson for being there on that Stone Harbor beach capturing a history-making late summer event in 1912.  As an aside, it is also important to note that Harlow’s father Edward and his uncle, Howard A. Simpson, had a joint business venture in Stone Harbor and also maintained summer homes there in the summer of 1912.

The next array of photos show pilot Marshall Reid’s aircraft approaching and coming in for a landing right on the beach at Stone Harbor.  Magnifying one of the photos reveals that there are two occupants on the plane and the individual on the right appears to be a female passenger.  The literature does confirm that aviator Reid did in fact occasionally take paying passengers, including women, up for short scenic flights at Stone Harbor.  Imagine what a thrill it must have been for those few lucky passengers to take to the skies for such a memorable first flight.  Such moments would undoubtedly serve as an experience that they surely would never forget in their lifetimes.  Furthermore it is important to remember this was 1912 and that man’s first powered flights had only less than 9 years earlier occurred in December of 1903 at a place called Kitty Hawk, N.C.  Therefore in the summer of 1912 aviation was still very much in its infancy.

At this point the reader might want to know just what type of aeroplane Marshall Reid was flying and how it became associated with this special air mail service at Stone Harbor.  Pilot Reid owned a 1911 model Wright ‘pusher type’ two-winged aircraft often referred to as a biplane.  Interestingly, this two-person plane was driven by two propellers that were connected to a single engine with nothing more than heavy-duty bicycle chains.  Unlike most planes we are accustomed to seeing and flying on today,  1912-era airplanes had no fuselage or enclosed cabin whatsoever, no instruments or any navigational or communication aids and essentially consisted primarily of two oversized glider wings with two wicker seats.  The pilot and passenger were completely exposed to the air, the elements and all weather conditions.  The plane had a wingspan of forty-five feet and when unoccupied weighed about 600 pounds.  The actual craft itself cost Reid $5,000 which was then a hefty amount and the engine was alone was worth $2,000.  And yes, this aircraft was built by the famous brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio.

So just how did a young pilot enter the picture and become an integral part of our Stone Harbor narrative?  I have discovered two sources that claim that in order to pump up interest and generate sales in the South Jersey Realty Company’s campaign to sell lots or parcels of land for development in Stone Harbor, the Risley brothers in the summer of 1912 turned to the infant aviation industry as a means of promoting and drawing greater attention to their “new” Stone Harbor.  The enterprising and perhaps farsighted Risley’s engaged the services of an intrepid pilot associated with the Aero Club of Pennsylvania by the name of Marshall Earl Reid.  They agreed to pay the aviator the sum of $1,500 a week for his services which included flying his plane.  Once all parties reached an agreement, pilot Reid along with three mechanics disassembled his airplane and hauled it on a trailer by automobile from Philadelphia, across the Delaware River to Camden, N.J. by ferry boat and resumed travel to Ocean City by way of Atlantic City.  Upon reaching Ocean City, they established their headquarters at the well known Hotel Normandie.  The mechanics removed the pontoons and substituted wheels and skids which were more suitable for take-offs and landings on the wide sandy beaches characteristic of the Jersey shore.  Shortly after his arrival pilot Reid was duly sworn in as a U.S. mail carrier and the Post Office Department formally authorized him to fly the U.S. mail between Ocean City and Stone Harbor from Saturday, August 3 to Saturday, August 10, 1912.  This particular pioneer air mail route was assigned number 609,003.  

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, August 3, 1912 and with considerable fanfare, a special courier delivered a bag loaded with mail that had been postmarked earlier that day at the Ocean City Post Office to be carried on board the very first sanctioned airmail flight to Stone Harbor.  Pilot Marshall Reid fastened the bag of mail to his plane and took off at 5:45pm.  Flying along the shoreline, we understand that Reid and his mechanic maintained an altitude of about 150 feet and progressed southward past resort communities including Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon and finally to Stone Harbor.  The aircraft landed on the beach at the Yachtsmen’s Club at Stone Harbor at 6:14pm covering the 19 mile distance in some 29 minutes.  Reid dropped off his bag of mail, inspected his aircraft and within just minutes he received another bag of mail from the Stone Harbor Postmaster and then flew back northward where that pouch of mail was offloaded upon receipt at Ocean City.

Marshall Reid also made four round trips from Stone Harbor carrying only passengers on the next day, Sunday, August 4.  As best as can be determined, the special mail flights were only conducted from Ocean City on August 3, 5, 9 and 10 and from Stone Harbor on August 3, 7 and 9.  We also understand that the weather that week definitely limited the number of mail carrying flights thus accounting for the erratic schedule of dates that mail was actually flown.  In the four trips from Ocean City that week it was reported that Marshall Reid transported 11,456 pieces of this so-called “souvenir” mail and on the three trips from Stone Harbor he is known to have carried just 1,059 pieces of mail.  Most of the mail flown on these particular flights were picture post cards that bore a 1-cent postage stamp as that was the domestic postage rate for post cards at that time.  Sealed letters or envelopes mailed in 1912 however required 2-cents pre-paid postage.  Please bear in mind that at that time there was no actual designated classification for an air mail postage rate in effect until it would be introduced 8 years later in May of 1918 when the U.S. Post Office Department inaugurated regularly scheduled air mail service between the cities of Washington, D.C. – Philadelphia – New York City. 

In addition, all mail actually flown on these special Ocean City – Stone Harbor designated flights received properly dated official postmarks and backstamps from each of the two towns along with a hand-written or even printed  notations stating “VIA AEROPLANE MAIL” or “VIA AIRPLANE.”  The grand total of mail flown was reported to be considerable – 12,615 pieces.  On the very last trip from Ocean City pilot Reid carried over 5,000 pieces of mail.  So you can see just how much interest this short-lived mail service really generated judging from the sheer volume of mail flown over that route just in the span of one week. 

While sending mail by air in 1912 was such an unusual and novel idea, this concept did indeed capture the interest and attention of many people not just in South Jersey but all across the country.  Yet we do know that there are very few of these flown air mail pieces that have actually survived and exist today.  Locating and acquiring one such specially flown item should it become available for sale on a certain popular internet website is indeed a rare find and today one will usually pay dearly for such an authenticated item and incur a cost easily of several hundreds of dollars or more which attests to their rarity.  Among collectors or so-called “aerophilatelists”, this premium collectible is without doubt a fine example of not only early U. S. air mail postal history but a little-known and interesting moment in time in the history and development of a seashore resort on Seven Mile Island called Stone Harbor.  Once more the Risley’s were able to successfully garner a lot of attention and put Stone Harbor in the spotlight again. 

The next two images show both sides of a remarkable and elusive vintage post card.  The first image shows the address/message side of the post card featuring a standard Ocean City, N.J.  postmark and was actually carried on board one of the four southbound flights and dated “AUG. 9 – 12 – —- PM” with six elongated straight killer bars in black ink.  How do we know this?  According to the authoritative book entitled “The Pioneer Airplane Mails of the United States” by Thomas J. O’Sullivan and published by the American Air Mail Society in 1985, it has been catalogued and determined that there are certain key characteristics regarding the manner in which such pieces of mail were given special philatelic treatment for this short-lived air mail flight service.  Close examination of the card illustrated here reveals a two-line cachet imprint in magenta ink was applied by hand noting ‘OCEAN CITY & STONE HARBOR / AERIAL U.S.MAIL SERVICE.”  This card also received a hand-written endorsement “Via Airplane.”  All these factors heretofore clearly serve to support the fact that this very post card is indeed authentic and can be certified as having been actually flown on one of those four August 9th, 1912 air mail flights originating at Ocean City and flown to Stone Harbor.

In addition, and just for the record, illustrated here is the picture side of this rare officially flown post card which bears the caption “Boardwalk and Beach, looking North from 8th St., Ocean City, N.J.”  As you can readily see this classic vintage image depicts well-dressed summer strollers on the ever popular Ocean City boardwalk skirting along the ocean surf, countless small shops, two pavilions or gazebos, a fishing pier jutting out into the ocean and even a sign advertising a local eatery known as the Tahoma Restaurant.

Moving on, and with the aid of magnification once again,  this next photo has been enhanced to enable the viewer to more easily note several important features: the large and recognizable ocean-front homes in the background; the small gathering of spectators and their attire on that late summer day; a cameraman holding his large camera mounted on a tripod; the entire aircraft in full frontal view; and someone, perhaps a passenger, seated on board the aircraft along side a seat for the pilot.  Without question, this is indeed a remarkable action photo and is a treasured addition to this historical website and this story.

The next photos presented here are very dramatic views literally capturing the speed and the aerodynamic moment of lift and movement of Reid’s airplane taking off from the beach and heading north back to Ocean City.  Perhaps the viewer can actually see what Jeffrey Arrington became so elated about.  Look very closely at that speeding plane.  Do you see something that might serve as an important clue?  Well Jeff did and what he saw prompted his search for background information and details about his intriguing and newly discovered family heirlooms.  Imagine his “eureka moment” when Jeffrey identified the word “MARSHALL” in bold capital letters that was emblazoned on the underside of the lower wing.  It would appear that pilot Reid was promoting and advertising himself by painting his last name in large capital letters on his plane for all to see.  I trust you will agree that the recognition and realization of this very plane became a real moment in history for Jeffrey and most notably that his own grandfather Harlow Simpson had captured that instant in time for future generations including us!  We are grateful for Jeffrey’s perseverance and his keen eyesight or surely this story would not have been made possible.

The last of Arrington’s photos is a charming view that depicts a group of young people spending a leisurely outing  at the Stone Harbor U.S. Life Saving Station circa 1909.  This building was Stone Harbor’s first life-saving station that was built in 1895.  The significance of this image is that the young woman standing in the back row on the far right side was photographer Harlow Simpson’s girlfriend  (at the age of perhaps 17 years old and who was later to become his wife in 1920) by the name of Linnie Kogelschatz (1892-1964).  She is the only person’s identify recorded and known who is depicted in this photograph and she, Linnie, would in time become Jeffrey Arrington’s maternal grandmother.  Also included at this point is a 100 year old post card featuring that very same United States Life Saving Station at Stone Harbor where in 1909 photographer Harlow Simpson snapped a picture of Linnie who would some years later become his wife.

The very last image displayed is a vintage 1912 era post card revealing a somewhat hard to discern view of Marshall Reid’s airplane in the distance alighting on the beach at Stone Harbor.  We are told that pioneer pilot Reid wore aviator goggles and once literally sat on a bag of mail in his rickety bucket seat just in front of the aircraft motor.

 

Well there you have it!  Our thanks for this fascinating new information and some of these accompanying photographic images go out to contributor Jeffrey Arrington.  It is my hope that readers of this post will understand that I have attempted to accomplish three things: (1) to focus not only on some of Jeffrey Arrington’s family members as they relate to Stone Harbor; (2) present some very old and recently discovered photographs pertaining to Stone Harbor; and (3) provide additional details to the unusual and fascinating story about the first air mail service in South Jersey in 1912 that included our beloved town of Stone Harbor.

 

I do hope you enjoy viewing all the relevant images assembled here.