Judy Blume (the prolific, best-selling author of adult and young adult books including Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret that I remember reading when I was a kid) just released her first book in 17 years which is set in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the 1950s. The backdrop for her new adult tale is a most unusual, real-life series of plane crashes that happened when she was growing up there that I’d never heard of.
Of course when I saw what In the Unlikely Event was about, I had to dig further–and there really were three deadly commercial airline crashes in this one town that occurred in less than 60 days! Unbelievable, but true!
1. Dec. 16, 1951: a Miami Airlines flight from Newark to Tampa crashed into a brick storage building, caught on fire and skidded into a river. All 56 people on board were killed and one person on the ground was hurt.
2. Jan. 22, 1952: American Airlines landing at Newark in a storm crashed into a row of homes in Elizabeth, killing all 23 on board (including former Secretary of War Robert Patterson) and seven people on the ground. The plane skimmed over the roof of an all-girl’s high school that had let out only an hour earlier and crashed a a block from a Catholic High School.
3. Feb. 11, 1952: National Airlines flight headed for Miami crashed into a four-story apartment building just after take-off when both engines failed. Twenty-nine of the 63 on board were killed, as were four people on the ground. Boys from a nearby orphanage pulled survivors out of the burning remains.
The mayor of Elizabeth called nearby Newark Airport an “umbrella of death” and many residents understandably called for it to be closed. The airport actually didn’t reopen until November when the airport opened a new runway that directed AWAY from Elizabeth. (good idea!)
And by the way, it’s no surprise, but Blume’s book is also hitting many of the summer recommended read lists. Way to go!