Friday, July 15, 2005

Gram and Mr. Lindbergh

I blame my grandmother for my tendencies to hoard the little crumbs of history that have come my way. My gram, Emma Ethel Hentschel, was legally blind from the age of 35. Born in 1889, she lived to be 100. Her visits to my house to stay with her daughter, my mother, for a few months each year enriched my life as I unconsciously adopted her memories of the past.

As a kid I just saw her as my Gram, someone who was a nice to have around, someone who was real annoying as she competed with me for my mom's attention, someone who could be counted on to have peppermints in her purse, someone I could read to and know she really enjoyed my efforts, and someone who kept saying to me as she gave me some "treasure" wrapped in newspaper,"Here, this is for you as you are the only one who will appreciate it. If you don't want it, throw it out.".

OK...was I the "only" one...or did she make me the only one?



Here is the story that goes with this beaded necklace...

Jerry Van Wagner was a mechanic for Charles Lindbergh. He worked on the Spirit of St. Louis. Sometime or another Jerry went to Chile and opened the first Ford dealership there! He sent back to Gram this necklace plus a little knit Andean looking doll (which is around here somewhere..).

When I was in my 20s I took drive one day with Gram and Mom which took us through Flemington where the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial was held. My grandmother was very interested as we saw the hotel where the trial was held. I don't know if that information is correct...why would a trial be in a hotel? But that is what I remember.




(photo of Lindbergh with a mechanic: DN-0084856, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.)



For those of you way to young to know what I am talking about go here.














Here is more info that came from correspondence from this blog.  It may help others, so here it is.
Dear Emma,
I am a genealogist and the great niece of Jerry Van Wagner who was
featured in your blog, "Gram and Lindbergh." Really enjoyed it and your
grandmother sounded like a wonderful lady. But I am very curious as to how
she might have known my Uncle. He was the mechanic who gave Lindbergh the
"go ahead" to leave the field that day--he worked for Curtiss-Wright. Do you
have any clues at all as to how Jerry came to know your grandmother??
Anything would be helpful in piecing together our family history--even as to
when he sent her the Chilean items. I think he is the mechanic pictured on
your site with Lindbergh's plane.
--
Dear Emma,
Thanks for replying so quickly!!! I have other stories I could tell you about Jerry who was a test pilot as well as mechanic; who almost went on the Titanic; who helped make early films with Hearst. But first--it is so ironic you mention Van Wicklen, my great-great grandmother was a Van Wicklen but this does not help us as it was on my Grandfather Baker's side. He would have been Jerry's brother in law but I don't think Jerry knew him that well. However, both Van Wicklens and Hortons lived in the next town, East Norwich, and some may have lived in Locust Valley where Jerry grew up (I'll try to check on this and will check the genealogy site you mentioned).  Hostetter also sounds a bit familiar. Do you know where your Grandma was born or grew up???? Was it on Long Island, NY?? Perhaps she lived near Roosevelt/or Curtiss Fields? Did she have an interest in aviation in general? I do not really know of the dealership in Chile but I do know that what you stated is true, having heard it in passing. He also ran a factory for Curtiss-Wright airplane manufacturers down in Chile, which is why he went down there. Stayed for years and years and died there in 1964. This gets stranger and stranger as a relative of Jerry's first wife, Greta Peterson, recently contacted me after seeing the Van Wagner genealogy on line. It was he who pointed out your site to me--I hadn't seen it before. My Mom put Jerry on the honor roll of early aviation pioneers at the Cradle of Aviation museum here on Long Island. John Peterson, Greta's relative, says they found an old "altimeter" that is supposed to be from the Spirit of St. Louis in a family trunk. Then the items he sent your Gram show up on your blog!!!  Seems like Jerry left pieces of himself all over. He had a daughter, Little Greta, with his first wife who we know nothing about so John Peterson and I have combined forces to try and find out about her. We believe she passed away in 1991 but think she may have had children with a man named Harrison. Anyway the whole thing is fascinatiing. I'll check out that genealogy site and check some old photos of neighbors to see if any of the names you have are there---let me know where your Gram grew up if you can. Jerry also worked upstate near Buffalo I think for Curtiss-Wright.
L. B.
Oyster Bay, NY

1 comment:

linda bruder said...

Dear Emma,
I am a genealogist and the great niece of Jerry Van Wagner who was featured in your blog, "Gram and Lindbergh." Really enjoyed it and your grandmother sounded like a wonderful lady. But I am very curious as to how she might have known my Uncle. He was the mechanic who gave Lindbergh the "go ahead" to leave the field that day--he worked for Curtiss-Wright. Do you have any clues at all as to how Jerry came to know your grandmother?? Anything would be helpful in piecing together our family history--even as to when he sent her the Chilean items. I think he is the mechanic pictured on your site with Lindbergh's plane.
Linda Bruder
lmbruder@hotmail.com