Scrapbooks chronicle early days of Scott Air Force Base

News-DemocratFebruary 8, 2014 

I seem to have become the repository for stuff that no one knows what else to do with.

The things I get make for interesting reading, like the three scrapbooks from 1917-19 with newspaper clippings about Scott Field collected by a young area woman.

"Property of Miss Esther Koch," is inscribed on each of the books.

They are an example of the fascinating journeys someone's personal property can take. They came to me from Robert Stroup, who owns apartments in Murphreesboro, Tenn.

He called to say they had found the books left in one of their apartments. He had tracked down the newspaper on the Internet and wanted to do something useful with the books.

Apparently the Belleville News-Democrat gave away the scrapbooks, possibly as a subscription premium.

"Clip and save the items which appear in the News Democrat and which are of particular interest to you," the scrapbooks advised on the covers.

Esther, who would become Mrs. Esther Fix in 1922 after marrying George Fix, apparently lived on a farm somewhere in the Scott Field (now Scott Air Force Base) area when the airfield was first built.

She wrote in the books about the leasing of land from surrounding farmers and construction work.

On April 13, 1918, she wrote about a plane landing on their farm. Another plane came soon with a mechanic who fixed the first plane, which then took off.

"My cousin was here just at the time and was left to guard the plane," she wrote. "He was home on a ten-day furlough from Camp Logan, Texas. He was Corp. Arthur Schmidt."

She also wrote about visits from some of the soldiers.

"They took several long hikes to surrounding towns. They went with big Army trucks to Belleville to get provisions and they would stop at our place to get warm when it was cold," she wrote.

But mostly the scrapbooks are filled with newspaper clippings from different papers. It was a time when newspapers referred to airplane "falls" not crashes.

From the clippings, it is easy to see that airplanes frequently didn't make it all the way to Scott before needing to land.

One story tells of two fliers who took off from Chanute Field in Rantoul, (later Chanute Air Force Base which now is closed) headed for San Antonio, Texas. They quickly became lost in the fog but managed to find St. Louis. They decided to land at Scott.

"After getting their bearings they ascended in Mitchell, Ill., mistaking the town for Belleville," the newspaper wrote.

That was no problem. They took off again and landed at Mascoutah, at least closer to their objective. They took off one more time and finally found Scott.

Also inside the books were a couple of incomplete copies of the Aero Foil, the Scott Field newspaper.

Another article shows how new and novel airplanes were in 1917.

"Freeburg was all excited on Thursday afternoon when an aeroplane swooped down on the city and alighted at the Central Hall," the clipping relates.

"Schools were quickly dismissed and everybody hurried to the center of interest. At 2:30 it was reported that nearly a thousand people were surrounding the machine and the operator."

Headlines in 1918 showed the jitters everyone had because of America's entry into World War I.

"German espionage of aviation school believed discovered," a headline screamed. "Flashes of lights, thought to be signals, cause doubling of guards, with orders to shoot to kill."

A clipping from the New Athens Journal also shows how Scott quickly became a part of everyday life.

"While Frank Blum's children were playing in the garden of Phillip Ruff, a neighbor, on Tuesday, they found a long piece of summer sausage, which, Frank says, he thinks was dropped from one of the aeroplanes as it passed over the premises last Thursday afternoon as he cannot account for the presence of the sausage in any other manner. Frank says the sausage was fresh, and that he and his family had some of it for supper, and he hopes more of it will come from the same source (in) these high-cost-of-living times."

Esther Fix died in 1981. The only survivor named in her obituary was a daughter, who then died in 1985.

Who knows how these books got to where they were. But now they are going to historians.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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