The Airport Movies

When selecting a topic for Mystery Monday, I look at several sources for ideas. Those early posts, such as D. B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart, and the Marfa Lights are mysteries that have intrigued me for years.

Other times, I’ve found fascinating stories from reading a news article. Often the most interesting topics come from the most unlikely places, but I can say with certainty I never expected to find an idea on the Internet Movie Database. This post, like the story of Colonel Archibald Gracie or Robert Lincoln, is most definitely a strange coincidence.

Those of you who are old enough are likely to remember the series of Airport movies from the 1970s. There were four in all—the original Airport (1970), Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concord…Airport ’79.

Each film had one thing in common—a commercial jet carrying a large number of passengers meets with some type of disaster and there is a race against time (and the elements) to save the lives of those onboard.

Despite critical reviews, the films landed some pretty big stars. Among them are Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Olivia de Havilland, Christopher Lee, Cicely Tyson, and George Kennedy. (Kennedy was the only actor to play in all four movies).

Though the stories are a little outlandish, I enjoyed watching them. Then again, I’m also intrigued by the show Air Disasters. (Weird, I know.) Several weeks ago, my husband and I watched the first two Airport movies. I wanted to look up something on IMDB and clicked on the trivia section for Airport ’77. There, I came across a bizarre bit of “trivia” involving the aircraft used in the films.

A Boeing 707 was used in the original Airport. Universal Pictures leased the jet from Flying Tiger Airlines (now merged with Fed-Ex) for the filming of external shots. The plane was returned to Flying Tiger and was later sold, going through various owners. On March 21, 1989, the 707 crashed on a landing approach in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

A Boeing 707. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia

In Airport 1975, a Beechcraft Baron had a mid-air collision with a 747. This caused damage to the airliner’s cockpit, resulted in the death of the co-pilot, and seriously injured the pilot.

It seems this small plane was destined for a disastrous ending. On August 24, 1989, it was destroyed due to a (you guessed it) mid-air collision with a Cessna 180 over Tracy, California.

The cockpit of a 747 at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

The Concorde…Airport ’79 was the last film of the series. At the beginning of the film, the Concorde takes off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and lands at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.

On the return trip to Paris, then later to Moscow, the plane has to dodge a series of attacks that result in damage to the fuselage.

An Air France Concorde on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia
Flight 4590 on its final take-off (Fair Use)

On July 25, 2000, the Air France Concorde used in the film departed Charles de Gaulle Airport as Flight 4590, bound for the United States. (Ironic?) This time the destination was JFK International in New York. Upon takeoff, the plane ran over a piece of debris on the runway. This caused a tire to blow, throwing chunks of rubber into the underside of the left wing and landing gear. A built-in full fuel tank ruptured, causing a fire.

The extensive damage made it impossible for the pilot to control the supersonic jet. It crashed, killing all 109 people on board as well as four on the ground. This tragedy was the beginning of the end for the Concorde.

Of the four movies, the aircraft used in Airport ’77 was the only one to escape a real-life disaster.

Bizarre? Strange coincidence? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

US Presidents #MysteryMonday

Hey, everyone. My Mystery Monday posts have been sparse this year, and now that the book tours for House of Sorrow and Cold Dark Night are over, I thought it was a good time to revise this monthly series.

Last Sunday was Independence Day, and America celebrated its two hundred forty-fifth birthday. Since the official holiday was on Monday, July 5, I decided to delay this post a week.

A few of my past Mystery Monday posts are what I call “strange coincidences.” I think this one fits that category.

“Thomas Jefferson survives.” It’s rumored those words were among the last of our second president, John Adams, as he lay on his deathbed in Quincy, Massachusetts. However, unknown to Adams, Thomas Jefferson died hours earlier at his Monticello home in Virginia.

Some might not think the deaths of our second and third presidents on the same day to be unusual. However, it only happened once in history. Not only that, Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, American’s fiftieth birthday.

As both men signed the Declaration of Independence, it seems almost fitting they would die on the anniversary of the approval of the document.

In the weeks that followed, many Americans thought the deaths went beyond coincidence. Representative Daniel Webster of Massachusetts delivered a eulogy that suggested the deaths were a sign that God was protecting our nation.

Another theory is both men willed themselves to hold on to life until that important date. However, when our fifth president, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831, many agreed there was a religious significance.

James Monroe was a teenager who dropped out of college in 1776 to fight in the Revolution, enlisting in the 3rd Virginia Regiment. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Many historians consider Monroe the last president from the Founding Fathers.

In 2005, historian Margaret P. Batten suggested six possibilities regarding the deaths.

  • Coincidence.
  • Devine intervention.
  • “Hanging on” to life to ensure they died on July 4.
  • Caused to die at the hand of others. (Like today, there were also conspiracy theories in those early years of our country.)
  • Allowing oneself to die.
  • Causing oneself to die.

While three presidents have died on Independence Day, only one was born on this date. Calvin Coolidge, the twenty-ninth president, was born July 4, 1872.

What do you think? Coincidence? Conspiracy? Devine intervention? Something else? Please share in the comments.

Hank Williams and Johnny Horton #MysteryMonday

Hey, SE Readers. Welcome to 2021. I think we’re all hoping this will be a better year than the last one, but as a friend said a few weeks ago, “I’m not agreeing to anything until I see some terms and conditions.” Like it or not, 2021 is here. And as for 2020, all I can say is “Good riddance.”

It’s Monday, so I’m starting the New Year with a Mystery Monday post. Today’s feature not only has to do with my home state, but it’s also one of those “strange coincidences.” I posted a couple of stories last year about Robert Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, and Archibald Gracie, one of the survivors of the Titanic disaster. If you haven’t read those, just click on the links. But now, here’s today’s post.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Austin’s Skyline Club was one of the hottest venues in Texas. Among the celebrities who performed there were country music stars Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Bob Wills, and many others. Elvis Presley played the club in 1955.

Hank Williams in 1951 (Public Domain)

But on December 19, 1952, the legendary Hank Williams Sr. was scheduled to appear on stage. He was, at that time, the biggest name in country music. Hank had a habit of not showing up for concerts, or sometimes showing up drunk, but on that night, he played to a packed house of over 800 people.

Although he wasn’t completely sober, Williams’ performance was tops, and he played for around three hours.

Days later, he was riding in the back seat of a baby-blue Cadillac on his way to a show in Detroit, Michigan. Somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, Hank Williams Sr. died of heart failure at the age of twenty-nine. He was pronounced dead on January 1, 1953.

At the time of his death, Hank was married to a woman named Billie Jean Jones. They had wed only two months earlier. Some said Billie Jean was at Hank’s last performance and that he kissed her goodbye before leaving.

Johnny Horton was another popular country music star of the 1950s. His first hit, “Honky Tonk Man,” peaked the charts at #9 in 1956. In 1960, Horton recorded the song, “North to Alaska,” for the John Wayne film by the same name.

Creative Commons Photo by Billy Hathorn

Horton claimed to have a premonition about his death, telling family members his demise would be somewhat eerie. Johnny was scheduled to play at Austin’s Skyline Club in early November 1960.

From all accounts, he had a bad feeling about performing at the club and even tried to cancel. He believed a wild drunk in the audience would kill him. However, his premonition didn’t come true.

Horton finished the performance, kissed his wife goodbye, and left in a car with his bass player and manager. They were on their way to Shreveport, Louisiana. On a bridge just outside Milano, Texas, a drunk driver hit his car head-on. Johnny died in route to the hospital on November 5, 1960. Horton’s premonition about dying at the hands of a drunk came true.

Two legendary stars. Two deaths. Both made their last appearance at the Skyline Club. But it gets even more bazaar. Care to guess the name of Johnny Horton’s wife?

Billie Jean Jones, the widow of Hank Williams Sr.

Archibald Gracie #MysteryMonday

Hey, everyone. I think we’re long overdue for a Mystery Monday post. You may remember my post, Strange Coincidences, where I recount events in the life of Robert Lincoln, son of our sixteenth president. I’ll let you decide if you think today’s story is another strange coincidence.

The RMS Titanic as it sailed from Southhampton, England on April 10, 1912. (Public Domain)

I’ve always been fascinated with the Titanic. The luxury ocean liner sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. I vividly recall when Dr. Robert Ballard and his crew located the wreckage in 1985. Over the years, I eagerly sought information about the ship, the passengers, and survivors.

A few years ago, I happened across a book titled Titanic Voices: 63 Survivors Tell Their Extraordinary Stories by Hannah Holman. Ms. Holman used excerpts from newspaper articles, testimonies before the British Board of Inquiry, and other sources. In some cases, survivors wrote books about their experiences.

There are several fascinating stories, but the account of first-class passenger Archibald Gracie intrigued me the most.

Archibald Gracie (Public Domain)

Gracie was an amateur historian who had published a book about the American Civil War. He was returning to the US after visiting Europe to rest and recuperate from a recent illness. His book, The Truth About the Titanic, gives his account of events leading up to that fateful night and his surviving the incident.

I think Mr. Gracie is best suited to tell his story, so I will post excerpts from his book. In this first part, he writes about his events on the morning of April 14, 1912.

One of the characters of the ship, best known to us all, was the gymnasium instructor, T. W. McCawley. He, also, expected me to make my first appearance for real good exercise on the morrow, but alas, he, too, was swallowed up by the sea. How well we survivors all remember this sturdy little man in white flannels and with his broad English accent!

With what tireless enthusiasm he showed us the many mechanical devices under his charge and urged us to take advantage of the opportunity of using them, going through the motions of bicycle racing, rowing, boxing, camel and horseback riding, etc.  Such was my morning’s preparation for the unforeseen physical exertions I was compelled to put forth for dear life at midnight, a few hours later. Could any better training for the terrible ordeal have been planned?

The exercise and the swim gave me an appetite for a hearty breakfast. Then followed the church service in the dining saloon, and I remember how much I was impressed with the ‘Prayer for those at Sea.’

The bow of the sunken Titanic, photographed in June 2004. (Public Domain)

Mr. Gracie was among the last passengers to escape the sinking ship when Lifeboat B floated off the port side at 2:15 a.m. Before this time, he helped other survivors into various lifeboats. What follows is his account of the sinking:

My holding on to the iron railing just when I did, prevented my being knocked unconscious. I pulled myself over on the roof on my stomach, but before I could get to my feet I was in a whirlpool of water, swirling round and round, as I still tried to cling to the railing as the ship plunged to the depths below. Down, down, I went: it seemed a great distance. There was a very noticeable pressure upon my ears, though there must have been plenty of air that the ship carried down with it.

When underwater I retained, as it appears, a sense of general direction, and, as soon as I could do so, swam away from the starboard side of the ship, as I knew my life depended upon it. I swam with all my strength, and I seemed endowed with an extra supply for the occasion.

My being drawn down by suction to a greater depth was undoubtedly checked to some degree by the life-preserver which I wore, but it is to the buoyancy of the water, caused by the volume of air rising from the sinking ship, that I attributed the assistance which enabled me to strike out and swim faster and further underwater than I ever did before. I held my breath for what seemed an interminable time until I could scarcely stand it any longer, but I congratulated myself then and there that not one drop of sea-water was allowed to enter my mouth.

With renewed determination and set jaws, I swam on. Just at the moment I thought that for lack of breath I would have to give in, I seemed to have been provided with a second wind, and it was just then that the thought that this was my last moment came upon me. I wanted to convey the news of how I died to my loved ones at home.

As I swam beneath the surface of the ocean, I prayed that my spirit could go to them and say, ‘Goodbye, until we meet again in heaven.’ In this connection, the thought was in my mind of a well-authenticated experience of mental telepathy that occurred to a member of my wife’s family. Here in my case was a similar experience of a shipwrecked loved one, and I thought if I prayed hard enough that this, my last wish to communicate with my wife and daughter, might be granted.

I can’t imagine what was going through this man’s mind, believing he would die. But, let’s read on.

To what extent my prayer was answered let Mrs. Gracie describe in her own written words, as follows:

‘I was in my room at my sister’s house, where I was visiting, in New York. After retiring, being unable to rest I questioned myself several times over, wondering what it was that prevented the customary long and peaceful slumber, lately enjoyed. “What is the matter?” I uttered. A voice in reply seemed to say, “On your knees and pray.” Instantly, I literally obeyed with my prayer book in my hand, which by chance opened at the prayer “For those at Sea.”

Coincidence? Or other strong forces at work?

The gravestone of Archibald Gracie (Creative Commons Photo)

Mr. Gracie, like the other surviving passengers, was picked up by the Carpathia. Sadly, he didn’t fully recover from his ordeal and died on December 4, 1912. His book, published posthumously in 1913, is one of the most important sources of information from the survivors.

Strange Coincidences #MysteryMonday

Hey everyone. Today’s Mystery Monday post is a bit different. This is the first post regarding strange coincidences. I plan to write a few of them now and then. After all, coincidences are often mysterious.

Robert Todd Lincoln (Public Domain)

A few weeks ago, when I posted about Lincoln’s ghost, I was reminded of a story about his son, Robert Todd Lincoln. I had always wondered if what I’d heard was true, so I decided to check it out. Turns out it was.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the eldest son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. He was born in 1843 and died in 1926. Robert was the only one of Lincoln’s four sons to live to adulthood. The others, Edward, Willie, and Thomas all died due to illness.

Unlike the others, Robert didn’t have a close relationship with his father. Late in his life, he wrote, “During my childhood and early youth he was almost constantly away from home, attending courts or making political speeches. In 1859, when I was 16 … I went to New Hampshire to school and afterward to Harvard College, and he became president. Henceforth any great intimacy between us became impossible. I scarcely even had 10 minutes quiet talk with him during his presidency, on account of his constant devotion to business.”

Robert attended Harvard Law but joined the Union Army late in the war, commissioned in the rank of captain. After his father’s death, he moved to Chicago, where he opened a law firm. He became quite successful by the 1870s.

Although he remained close to politics, he didn’t have the same aspirations as his father. He turned down President Rutherford B. Hayes’s offer to serve as Secretary of State but later accepted President James Garfield’s appointment as Secretary of War. Lincoln served in this capacity from 1881 – 1885. He also served as minister to Great Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Robert turned down an offer to accompany his parents to Ford’s Theater. After learning about his father’s assassination, he rushed to Peterson House and was present at his father’s deathbed.

On July 2, 1881, Lincoln was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., when Charles G. Guiteau shot President James Garfield. Robert was an eyewitness to the event.

On September 6, 1901, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when President William McKinley was assassinated. Although he was not an eyewitness, he was outside the building where the shooting occurred.

In our nation’s history, only four presidents have been assassinated. Was it coincidence Robert Lincoln was present at three of them? He later refused to attend presidential functions, believing he brought bad luck.

In another strange coincidence, before his father’s murder, Lincoln was saved from possible death or serious injury on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. The person who saved him? Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.