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Thanks to Bob Woodling for help researching this page.

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MARVEL WYNANT CROSSON

WENT OUT IN A PLANE

Marvel Crosson is signed once in the Registers of Delta Mike Airfield, Inc. She landed at Clover Field on Wednesday, August 14, 1929. She flew, apparently solo, an unidentified Travel Air, for which she was cited as owner. She recorded her destination as Cleveland, OH.

Indeed, for women, the National Air Races (NAR; August 24-September 4) of 1929 began at Santa Monica. The race that year traveled from Clover Field to Cleveland. It was the first year female pilots were allowed to compete in this premier Golden Age event. A photograph of the twenty female competitors and a route map are exhibited about half way down the page at the link. Below, from the St. Louis University Libraries Digital Collectons (SLU), is a photograph of Marvel Crosson dated 1929.

Marvel Crosson, Circa 1929 (Source: SLU)

The photo caption at the link states, "This woman appears to be Marvel Crosson, one of the aviators in the 1929 Women's Transcontinental Air Race. She was the only fatality of the Air Derby. The aircraft behind her appears to be a Ryan Brougham. This picture was very possibly taken as a result of her attempt to break the altitude record (c. 1929)." The article further below, from The New York Times of August 21, 1929, speaks to this altitude record. Note her skirt (see below).

"By dark, 16 race planes had landed in Phoenix. All the missing airplanes were accounted for, except Marvel Crosson.

"Marvel and her brother Joe had fallen to airplane addiction as kids. They bought a $150 wrecked Curtiss seaplane, put wheels on it with junkyard parts, installed an old OX-5 engine and then actually flew the beast. They barnstormed together, then sought their fortune in Alaska, where they became prominent .members of the pioneer aviation community.

"Marvel was an experienced pilot and had flown the entire course prior to the race, yet her Travel Air was found demolished in the mesquite jungle in the Gila River Valley. Her body bad been thrown from the airplane. Apparently, she had suffered from the same carbon monoxide which had almost downed Louise Thaden enroute to the start of the race."

 

Crosson's landing at Santa Monica preceded the start of the women's race by ten days. Two other women, Blanche Noyes and Edith Foltz, landed within a few days of Crosson (Noyes ultimately placed 4th in the Race, behind Amelia Earhart in 3rd). As well, other male competitors filtered in over a week or so and signed the Register.

A number of books have either been specifically written, or refer to, the women's race. The book featured at the link had this to say about the women's race, left. Crosson's arrival at Santa Monica was probably at the end of her flight over the race course. Her brother, Joe Crosson, is mentioned. He signed the Davis-Monthan Register and his biography, with photographs, is featured at the link.

The New York Times, August 20, 1929 (Source: NYT)
The New York Times, August 20, 1929 (Source: NYT)

 

 

 

 

The New York Times of August 20, 1929 headlined, "Woman Derby Flier is Lost in Arizona." Part of that article is at right, describing her as missing before she or her airplane were found. It also reports missing a pilot who was accompanying the female Derby eastward, and who allegedly saw Marvel's airplane crash.

At Race end, at Cleveland, nine women of the starting group finished the Race and collected prize money in two different race categories based on the engine displacement of their aircraft. Marvel was the only casualty of the NAR that year.

Below is a photograph of Marvel and her brother Joe, location unknown. The license plate is from California, 1928 or '29 (hard to read). The spare tire is a "Balloon" tire, easily readable on the sidewall in the original image. Notice her skirt, which appears to be the same one she wore in the photo above. Her coat, shoes and accessories are different between the two images, suggesting they were taken on different days.

Marvel Crosson With Brother Joe, Ca. 1929 (Source: NASM)

 

 

 

 

 

Below, excerpted from The New York Times of August 21, 1929, a couple of paragraphs that describe the aftermath of Marvel Crosson's accident.

 

The New York Times, August 21, 1929 (Source: NYT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biographical information in the article, titled, "Miss Crosson Dies in Fall. Evidently Leaped at Low Elevation, Parachute Failing to Open," summarizes her qualifications as a Derby participant. Other than Phoebe Omlie, she probably had more experience than any other of the female pilots.

Marvel Crosson, Obituary, The New York Times, August 25, 1929 (Source: NYT)

 

 

This same article detailed the suspicions that she, Walter Beech (manufacturer of her Travel Air) and the other female pilots had that sabotage might have played a role in her accident, as well as the problems other female aviators had with engine operation and airframe failures.

For example, Claire Fahy, and her husband Hub Fahy, suspected that broken structural wires on her airplane were the result of someone applying acid to the wires. To my knowledge no one was ever accused of sabotage. The incidents did force race officials to increase security around all participants' aircraft during overnight pauses at all interim stops. No other suspicious incidents occurred.

Marvel Crosson's simple obituary, above left, appeared in The New York Times of August 25, 1929. Her colleagues in the NAR nearing Cleveland were surely thinking about her. A vacant chair represented her at the banquet for aviators in Cleveland.

Born April 27, 1900, Marvel Crosson died August 19, 1929. She has a modest Web presence. More biographical information for Marvel and her brother is at the link. She has a nicely written memorial at the Find-a-Grave Web site at the link. She was admitted to the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame in 2011.

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