Apr 07 2015

Mystery Friday Foto #14 Solved:Clarence D. Chamberlin Taking Off from Stewart Avenue in 1928

Bill Bellmer really challenged you with this Mystery Foto from the Garden City Archives.

New hint added on Friday night.

Mystery Foto questions:

  • Identify the road in which the airplane took off and later landed! Hint: It is not the Long Island Motor Parkway.

Looking east, the road was Stewart Avenue in (East) Garden City.

  • Identify the bridge seen in the background.

The "Roosevelt Field" Motor Parkway Bridge.

  • Identify the airplane. Hint: It was made on Long Island.

This early Sperry Messenger (circa 1920)  was built by the Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company in its Farmingdale plant. Between 1920 and 1926, Sperry built approximately 50 Messengers and the civilian two-seat version, the Sport Plane.

  • Identify the pilot of the airplane. Hint: Several months before this flight, he was the first person to fly across the Atlantic with a passenger. Second Hint: The pilot was a rival to Charles Lindbergh for the Orteig Prize.

Clarence Duncan Chamberlin (1893-1976) was an  American pioneer in aviation. Only two weeks after Lindbergh's historic flight in 1927 and delayed by a legal suit, he was the second man to pilot a fixed wing aircraft (a Wright-pwered Bellanca) over the Atlantic, while carrying the first transatlantic passenger (the airplane's owner Charles Levine). By the time Chamberlin  and Levine ran out of gas near Berlin, Germany, the Bellanca had flown a record 3,911 miles.

  • Bonus: Identify the date of the photo and the reason for this unusal flight.

The photo was taken on January 23, 1928 as a publicity stunt for Chamberlin who was beginning a 30,000-mile lecture and air tour of the United States. 

Congrats to Tim Ivers, Greg O. (see Greg's Gatherings), Brian McCarthy, Steve Luca (see Lucas' Learnings), Art Kleiner (see Kleiner's Korner), Sam Berliner III, and Gary Hammond for identifying Clarence D. Chamberlin. Kudos to Tim Ivers, Greg O., Brian McCarthy, Art Kleiner, and Gary Hammond for correctly identifying the Roosevelt Field Motor Parkway Bridge. Super kudos to Greg O., Art Kleiner and Gary Hammond for discovering the reason for the unusal take off from Stewart Avenue.

Thanks Bill for a wonderful Mystery Foto!


Howard Kroplick


The Sperry Messenger

The Roosevelt Field Motor Parkway Bridge

Stewart Avenue looking east.

Clarence D. Chamberlin

Waiting for the weather to clear in May 1927, the three rivals for the first transatlantic flight meet; (left to right: Charles Lindbergh, Commander Richard Byrd and Clarence Chamberlin).

Fly First & Fight Afterward: The Life of Col. Clarence D. Chamberlin Official Trailer

Lucas' Learnings (Submitted by Steve Lucas)

This is certainly the photographer of our Mystery Foto. Courtesy of the New York Daily News Archives.

Greg's Gatherings (Submitted by Greg O.)

The New York Times, January 24, 1928

Then: Stewart Avenue-1928

Now: Stewart Avenue-2015

Kleiner's Korner (Submitted by Art Kleiner)

The Pittsburgh Press, January 23, 1928

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 23, 1928

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 24, 1928


Apr 03 2015 Michael LaBarbera 10:06 AM

I can only guess that it is a road running perpendicular (possibly taking off north due to the shadows) to the motor parkway, and the bridge is definitely a Motor Parkway bridge. An old doctor at the hospital i work at told me that when he was a kid in Lake Success, Planes used to take off and land on open roads and fields if they had a problem. His father was a mechanic and him and his son would help the pilot and get the plane back up to the air.  This could be anywhere but since its from the Garden City Archives I would guess this is in Nassau County where a road runs north roughly 90 degrees looking south to the Motor Parkway, and the shadows being short may suggest early afternoon.

Apr 03 2015 Tim Ivers 9:33 PM

View is looking east down Stewart Avenue in Garden City in 1928.
Clarence Chamberlin was giving it a test run after hauling it out of the possible scrap heap at the Curtiss factory down the read.  The plane, a Sperry Messenger, 20 HP with a 20 foot wing span, took off and landed successfully on Stewart Avenue and was taken over to Roosevelt Field where Chamberlain took for for an engagement in Pennsylvania..
The bridge in the photo is the LIMP bridge to Roosevelt Field over the LIMP.

Apr 04 2015 Greg O. 12:09 PM

Great photo!

Identify the road in which the airplane took off and later landed!
Taking off heading West on Stewart Ave. Garden City

Identify the bridge seen in the background.
Roosevelt Field LIMP bridge

Identify the airplane.
Sperry Messenger plane

Identify the pilot of the airplane.
Clarence Duncan Chamberlin (November 11, 1893 – October 30/31, 1976)

Bonus: Identify the date of the photo and the reason for this unusal flight.
January 26 1928 The photo was dated but I can’t seem to find the definitive purpose of the flight. Maybe Chamberlin was testing the Sperry for the army along Mitchel on Stewart. Still searching…

Apr 04 2015 Greg O. 1:52 PM

I need to revise my previous answer. I found the NY Times article from Jan. 24 1928, dating the photo at Jan 23rd of Chamberlin beginning a 30,000-mile lecture and air tour.

Apr 04 2015 brian d mccarthy 9:52 PM

Happy Easter everyone!  It’s Saturday night, and refuse to do anymore research on this during Easter and afterwards( Vacation). Here is my best guess:

What LI rd did biplane take off/land on? Facing east on Stewart Ave.

Bridge in background? Roosevelt Field Motor Pkwy bridge. LIMP is running east and west underneath. Connecting rd south to Stewart Ave, and north into Roosevelt Field.

Identify airplane? Not sure what make. Biplane, could be a Curtiss training type.

Identify pilot? I’m going to say Clarence Chamberlin. He’s the first pilot to make a transatlantic flight with PASSENGER ( Charles A Levine). They performed this flight on 6/4/1927, departure from Roosevelt Field. It was about 2 weeks after Mr. Lindberghs transatlantic SOLO flight. Mr. Lindbergh won the Orteig prize. Mr. Chamberlin also wanted to win the prize, but Mr. Levine cancelled out Mr. Bertaud as Mr. Chamberlins co-pilot. A court injuction disallowed their airplane to fly ( Wright-Bellanca WB-2). So, Mr. Lindbergh was next in line.

Mystery photo date and purpose of flight? My best guess is fall or early winter ( several months after Mr. Chamberlins/Mr. Levines own transatlantic flight, looks to be those seasons anyway). Noone would usually utilize a main rd for take offs or landings, maybe this was for publicity.

Apr 04 2015 Steve Lucas 10:35 PM

That’s Clarence Chamberlain in his Sperry “Messenger” aeroplane taking off from Clinton Road in Garden City, next to Curtiss Field. (Not sure why he didn’t use the airport) The date is January 24, 1928 and Chamberlain was on his way to Allentown, PA for the start of a 30,000 mile air / lecture tour. The plane was one of about 50 Messengers built by Sperry at their Farmingdale plant between 1920 and 1926. Chamberlain’s plane was an early version and was about 8 years old at the time. The bridge in the background is probably the LIMP going over the LIRR mainline just north of Old Country Road.

Apr 05 2015 Art Kleiner 12:16 AM

Identify the road in which the airplane took off and later landed! Hint: It is not the Long Island Motor Parkway. - Stewart Avenue, Garden City

Identify the bridge seen in the background. - Roosevelt Field Motor Parkway Bridge

Identify the airplane. Hint: It was made on Long Island. - Sperry Messenger made in Farmingdale. 

Identify the pilot of the airplane. Hint: Several months before this flight, he was the first person to fly across the Atlantic with a passenger. Second Hint: The pilot was a rival to Charles Lindbergh for the Orteig Prize. - Clarance Chamberlin who found the plane in a Sperry warehouse in Farmingdale.

Bonus: Identify the date of the photo and the reason for this unusual flight.  January 26, 1928.  Chamberlin was testing the ability of the Sperry Messenger to take-off and land from almost anywhere without the need for a long runway.  He planned to take a cross country trip lecturing about the applicability of the small plane.  Also, he had never before flown the plane.

Apr 05 2015 Art Kleiner 11:11 AM

Regarding my submission yesterday, I’ve indicated the date of the photo to be Jan. 26, 1928 based on an initial id of the photo.  However, additional material submitted to Howard indicates the photo may have been taken on Jan. 23, 1928 as that appears to be the date Chamberlin took off and landed on Stewart Avenue. In any case, it was taken within that time frame.

Apr 05 2015 S. Berliner, III 5:44 PM

Can’t recall beans about it but I’ve seen the photo before.  The pilot was Clarence D. Chamberlin, who had taken a completely-useless Charles A. Levine (who’d wanted to be the co-pilot but was actually a last-moment stow-away ), who’d bought the plane, across the Atlantic with him on 4/5 June 1927, only just over a week after Lindbergh’s flight, flying “Miss Columbia”, a Wright-Bellanca WB-2 with a then-new J-5 Whirlwind, from Roosevelt Field to Helft (Eisleben), Germany.  The bridge is obviously a LIMP bridge on the Hempstead Plains, probably Merrick Ave. or thereabouts.  Further deponent sayeth (knoweth) not.  Sam, III

Apr 06 2015 frank femenias 1:16 PM

Guessing, 1920s, this could be the newly paved and expanded Union Tpke with the LIMP Creedmore highway bridge in the back (if so, this is a rare view of the hwy bridge). Just east of the newly installed Winchester Bl parkway bridge. The event could’ve been the christening of the ‘new’ Union Tpke.

Apr 06 2015 Howard Kroplick 5:35 PM

Submitted by Gary Hammond

Clarence Chamberlin and his Sperry Messenger

1. Road – Stewart Ave., Garden City, looking east
2. Bridge – Roosevelt Field Motor Parkway “Highway” Bridge
3. Plane - Lawrence Sperry’s Messenger, powered with a 3 cylinder, 60 hp. Lawrence engine.
4. Pilot – Clarence D. Chamberlin (1893-1976), who had previously carried Charles A. Levine from Roosevelt Field to Eisleben, Germany in a Wright powered Bellanca, June 4-6, 1927, making Levine the 1st Transatlantic air passenger in a heavier-than-air craft (as opposed to airships)
5. Date & reason – January 23, 1928 – lecture & promote aviation
“Off a Street!
Mr. Clarence Chamberlin left New York on January 23 for an air tour of the United States, in course of which he intends to travel 30,000 miles.  His purpose will also be to lecture.  Forty-eight States and Cuba will be visited.  Before his departure, he took off in his Sperry Messenger machine from a busy street.  He wheeled it form the Kirkham Products Factory into the street, waited for a gap in the traffic, and then ascended, afterwards repeating the feat.  His machine has a wing span of only 20 ft., and is considered the smallest in America.”
Flight magazine, February 2, 1928, p. 67
“His tiny, Sperry Messenger plane, may be identified by the numerals “35” on the underside of the left wing”
The Harrisburg [Pa.] Telegraph, January 24, 1928, p. 1
A cropped image of this photo was published with the following caption:
“Clarence Chamberlin’s start last week from Garden City, L.I. on his proposed 30,000 mile country wide tour in a tiny Sperry Messenger plane.  The daring aviator is seen just after he had taxied the plane into a line of auto traffic on Stewart Ave. and astonished motorists by zooming over their cars.”
The Pittsburg Press, Sunday, January 29, 1929, p. 6 – Automobile Section

“In a tiny eight year old plane, that he had reconditioned with his own hands, Clarence Chamberlin took off on a 30,000 mile lecture tour today after conducting his test flights in a motor cluttered street.  The plane is a Sperry Messenger, a dwarf type, with a three cylinder engine and a 20-foot wing spread formerly used by the army for short distance courier service.  Chamberlin found the old plane stowed away in a corner of the Fairchild factory at Garden City and bought it.  Today the Lilliput of the air, still wearing its eight year old tires, was trundled, into Stewart avenue, Garden City.  The little sixty horsepower motor crackled into life as though it had not long since been laid away to rust into nothing, and as a gap in the traffic appeared Chamberlin gave her the gun.  Amazed spectators watched and then burst into applause as the stunted old ship roared along the pavement for less than 100 feet between rows of tall trees and then lifted easily into the air.  After Chamberlin had repeated this program, landing in the street and rising a second time, he flew to Curtiss field and made his formal departure from there.  His first stop was Allentown, Pa.”
The Daily Illini, Champaign-Urbana, Ill., January 24, 1928, p. 2

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