Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Early Bird, Part 15

Through the worst years of the Great Depression, DeLloyd Thompson was still rich with dreams and schemes. In 1937, he took to the air for the last time, flying the airplane he had designed and built, the Deloyd Cabinaire, from a field in Meadow Lands. Featuring a completely enclosed cabin, the two-seater monoplane was said to be safe and easy to fly and land. But production of the plane ended at two. It was the Depression after all, and the market for leisure aircraft was nil.

Thompson's next venture was not up the air but into politics. Hoping to capitalize on his fame and the familiarity of his name, he filed as a candidate for mayor of the city of Washington in 1939 Democratic primary. He bought no newspaper advertising and was soundly defeated, placing third with 773 votes. J. Brady Marble won the nomination with 1,756 votes and went on to lose to Republican George Krause in the general election.

The 1940s found Dutch working as a bartender at the Green Tree, a tavern and restaurant in the basement of a building on the east side of North Main Street. His social life, much of it involving gambling, revolved around the Green Tree and his circle of friends that frequented it.

On the night of March 27, 1945, Thompson and three of those friends were on Route 40, headed for Wheeling. Just after midnight, a short distance from the West Virginia line, their car slammed into the back of a truck of the Pittsburgh-Wheeling Warehouse Co. Dutch, who was driving, was the most severely injured, with lacerations to the head and internal injuries. Jack Athens, 45, had a fractured arm and head injuries; Mike Renovich, 51, had head and facial lacerations, and Sherman Rankin, 54, suffered head injuries, lacerations and contusions. These were the days before safety glass and seat belts.

Two days later, the Washington Observer reported Thompson's condition as "poor" and that he had been placed in an oxygen tent. He did recover, but never fully.

After his wife left him, he was not close to his son, Bob, who was shy and so different from his gregarious father. The two would not build a relationship until Bob returned from the war, after serving in Europe with the 81st Airborne and being taken prisoner.

That brings us to that cold January morning in 1949, when Mary Patterson went to her boarder's room and found DeLloyd "Dutch" Thompson, once billed as "America's Greatest Aviator," dead in his bed. His business ventures, his marriage and his political ambitions had all ended in failure, and he died alone and broke in a rented room. But all that disappointment was nothing compared to those six glorious years of fame and fortune.

As sad and tragic as his end may seem, Dutch Thompson was not forgotten. In the months following his demise, his friends and admirers came together in an effort to create a fitting memorial to him. And Time would take its toll on it as well.

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