Thursday, June 16, 2011

The history and romance of Newark Airport (yes, you read that right)

For some cockeyed reason, I still enjoy flying. Even when I'm crammed in like a sardine on one of those huge buses with wings, the little kid in me can't help but grin when I look down from the skies and see the earth in miniature. Taxi-ing around the tarmac, I'm drawn to the most mundane inner workings of a busy airport. I wonder whether those guys who guide the planes to the jetways get a secret thrill at edging huge aircraft into their parking spots just minutes after they've crossed the continent or the Atlantic.

That's not to say I enjoy the process of getting to the plane, or dealing with nasty people or any of that. I love the concept of flight, and the romance of it. When I can block out the garbage, I can mentally drift away to a time and place when air travel was still kind of exotic and people wore nice clothes to get on the plane. Don't get me started about prop planes -- make me climb up into the cabin on a drop-down staircase, and I know I'm itching for an adventure.Despite myself, I get nostalgic at some of the older airports. Lindbergh Field (a.k.a. SAN, San Diego) looks nothing like its past but was the home field, of sorts, to the Spirit of St. Louis. The couple of times I flew into Washington National (DCA, now Reagan) I half expected to see Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith, striding purposefully down the corridor.

Now, Newark (EWR) that was a glamorous airport. Once the East Coast terminus of the Air Mail, it was the busiest landing strip in the United States for a time in the late '20s and early '30s. It eventually had a beautiful WPA-style terminal and administration building with an observation deck where you could watch the planes take off and land. And it was a regular stop for the pioneers of aviation as they traveled to other places. Names of fallen flyers like Earhart and Post are memorialized by some of the access roads within the airport fences.

Needless to say, the airport's gotten a lot bigger over the years, and virtually all of the vestiges of its early glory have been obscured. Unless you know where to look, that is. Nestled in the north corner of the airport, not far from Route 1, that 1930's style terminal still stands, having been moved from its original spot and restored to most of its former glory. It now houses the Port Authority Police and some other security, but interestingly enough, it's still open to visitation. Step inside, and marvel at the art deco style architecture and trim that brings the early age of passenger flight to life. You can very easily imagine checking in for your flight and then walking directly outside to the moveable stairs to your airplane.

And, there's more. Years ago, as my plane taxied to its gate at Terminal A, I gazed down at the tarmac to see the word LINDY in bold yellow letters outlined in black. Charles Lindbergh had taken off and landed at Newark many times, so I assumed that history-minded airport workers had painted his name on the pavement. For whatever reason, perhaps the tradition still persists. In airport parlance, these markers are known as hard stops.

What I never noticed was the other tribute. If you take a close look at this photo, pulling the image up so you can see what's beyond the bottom edge of the original frame, you'll see two lighter strips of pavement, with planes parked on them. On the right one, you'll see "LINDY," clear as day; another is obscured by the plane parked above it. On the left, you'll see the name "AMELIA" painted twice, for Amelia Earhart. While her aviation skills are still in dispute, it's pretty neat to think that someone's keeping the faith.

1 comment:

  1. If you look a little west of Amelia, you'll also see "Wilbur".


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