`American Girl' Dared to Soar Ruth Elder Helped Put Jacksonville on the Aviation Map

By Foley, Bill | The Florida Times Union, August 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

`American Girl' Dared to Soar Ruth Elder Helped Put Jacksonville on the Aviation Map


Foley, Bill, The Florida Times Union


Jacksonville once soared with The American Girl. "Ruth

ribbons" were in the hair of every flapper.

It was the summer 1927. Ruth Elder was a neighbor child.

She dared destiny and grasped glory.

She came out of nowhere -- well, Lakeland -- on Labor Day. By

Columbus Day she was the most famous woman in America.

picture. It was, gasp, almost a glamour girl shot.

"Florida Beauty Turns Flier," the cutline said.

"Miss Ruth Elder of Lakeland, winner of a recent beauty contest

in her home city, is preparing to undertake a trans-Atlantic

flight from Wheeling, W.Va., via New York to Europe."

Seldom in the months ahead was the "Flying Flapper" off Page 1.

Few people had flown the Atlantic. None of them were women.

Charles Lindbergh's stunning solo had been three months before.

Flight was in its daring dawn. Eighteen persons had perished

trying to fly the ocean by the time Ruth Elder vamped her

knickers for the morning print. France sought to ban flights.

Yet, who could quench adventure in those heady days? Coolidge

was president, flight was mystery, radio a wonder, movies a

magic carpet and the impossible dream a grasp away.

Flying fever captured Jacksonville. Lindbergh was coming to

open an airport. Local pilots were testing the air. The neighbor

child was challenging the Atlantic.

An estimated 150,000 turned out to see the Lone Eagle Oct. 11.

Ruth Elder "hopped off" from Roosevelt Field, N.Y., the same

day.

She was 23 and beautiful. She wore a ribbon in her hair. "Ruth

ribbons" became the style. She was part pilot, part pixie.

Ruth Elder was joined at the hip with men who made Jacksonville

aviation history: George Haldeman, her dashing co-pilot, and

Eddie Stinson, the guy with the plane.

Haldeman and Elder hooked up in Lakeland. She was from

Anniston, Ala., and worked for a dentist before meeting the

flier.

Haldeman had flown coast-to-coast twice and was a top pilot and

instructor. Ralph Greene, Jacksonville's flying doctor, was a

protege.

Haldeman wanted to fly the Atlantic. When Lindy beat him to it,

the story goes, Elder talked him into the co-ed flight. Stinson

had the plane.

They painted the Stinson yellow with a red nose and christened

it The American Girl, which was what Elder embodied, after a

fashion.

Haldeman's partner, Edward Cornell, president of Glen St. Mary

Nurseries, became Elder's agent. Wheeling, W.Va., investors put

up the money.

Many disapproved of a young woman flying the Atlantic.

Especially a young woman who was a student pilot and did not

have a flying license. Who suddenly turned out to have a husband

she denied having. And of having a husband before that, too.

Reports persisted she would turn back at Newfoundland. …

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