On the South side of Brooklyn, just before Rockaway Beach, there’s a forlorn, overgrown little patch of land with several dilapidated aviation buildings. It’s the site that used to be Floyd Bennet Field, now a National Park and the only place in the entire city of New York at which one can camp in an RV or otherwise. This little airfield is where Boots and I have parked ourselves for the last several days while we explore the vastness of Gotham.
But what a story this little patch of land has. Unfortunately, the National Parks Service hasn’t developed the site sufficiently to reflect its rightful stature in aviation and New York history; so I feel like I need to do my part.
The little airfield was built in 1930, just as the Great Depression was tightening its relentless grip on the US economy. New York’s first municipal airport, it still post-dated Lindbergh’s famous trans-Atlantic flight by a few years. Lindbergh actually took off from Roosevelt Field in Mineola. But Wiley Post used Bennet field to launch two record-breaking round-the-world flights, as did Amelia Earhart. Howard Hughes started and finished his 1938 circumnavigation, as depicted in the film “The Aviator”, from this very spot too. Probably most famously, Bennet field was the starting point for “Wrong Way” Corrigan’s 1938 “accidental” flight to Ireland after being repeatedly denied formal permission. Sadly, the little airfield fell into disfavor as passenger-flights replaced freight as the money-maker for airlines of the day. Most passengers flying to and from New York City found Newark to be a much more accessible airport, even though it was clear across the river in New Jersey.
Fiorello LaGuardia, for one, did not agree. Flying from Chicago back to New York one evening during the heady days of the New Deal, LaGuardia’s plane landed at Newark Airport. The other passengers dutifully exited the plane; but the Major, as he was affectionately known, refused to leave his seat. He insisted that his ticket destination read “New York”; and there was no way he was getting off that plane in New Jersey. Finally, the exasperated pilot took off again, safely delivering the Little Flower to Floyd Bennet Field, perhaps ten more minutes away at most…
LaGuardia was unable to convince the airlines that Floyd Bennet should be the official airport for New York City; so he vowed to build an airport that would fit the bill. LaGuardia airport was thus conceived; and it was completed before the end of the decade, funded largely by New Deal dollars from Washington.
I’m so happy to have stayed here. It’s nice to share the tarmac with the friendly ghosts of so many aviation pioneers. And perhaps the biggest little mayor New York City ever saw even makes an appearance from time to time. After all, it’s only a few minutes from Newark in a Douglas DC-3.
See y’all down the road. Viva la vida bohemia!