Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault’s famous (formerly forgotten) flier May 4, 2011

LAST WEEK DALE “RED” JACKSON joined aviators Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, Charles Lindbergh and some 150 others in the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

If you’re like me, you are surprised to hear that our state has a hall of fame for aviators. I only recently learned that when Jackson was about to be inducted.

So who are Jackson and Strohfus and what qualifies them for an aviation honor?

They are two famous aviators with roots in my community of Faribault. Strohfus, who was inducted into the hall of fame in 2000, was a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots during World War II. She taught instrument flying to male cadets and later ferried B-17 and AT-6 warbirds around the country, according to the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame website. Today she is a noted speaker.

As  for Jackson, he was a stunt pilot and barnstormer during the late 1920s and early 1930s. In July 1929, Jackson and St. Louis flyer Forrest O’Brine circled the city of St. Louis for some 420 hours, refueling 48 times in flight. That broke an aerial endurance record. Later they remained in flight for 647 hours (27 days), setting their second record.

On January 6, 1932, at the age of 25, Jackson was killed while stunt flying over Miami. Nicknamed the “Flying Fool,” Jackson had apparently been warned not to try stunts in the tiny Curtiss Teal amphibian he was piloting on that fateful day. As he tried to straighten the plane after a loop and dive, a wing tore off. Jackson died in the wreckage, reportedly with one hand hooked into the ripcord of his parachute.

When Jackson’s body arrived in Faribault by train from St. Louis, where an earlier memorial service had been held, an estimated 3,000 people gathered at the Rock Island Depot, according to a January 11, 1932, article in The Faribault Daily News.

Jackson is the single word on a tombstone marking the Jackson family graves in Section K, Lot 61, at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault.

I nearly missed this in-ground marker for Dale Jackson, which lies about 12 feet from the family gravestone. I had to pull back the grass to reveal his first name and middle initial.

Dale Jackson's marker lies flush to the ground about a dozen feet from the Jackson family marker, between two cedar trees. I had expected a more opulent and noticeable gravesite.

Dale Jackson is buried here along with his parents, Henry and Josephine, and his wife, Selma. The Jackson family headstone stands between the two cedar trees to the right in this photo.

Given Jackson’s national and international notoriety in the aviation world, I wondered why I had never heard of him before last week. He was born in Iowa, moved here with his family and graduated from Faribault High School.  Faribault has not, as far as I am aware, shone the spotlight on this daring stunt pilot since his barnstorming days and untimely, sudden death.

Why?

I think he would be worthy of more than a marker, half covered with grass, in Maple Lawn Cemetery. I’m thinking tourism possibilities here.

For now, his Minnesota remembrance comes via that Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame induction last weekend. That’s a good start.

I wondered where this museum of sorts is located. After substantial googling, I discovered that an actual museum doesn’t exist. Rather the hall of fame consists of plaques honoring the inductees. Those hang in a secure section of the Duluth International Airport in an area inaccessible to the general public. Huh?

But that’s not all. Once a terminal renovation is completed at the Duluth airport in 2012, the plaques will need to be moved.

The Albert Lea City Council, in a motion passed in late January, has expressed an interest in bringing the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame to its community. No commitment. Just an interest right now.

In the meantime, if you want to check out aviators like Faribault’s Flying Fool, Dale “Red” Jackson, who have made it into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, you best do that online or visit Maple Lawn Cemetery.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling