Patco Airport was the scene of several crashes of airplanes through the years. In some of these crashes, people were severely injured and a few people died. Travel by aviation was not always as safe as it is today.
One of the airplane crashes – a crash that resulted in no injuries, thankfully – involved a woman who would later help lead efforts to change America for the better.
Millicent Hammond Fenwick was a newlywed. It was June 14, 1932. She and her husband, Hugh Fenwick, were on an “aero honeymoon”. They planned to fly their airplane from New Jersey to San Francisco and then on to Alaska.
They stopped at Patco Airport on the cross-country trip. According to a news article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 16, 1932, the couple was visiting Mr. Mark Hopkins, a member of their bridal party earlier that month.
When they took off to leave Plymouth Township, things went downhill. Or, should I say “upside down.” The airplane tipped over as Mr. Fenwick attempted take-off.
The Wilkes-Barre Record reported in a news article on June 15, 1932, that the plane “ground looped” as it was taking off from the airport. “The ship had scarcely left the ground when its nose cropped causing it to turn over completely.”
The new bride and her husband survived the crash. According to the news article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 16, 1932, both Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick were shaken after the incident. Neither was injured.
The plane could not fly. Their aero honeymoon was over.
According to Millicent Fenwick: Her Way by Ms. Amy Schapiro, through the assistance of a friend, the couple ended up spending their honeymoon in Bermuda.
The couple went on to live full lives.
For Mrs. Fenwick, what a full life it was.
Born into wealth, she suffered a number of tragedies through the years. Her mother and father, Ogden Hammond and Mary Stevens Hammond, were on the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. On that date, the German Empire sunk the British ship by torpedo. A total of 1,198 people were murdered through this act of war.
Among those that died in the sinking of the Lusitania was the mother of Mrs. Fenwick. According to a news article on May 20, 1982, in the Bernardsville News, the mother of Mrs. Fenwick was one of 114 Americans that perished through this attack.
Her father survived and later became the United States Ambassador to Spain.
Miss Millicent Hammond was a five-year-old girl when her mother died.
Beyond the airplane crash at Patco Airport, Mrs. Fenwick was involved in two additional airplane crashes, according to her grandson, Mr. Sam Reckford. “In one situation, she survived the crash itself uninjured,” explained Mr. Reckford. “She was hanging by some type of harness and when a rescuer released her, she fell and broke a bone.”
Her marriage to Mr. Fenwick did not last long. The couple separated, according to the House of Representatives biography of Mrs. Fenwick, six years after getting married. They divorced in 1945. After the separation, she worked to support their two children as a single parent.
Mrs. Fenwick did not let any of these events stop her from serving her local community in Bernardsville, a borough in Somerset County, New Jersey. She served as a member of the Borough Council and the local School Board.
She later was elected as a member of the New Jersey General Assembly.
In 1974, she was elected to serve the 5th District of New Jersey in the House of Representatives.
From the website of Mr. Bob Zorechak, REALTOR:
“An American fashion editor, politician and diplomat and a lifelong resident of Bernardsville, New Jersey. Millicent Fenwick was a larger than life four-term Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey serving during the Reagan years. She entered politics late in life and was renowned for her energy and colorful enthusiasm. She was regarded as a moderate and progressive within her party and was outspoken in favor of civil rights and the women’s movement.”
On May 6, 2018, the State of New Jersey will publicly honor Millicent Hammond Fenwick for her service to the people of the state and to the nation. On that date, she will be formally inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
She is being honored for public service as a politician.
Today, you may not hear the term “public service” associated with the word “politician”.
For Mrs. Fenwick, political office was the means through which she sought to provide service to the public.
“My grandmother loved helping people,” explained Mr. Reckford. “She saw government as the means to provide justice to all people.”
“She was very much a Republican in that she was fiscally conservative and believed each individual and the private sector should be given the opportunity to move forward,” stated Mr. Reckford. “She believed in a level playing field that allowed everyone opportunity.”
What started her life in politics?
Hitler. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi ideology.
“She became political during the years prior to the United States entering World War II,” stated Mr. Reckford. “She detested Hitler and the Nazis as well as everything they stood for.”
“She saw that the Nazis had taken a great country – Germany – and changed its laws to provide justice for all into laws that created injustice for certain people,” Mr. Reckford continued.
Mrs. Fenwick was quoted in a news article in The Home News serving Central New Jersey on January 15, 1982: “Hitler first attracted my attention to politics. I was really horrified at what government could do.”
“My grandmother stood up against anti-Semitism – hatred of Jews – that was common at the time,” explained Mr. Reckford. “She spoke against the America First Committee.”
The America First Committee was an anti-war movement that advocated for the United States to remain neutral between Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and their Axis allies versus the United Kingdom, France. Poland, the Netherlands, and other nations attacked by the Axis Powers.
Many public officials as well as ordinary folk supported the America First Committee.
Millicent Hammond Fenwick did not.
She publicly spoke out against the America First Committee.
Not everyone agreed with Mrs. Fenwick.
After participating in an anti-Nazi rally in the City of New York, she was attacked and beaten by two thugs according to a news article in The Courier-News of Bridgewater, New Jersey, dated September 17, 1992. The assault on Mrs. Fenwick took place in the Yorkville section of Manhattan in the summer of 1941.
Think about it: A 31 year-old woman assaulted in the City of New York because she stood for the civil rights of people.
The attack did not stop Mrs. Fenwick.
“It likely made her more determined than ever to seek justice for people,” stated Mr. Reckford, “She truly believed that the business of government is justice.”
On many occasions, Mrs. Fenwick made her position clear. America should stand up for justice for all people. Jews. African-Americans. All people.
She joined the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In 1946, she became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“In New Jersey and on Capitol Hill, Millicent Fenwick brought a grace to public service that earned her moniker as the ‘Conscience of Congress’ by none other than Walter Cronkite,” shared Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey.
Even beyond the shores of our country, Mrs. Fenwick sought to help use the power of government to bring justice to all.
She helped lead efforts in the United States Congress to establish a national commission to help the peoples of Europe as they sought human rights. As they sought freedom from communism.
First proposed by Mrs. Fenwick in 1975, what became known as the “Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe” was created through law in 1976. This independent agency of the Federal government – also known as the “United States Helsinki Commission” – “promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America,” according to its Mission Statement.
An example of Mrs. Fenwick in action can be seen in the transcript of a hearing by the Commission on the assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981. You can view this transcript of the hearing held on September 23, 1982, by clicking this link.
The Commission still functions today.
Not all of the policies advocated by Mrs. Fenwick as an elected official became law.
She was not universally supported nor did her views always carry the day. Politics can be tough. In her last campaign for office – to be a United States Senator from the State of New Jersey – Mrs. Fenwick lost the election.
One person mentioned that in her contacts with Mrs. Fenwick, she seemed to always be looking forward. Mr. Reckford agreed with that assessment. “She rarely focused on negative things.”
“I think most others treated her with respect – even if they disagreed with her – because she was very polite and respectful to most everyone,” explained Mr. Reckford.
While she made herself available to the news media through her public life and answered most every question posed by reporters, she did not appreciate some of the wording used to describe her.
Mrs. Fenwick did not like that many reporters would focus on her pipe smoking. The Courier-News in a news article on September 20, 1992, reprinted a quote from Mrs. Fenwick from 1987: “I was so hurt when I got to Congress. All the media would say was ‘pipe-smoking grandmother.’ And I would say, ‘For God’s sake, hardworking grandmother, same number of syllables.’ But I couldn’t persuade them.”
She had taken up pipe smoking when her doctor told her to give up cigarettes because they were bad for her health. She did not like being photographed with the pipe. “She said she didn’t want to be a bad example to young people,” stated Mr. Reckford.
Mrs. Fenwick was raised in the Episcopalian faith and believed in God, according to Mr. Reckford. “She didn’t discuss her faith much. It was very personal to her,” he stated.
Her grandson explained that Mrs. Fenwick invoked a particular Biblical passage on a regular basis.
One translation of a portion of Micah VI:8 is as follows:
“What does the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Her family was important to Mrs. Fenwick. But there were occasions where service to people seemed to take precedence.
“As grandkids, we could see that she cared so much for the people she represented that we would sometimes joke – but not really joke – that we wanted to be constituents rather than grandchildren,” explained Mr. Reckford.
She loved politics. She loved government service. Public service.
Mrs. Fenwick died in 1992 at the age of 82 years.
Few would have realized on that Spring day in 1932 that the woman who walked away from a plane crash at Patco Airport in Plymouth Township would have lived such a full life serving the people.
Millicent Hammond Fenwick will be recognized for her public service as she enters the New Jersey Hall of Fame on May 6, 2018.
From the website of The Bernards Inn:
“Guests may be interested in visiting the life-size statue of Millicent Fenwick, located just across the street from the Inn at the train station. Her arms are open and welcoming, and it is as if she is gazing upon The Bernards Inn and the magnificent ballroom that bears her name. The Bernards Inn proudly commemorates a legendary woman whose lifelong commitment to activism on behalf of consumers, minorities, and women’s rights helped to change the world.”
In Part Five, we’ll detail further aspects of Patco Airport.
The first photograph of the Millicent Hammond Fenwick statue is courtesy of Mr. Bob Zorechak, REALTOR.
The second photo of Millicent Hammond Fenwick is courtesy of the Library of Congress, 1975.
The second photograph of the Millicent Hammond Fenwick statue is courtesy of The Bernards Inn.
Do you have questions about local history? A street name? A building?
Your questions may be used in a future news article.
Contact Richard McDonough at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2018 Richard McDonough