Up, Up, And Away: Aviators & Airports of Jersey City
If you say it aloud, it sounds as if you are ready to fly somewhere, as if there is an adventure in the offing, up close and personal. Can you say that phrase and accomplish that feat from Jersey City today?
No, but you could’ve said that and had an adventurous trip from Jersey City in the years 1929 through 1936. You could fly from Jersey City’s own airport! And, if you had the money, you could have purchased a Crescent monoplane from the adjacent airplane factory. Those who could afford a plane could take flying lessons from Eddie Schneider, a Dickinson High School dropout, who was also a triple junior transcontinental record holder in 1935 for pilots under the age of 21. They could go up, up, and away on either the 2,000 or the 2,600 foot long runway. They crossed each other to allow approach or lift off from any direction. Seaplanes were also available to fly as well as amphibious planes which could take-off and land on both water and land.
During this time period, around 1934, a Miss Ruth Nichols of Rye, NY, flew from the Jersey City Airport and set a women’s altitude record of 28,743 feet and set a 200 mile per hour speed record. These are quaint numbers in this age of Space Travel, but at the time, Jersey City and the West Side Ward were at the forefront of the nascent age of air travel.
What happened to the Jersey City airport?
It was the midst of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce; times were hard. President Roosevelt and the Congress created agencies like the CCC and the WPA to put people to work. Mayor Frank Hague waiting in the wings (no pun intended), had the answer to this problem and put Jersey City residents to work. The site of the Jersey City Airport at Droyers Point would have to go. It was replaced by a new sports stadium, named after the President, Roosevelt Stadium. Money from the Federal Government could not be used to buy land and the airport was the largest piece of property owned by the City, so it had to go, for the benefit of the citizens. The land had been leased to airport operator Eddie Schneider. The lease was cancelled and construction on the stadium began.
What happened to Eddie Schneider?
He went to Spain in 1936 with other mercenary pilots of the Yankee Squadron to aid the Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Given unsafe, unarmed planes not fit for war and not paid as promised, the several American pilots returned to the United States to reviews of their passports and citizenship. Their role as combatants and thus their loyalty to America was suspect.
Eddie died in a crash in 1940 near Floyd Bennett field when a US Navy plane flew too close to his plane and the Navy plane propeller clipped the tail on Eddie’s plane. He is buried in Fairview Memorial Park in Fairview New Jersey.
What happened to Roosevelt Stadium?
The site of the first professional game played by Dodgers star, Jackie Robinson, was demolished to make room for the Society Hill at Droyers Point housing development. Until the early 1960’s, the seaplane base next to the Captain’s Table restaurant at Roosevelt Stadium provided the last link to the aviation industry in Jersey City.
While there is a statue at Journal Square of Jackie Robinson with a first baseman’s glove (he played second base for years with the Dodgers but started at first base professionally), there is no marker for Jackie or Eddie at the old stadium site. Perhaps someday there will be.