The newspaper was yellowed, but the image looked hauntingly familiar. Did you know that there was an earlier plane crash into a tall building in New York City than in 2001? I certainly did not until Mavis Davis brought in a small collection of newspapers, a short memoir, and a letter related to the event.
Her future husband, William S. Davis, was stationed at Avon Old Farms School which was being used in 1945 as a convalescent hospital for soldiers who had lost their sight in World War II. William took one of the patients, Lieutenant Colonel Harry King, to the Empire State Building so King could purchase some postcards for his children. The pair went to the top of the building, but it was a very foggy day. William was unable to see anything to then explain the cityscape to his blind companion. William and Harry descended to the 86th floor near an observation platform where they bought the postcards. It was then that a B-25 bomber struck the building and erupted into flames.
Here are William’s own words, taken from a memoir he typed before his death:
When I saw the flames I knew, even though I didn’t know the cause, we should evacuate immediately. I told the Colonel, “We’d better get out of here!” I instructed him to hold onto my arm, guided him to the stairway, where there was a brass railing on the right side. I told him to hold onto the railing with his right hand and hold onto my arm with his left and we hurriedly left the area telling the women [teachers with some kindergartners] to follow with the children.
We ran down probably 8 or 10 floors at which time we left the stairway and found an elevator that was in operation and we descended to the main floor. We were amazed at the number and haste with which the firemen were coming up the stairs. Also in the stairwell, we met newspaper reporters who were racing up the stairs to get a story. They wanted us to stop to answer questions, but I refused felling that getting to safety was my primary concern.
Fewer people, fewer planes, but I kept seeing 9/11.
In the collection are numerous articles from the local paper about William and Harry’s scrape with death, and several pages from the Sunday Mirror, July 29, 1945, with a photo essay on the disaster. Also included is a thank you letter from the Harry’s father, and a pamphlet about Avon Old Farms as a convalescent hospital.