Wreckage in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Dec. 16, 1960 (credit: UPI)

In August, Green-Wood’s wonderful archivist, Theresa LaBianca, received a telephone inquiry concerning a grave in Public Lot 38325. Theresa went into the back of the office, opened the appropriate drawer, and starting flipping through the index cards for the graves in that lot. As she did so, she noticed a card with these notations: “38325, Grave 980, Purchased Jan 5, 1961 by: United Air Lines, 5959 South Cicero Ave., Chicago, Ill. 3 Caskets of Fragmentary Human Remains.” Theresa, who has been working at Green-Wood since 1977, and has been the cemetery archivist for years, is always looking for a new discovery. So she photocopied this card, went back to the phone to answer the inquiry, then turned her attention to solving Green-Wood’s latest mystery.

Theresa discovered quite a story. On December 16, 1960, United Airlines Flight 826 and Trans World Airlines Flight 266 collided over Staten Island. The United flight then tried to make it to LaGuardia Airport for an emergency landing, but crashed in Park Slope. Ten brownstones near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place were set on fire, as were a funeral home, a laundry, a delicatessen, and, strangely enough, the Pillar of Fire Church. Eighty-four people on that flight died, and six people on the ground also were killed. The TWA flight crashed in Staten Island and forty-four passengers and crew died there. The investigation of this disaster marked the first time that an airplane’s black box data recorder was used to provide details of what had happened.

In an era before DNA identifications were possible, three caskets of “Fragmentary Human Remains” were filled from the Park Slope crash site and were buried in a grave in lot 38325 that was purchased by United Airlines. No marker was placed on the grave.

On Thursday, December 16, the 50th anniversary of this deadly crash, at 10:00 a.m., Green-Wood will dedicate a memorial to the victims of this crash. The memorial, designed by Superintendent of the Grounds Art Presson and other Green-Wood staff, will feature a grove of one hundred Quaking Aspen trees, alcoves, benches, and a path, on a slope adjoining lot 38325. An eight-foot inscribed granite monument, designed by Vice President for Operations Ken Taylor, also will be unveiled. If you would like to attend this commemoration, please click here to reserve a free ticket.

UPDATEHere is James Barron’s dramatic account of the disaster in The New York Times, published on December 12, 2010. And here is the story in the December 13, 2010 Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch about some of the passengers who died and their families that survived them. The New York Post has just run this story of the crash, including the recollections of a second-grader at the time, Richard Moylan, who grew up to be the president of Green-Wood Cemetery, and whose idea it was, almost fifty years later, to design an appropriate memorial to the crash victims. Here’s the Associated Press story that has just gone up across the country. And here’s a fascinating story, by Andy Newman in The New York Times, on the physical manifestations of the United Airlines crash that remain in Park Slope today.

This is a very moving piece, published in The New York Times and written by William Baltz, “A Little Brother Remembers,” in which he writes about his older brother, Stephen. Eleven-year-old Stephen Baltz became the story in the wake of the crashes; he was the only person who was taken alive from the scenes of the crashes. Though badly burned, he clung to life for a day, then succumbed to his injuries. He died at Methodist Hospital, and a plaque there memorializes him. In that plaque is the change that he had in his pocket when the plane crashed. His parents left that change in a donation box at the hospital.

UPDATE ON THE UPDATE: Yesterday, December 16, 2010, was the 50th anniversary of these plane crashes. A commemoration was held at Green-Wood Cemetery, near the spot where three caskets of unidentified remains were interred in a grave purchased by United Airlines on January 5, 1961. It was quite an event. On the left below is the new monument, placed at Green-Wood, as it is being unveiled by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and City Councilman Vincent J. Gentile. Many individuals were on hand who were at the scene of the crash fifty years ago. Family members of quite a few of the victims also were present.

On the right above, standing beside the back of the monument, which lists the names of victims  who died that day, are Marty Ross-Dolen and Craig Ewart. Garry and Mary Myers, Marty’s grandparents, were on their way aboard TWA flight 266 from Columbus, Ohio to New York for meetings about their family business, Highlights for Children, when their plane collided with another, then crashed. Marty, fifty years later, flew into LaGuardia Airport from Columbus for the commemoration at Green-Wood; she followed the path, in the air, that her grandparents had taken fifty years earlier. Craig’s father, Cyril, was also an executive with Highlights for Children. Craig was seventeen years old when his father died; he is now a psychology professor at Syracuse University.

The man at front left, holding the blue folder in this photograph, is Ray Garcia. Ray is the author of Sterling Place, a book about the tragic collision of these two planes. Ray, who over the years has spoken with many of the victims’ family members, as well as with many who were on the ground in Park Slope when the United flight crashed, talked at the dedication services about the meaning of this tragedy and read e-mails from two families of the victims, including the Baltz family.

This is the bronze that has been placed on the previously-unmarked grave at Green-Wood where the human remains were interred early in 1961. It is just a few feet away from the new granite monument.

Finally, here’s a very well done video report by Roger Clark for NY1, and click play below for two slideshows of additional photos from the ceremony.

20 thoughts on “Remembering A Disaster’s Victims

    • My grandfather died on that flight. I was scheduled, (2yrs old) to fly with him but my mother couldn’t get my things ready in time. He left ahead and we would follow.

  1. I was in the first grade at Holy Family School on 14th Street, in a classroom facing downtown or north. As the building was shaking, we looked out and were stunned by the enormous plane roaring past. Shortly I was picked up by my sister Judy and we hurried to our grandparents’ house on 12th Street. A cold, snowy day. I later spent that Friday evening with my father watching the news coverage, and of course the tragedy of Stephen Baltz. I vividly remember the wreckage of the area anytime we went downtown on the 7th Ave. bus. Sorry I was long-winded, but it’s a memory I’ll have all my life.

  2. My Father was Richard Eugene Prewitt the Second Officer on United Flight 826 on this dreadful day, He was supposed to be home the next day for a triple birthday party for me(2) and two of my three sisters (4,6,&8). This Memorial has been long awaited.

  3. My brother Joe was in the Marine Corps at the time of the crash. My Grandfather wanting to see him wired money via Western Union to Camp Pendelton, where Joe was stationed. Because Pendelton is so large a base, it went to the wrong Western Union office. Joe missed this flight and as a result is still with us. The Lord be praised!

  4. I lived a few blocks away. I was in my senior year at Fordham.
    That day I was working my part time job at Brooks Brothers.
    My mother was a school crossing guard at St Francis Xavier on
    President St and Sixth Av.
    While at work, word of the collision spread. The first report was that a plane had crashed near a school on Sixth Av in Park Slope. The telephone lines to Brooklyn were tied up. I could not reach my mother or home.I left work and took the subway home to find out that the plane had crashed near St Augustine’s school which is at Sixth Av and Sterling Place. My mother was okay.
    Our understanding was that the plane was trying to make it to Prospect Park about a half mile further.The pilot was trying to crash in a less populated place.

    Bob from Berkeley Place

  5. From: DJ Donnelly Productions Ltd
    Triumph Group Studios Ltd
    DJ Donnelly, President
    December 13, 2011

    On December 16, 2011, DJ Donnelly Productions Ltd / Triumph Group Studios Ltd, shall take a moment of silence, to remember all of the victims of this forgotten plane crash, that occurred on December 16, 1960 at 10:32 am, over Staten Island, New York. As an Ex Staten Islander, who was born three days before the crash on Staten Island, I too shall take a moment of silence for all of the victims of TWA 266 and United 826…Our Movie, MAYDAY NEW YORK(c), may have been delayed, but be assured, this movie shall be made in memory of all of the forgotten victims, on this day, December 16, 1960…

    Richard Moylan, President,of Green- Wood, is a friend of mine and I trully commend Rich for planning, designing and finally making this permanent memorial at Green- Wood a reality, for all to visit at Green-Wood. When you are at Green – Wood go and visit the 1960 NYC Plane Crash Memorial, it is a moment in history that shall never be forgotten…

    God Bless
    DJ Donnelly, President
    DJ Donnelly Productions Ltd
    Triumph Group Studios Ltd
    December 13, 2011

  6. My father, Earl H. Reames, was on the United Airline plane on his way home for Christmas that fateful day. I was 12 and my brother was 8. To this day, so many years later, I remember every detail that occurred on Dec. 16th once I returned home from school on a cold Friday afternoon.

  7. Would it be possible to have a picture of a name on the granite monument.? We are celebrating Our Rosary College 50th reunion. Theadora Tiske was a member of our class. We are including a memorial for her at our reunion. If we could see her name on the memorial, that would be a way we could pay tribute to her.
    Thank you,
    Donna Allendorf Wahlert

  8. I was a student in the forth grade at Saint Agustin’s Catholic School at the time of the crash. I remember being rushed out of the classroom by the nun after hearing the terrible noise when the plane crashed on Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue just two blocks away from the school. Once out on the street we saw the plane sticking out of the intersection in a billow of smoke. It looked surreal. I was ten years old back then and will never forget it in my life.

  9. December 16, 2012

    134 lives lost today, over 50 years ago, over Staten Island and Brooklyn. We have current horrific events of our time, lets never forget all 134 victims on December 16, 1960…in their time…

    May God Rest all of Their Souls

    DJ Donnelly, Exec Producer
    Mayday New York (c) The Movie
    Triumph Group Studios Ltd

  10. On this anniversary of the TWA/United tragedy, I’m trying to locate any members of the Patricia Ann Post family. She was a crew member on the TWA flight. If anyone has any information, it would be greatly appreciated! Please email: geojpete@yahoo.com Thanks!

  11. My cousin, Augustine Sugar was an airline stewardess on one of these flights. As it was told to me at the time, I was eight years old, she had changed her flight with another stewardess in order to be home in Columbus, Ohio for Christmas. She was going to surprise her parents. Unfortunately, her mother, father and sister have passed away and would never see the memorial for the victims. My aunt and uncle never celebrated Christmas again, and died years later with their hearts still broken. I always remember my mother telling me that Augustine was found under a church. After the first year or two from the accident, no one in our large family could talk discuss this tragedy again.

  12. It’s been 63 years since this terrible accident occurred. I was waiting with my mother for the arrival of my brother who was coming home from college to celebrate Christmas. I remember being called into a room and told about the current situation. After that, no-one ever came in to talk to any of the families waiting to see if anyone was alive. As you can imagine, our life has never been the same. In 1972, I named my first born after my brother. It took 6 years aftr that for my parents to call him by his birth name. He was always addressed as JJ, Boomber or Buddy. I plan on going down to pay my respects Dec.27th but have a lot of fear in doing so. I pray for all who lost thier loved ones that day.

  13. I lived on Berkly Place just next to Sterling Place. I was to go to my mother’s Christmas party at her work. I was 13 yrs old and home alone. I felt the whole building shake and went out to see what had caused it. Because of a recent snow storm, the air was full of snow and smoke and a sick smell of burnt flesh and fuel. At the corner of my street – 7th Ave laid the remains of the tail section. I’ll never forget seeing the bodies everywhere. It could have hit my building and I remember praying for the victims and the families.

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