Route 66 news:  Hero of Stinson Airport tragedy honored by USGS

Hey roadies, remember several months ago when we got previously unrecognized little Canyon Creek in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve an official name?  Well (blush!), we’ve done it again.  And now we’re trying to organize a dedication ceremony early next month for the newly named Schustek Pond on Route 66.

Bruno Schustek, hero and victim of the Stinson Airport tragedy, Route 66, July 1930, McCook IL

Aviator and hero Bruno F. Schustek

For nearly two years, we’ve been looking for a way to honor a hero of Route 66:  aviator, parachute jumper and World War I pilot Bruno Frank Schustek (1899-1930).  Next month is the 85th anniversary of his death.  Schustek died on July 6, 1930 in what is known as the Stinson Airport tragedy, while trying to save the life of a novice parachute jumper.  Her chute had been caught on the wing of her plane as it circled 1,000 feet above Stinson Airport on Route 66, in what is now McCook, IL.  For two hours, several other pilots attempted rescue with rope ladders and failed, while the girl dangled in midair above and horrified people watched below.  Then Schustek got into a plane with his fellow pilot Charles ‘Bud’ Geiger to make yet another attempt.  As Geiger maneuvered his craft above the other plane, Schustek climbed down a knotted rope to try to free the girl.  The novice made it safely to the ground, but the weary Schustek – an experienced parachute instructor who, ironically, was wearing neither a safety harness (they didn’t exist yet) nor a chute at the time – lost his grip on the rope before he could climb back up and fell 600 feet to his death.  (Listen to our podcast about the tragedy here.)

Schustek’s funeral several days later was well attended by fellow aviators and the then German consul general in Chicago (Schustek had flown for the Germans during the war) – but not by the rescued society girl or other members of her posh family.  At the time, a small marker was supposedly placed on his grave in Elm Lawn Cemetery in Elmhurst; however, no marker exists there today (it may have been vandalized or removed at some point, possibly during or after World War II, when anti-German sentiment was running high).  His remains lie in an unmarked grave, forgotten.

We thought that was just wrong and have tried to raise funds for a new marker, so that Schustek’s courageous act would be remembered.  Then one of my co-authors – Keith Yearman, assistant professor of geography at College of Du Page in Glen Ellyn – suggested that we try to get a local geographic feature named for him.  The idea immediately appealed to us, and Keith made an application online to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names (that’s the way it’s handled these days).  We found a lovely pond that’s both close to the place where Schustek is supposed to have fallen and also on Route 66/Joliet Road; it’s just northwest of the intersection of I-55 and County Line Road in Burr Ridge, in Du Page County.

For more than a year, we heard nothing.  Then recently, Keith received this e-mail from a BGN staffer:

From: On Behalf Of BGNEXEC, GS-N-MAC
Sent: Friday, April 24, 2015 4:51 PM
To: Yearman, Keith
Subject: Decisions re: geographic name proposals in DuPage County

Mr. Keith Yearman,
College of DuPage

Dear Mr. Yearman:

We are pleased to inform you that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, at its April 9, 2015 meeting, approved the following new names for geographic features in DuPage County.

The names have been entered into the Geographic Names Information System, the nation’s official geographic names repository, which is available and searchable online at   The entries read as follows:  …

Schustek Pond:  reservoir; 6 acres; located in the Village of Willowbrook [correction: Burr Ridge], 0.4 mi. NE of Oak Grove County Forest Preserve, 1.9 mi. SE of Ruth Lake; the name honors Bruno Schustek (1899-1930), aviator, World War I pilot, and flight instructor; DuPage County; Sec. 25, T38N, R11E, Third Principal Meridian; 41°45’36”N, 87°54’59”W; USGS map – Hinsdale 1:24,000.  …

Sincerely yours,

Jennifer Runyon, research staff
for Lou Yost, Executive Secretary
U.S. Board on Geographic Names
U.S. Geological Survey, Geographic Names Office
(703) 648-4550

We’re simply excited that Bruno Schustek’s memory will be honored now with Schustek Pond.  Yours truly did find it mildly amusing that the USGS got the address wrong:  the pond is in Burr Ridge, not Willowbrook (it might be in Downers Grove Township on the Du Page County side of town, but all of the surrounding buildings have Burr Ridge addresses; the western half of Burr Ridge lies in Du Page, the eastern half in Cook County).  But no matter:  We know where it is – on Route 66, of course!

In a satellite view, the pond doesn’t look like much, given the commercial and industrial buildings surrounding it.  It’s in the section of Burr Ridge that was once known as Harvester, IL, which was home to an International Harvester plant and the company’s experimental fields, where new equipment models were tried out – in short, the factory and fields were a village unto themselves.  In fact, the Harvester plant/office is still there (it’s now owned by another company, Case New Holland) and is only a few blocks away, northwest of Schustek Pond.

From ground level, the view is a different story.  Specifically, Schustek Pond is located along the eastern edge of an office park where Joliet Road also serves as a frontage road, on the north side of I-55.  The pond is roughly oval shaped, with the long axis paralleling County Line Road and a peninsula sticking into it from the western shore … and it’s rather pretty, in a bucolic way, especially in late spring with the water reflecting the sharp blue sky.  See for yourselves (below):

Schustek Pond in Burr Ridge, IL from Joliet Rd W of County Line Rd - blog (Google street view)

Schustek Pond from Joliet Road/Route 66 (photo courtesy of Google street view)

Joliet Road/Route 66 at that point is most easily accessed from Veterans Boulevard at about a block west of County Line; Veterans Boulevard is a few blocks north of the I-55 interchange.  The closest buildings to Schustek Pond are the headquarters of the North American Spine Society, immediately west of the pond; an office building south of the Spine Society, at the pond’s southwestern edge; and a Spring Hill Suites by Marriott hotel at the northwestern edge.  The pond is easily seen from the frontage road/Joliet Road/Route 66, which is about a block south of where Joliet Road intersects with Veterans Boulevard.  The actual spot where Schustek fell is supposed to be a block or two north, closer to Plainfield Road and County Line, but this was as close as we could get in trying to find something we could name.  Besides, Schustek’s plane was circling above a pretty big area over Stinson Airport while he tried to free that gal’s chute; during the rescue attempt, he probably flew over Route 66 several times in several different places.

We’re currently trying to organize a dedication ceremony for Schustek Pond, possibly for the weekend before or after the actual anniversary (July 6 this year falls on a Monday, i.e., a work day).  The weekend before will be the July 4th weekend, on the other hand, so who knows.  Stay tuned:  we’ll provide details as we get them.

Who knows?  Maybe one day, there’ll be a plaque or a wayside marker by the pond … it could happen.

Until next time,
your Route 66 historian, Marie


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