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.
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.)
So: yours truly decided last week that the best way to figure out exactly what Joliet city manager Tom Thanas meant by that $30K figure for redoing the Rich & Creamy ice cream stand’s roof was to write to Thanas and ask. What a novel idea, you say (no, not really; just comes from me being a journalist for lo, these many years). I also mentioned to him that the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Authority had a grant program, as does the National Park Service, for rehabbing historic sites and official roadside attractions along Route 66 (which information I received from Stacy Conn over at the byway; thank you, Stacy!). And Mr. Thanas deigned to reply!! Imagine that.
The historic Rich & Creamy ice cream stand on Broadway St. is an official Route 66 Historic Attraction in Joliet. Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved
Greetings, fellow route-roadies! You’ll be glad to hear that the Bruno Schustek Memorial Fund is up and running. The forgotten hero of the Stinson Airport tragedy of July 6, 1930 is buried in an unmarked grave, and we’d like to change that. Kudos to my colleague Joe Kubal for getting the deed done and to Keith Yearman for nagging us until Joe got going at Chase Bank. With any luck, perhaps we can get a headstone ready in time for next year’s anniversary.
Today, July 6th, is the 83rd anniversary of the Stinson Airport tragedy, in which two pilots went up into the air above Route 66 to rescue an amateur parachutist whose chute had caught on the wing of her own plane above the airport. Four people went into the air that day, if you count the parachutist’s pilot, but only three came down safely: the would-be rescuer himself died while the parachutist landed safely and lived.
The dead hero’s name was Bruno Schustek. A German-American, he had flown for the German military and was by then a member of the Illinois Glider Association. He’s forgotten today, with not even a lowly grave marker to pinpoint his grave at Elmlawn Cemetery in suburban Elmhurst. Led by Keith Yearman, my colleagues and I have begun a campaign to collect funds for a proper gravestone for Schustek (more on that below), because what he did was extraordinary even for his times.
We’ve just had another piece of U.S. Route 66 history that we’ve researched hit print. Well, so to speak: our co-author Keith Yearman just got a story about the Stinson Airport tragedy of July 1930 published on the website of The 66 News and its sponsor, the Route 66 Association of Illinois. It was posted by 66 News editor Gina Blitstein (thank you, Gina!).