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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.


Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race is available at the link. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing. ISBN 978-0-9843074-3-2.


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Robert A. Purcell signed the Davis-Monthan Register on Friday, August 21, 1931 at 12:15PM. Based in Alliance, OH, he was apparently solo westbound from Roswell, NM to Santa Monica, CA. He flew Monocoach NC8953.

Interestingly, Purcell was a pilot whose itinerary we can trace from airfield to airfield. He landed on Thursday, August 20th at Parks Airport, East St. Louis, IL. In that Register, NC5893 was identified as an Alexander Eaglerock. But NC8953 was clearly a Monocoach 201 (S/N 5002). He, or whomever entered the information for him in the Parks Register, entered the wrong airplane identification. The next day we found him signed in the Davis-Monthan Register at Tucson at 12:15PM, as above, and then in the Clover Field, Santa Monica Register at 5:15PM. It had been a long two-days' flying for him.

Purcell was born June 24, 1903, son of William H. Purcell and Gertrude Hartzell. The 1920 Census placed him living in Alliance, OH with his parents and three sisters. His father's occupation was a manufacturer of steel. The 1930 Census placed him living (age 26) as a newly-wed with Elizabeth H. (23) in Alliance, OH. They rented their home for $65.50 per month. His occupation was coded as "Engineer" in a "Machine Factory." That factory was the Alliance Machine Company, for which his father was president. The company made overhead cranes and heavy lift equipment.

He did not know it, but at the time he visited Parks Airport, Tucson and Santa Monica, Purcell had barely nine more months to live. He flew West in an airplane crash near Lexington, OH on June 14, 1932.


"Ship Strikes
Barn, Bursts
Into Flames
Robert Purcell and Ruth
Kolb Meet Death In
Airplane Tragedy

Bucket Brigade Saves Barn

" A verdict of Accidental death was returned  Wednesday  when coroner T C McQuate upon completion of the tragedy in which Robert Purcell , 28, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Purcell, and Ruth Kolb, 22 of 232 South Seneca Ave, lost their lives when the airplane in which they had been flying over the city crashed into a barn and was destroyed by flames about 8 p.m. Tuesday.

"Although the bodies of both victims were burned beyond recognition, the coroner declared that the death of each was caused by the force of the impact created when the aircraft struck the barn.

"Both had fractured skulls and are believed to have been instantly killed, the coroner said after he had conducted post mortem examinations at the Cassiday and Turkle funeral home late Tuesday night.

"Investigation showed that Purcell, who had been flying the last five years, had borrowed the Velie coupe airplane owned by Louis G. Whitaker, of Alliance, for the evening and that he and Miss Kolb had been flying over Alliance and vicinity for some time before they crashed.

Plane Hits Barn

"The accident occurred on the farm of Charles Wolpert, about a mile and a half north of the city, at the intersection of Lexington road and the road leading east toward the airport on North Webb road. It is known as the old Rickard farm. It was believed that Purcell lost control of the plane, the left wing striking the top of the barn with the nose then hitting the wagon shed, which is a small adjoining building.

"Information obtained by the coroner was to the effect that, when the airplane hit the building, the two occupants were hurled forward and their skulls fractured. The impact broke the gasoline tank and the fuel was sprayed over the craft and part of the building. Flames immediately broke out.

"A bucket brigade was formed and the Alliance fire department called at 8:05 p.m. By the time the department arrived, the brigade had the flames under control and the barn was saved. The airplane, however, was destroyed.  Considerable time elapsed before the bodies could be removed from the fire. A wrist watch worn by Purcell had stopped at 7:50 p.m. indicating that to have been the time of the crash.

"The airplane had been obtained at the airport, when Purcell, Miss Kolb, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Orwig, Marcella Doyle, and Owen Lewis, brother in law of Purcell, went to the field early in the evening. Purcell invited Miss Kolb and Mrs. Orwig, sister of Miss Kolb, to take the flight with him. Just as they were ready to leave the field, Mrs. Orwig declined to go and Purcell and Miss Kolb made the fatal trip by themselves.

" Police Chief Harry L. Stark and Lieut. Earl Schultz made a thorough investigation for the Alliance police department and after the arrival of the coroner, the department lent assistance in the probe. Hundreds of persons were attracted to the scene of the tragedy and police were kept busy handling traffic.

"Miss Kolb was born here July 24, 1910. She was a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic church and was graduated in the January, 1930, class of Alliance High School. She is survived by her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Kolb; one sister, Mrs. A. R. Orwig of Alliance and a brother, Karl of San Francisco. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

"Purcell was the last survivor of a group of aviators who learned to fly at the same time. Others including Aubrey Hess, and Billy Leonard had already “cracked up.” Purcell was born in Alliance and had lived here his entire life. His 29th birthday would have fallen on June 24th. He was a graduate of Alliance high school  and attended Mount Union college. He was graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an engineering degree.

"While in technical school, Purcell did considerable work of note in engine development, particularly in regard to lubrication. Since graduation, he continued this work and had recently developed an efficient kind of super-charger for racing cars and airplane motors. He was working on Diesel engine development and on special machinery.

"Purcell was vice president and production manager of the Alliance Machine Company. He also served as director of that company, the Alliance Manufacturing Company, Machined Steel Casting company and the Mount Union bank. He was a member of the exclusive aeronautical club, the Quiet Birdsmen, and of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon national social fraternity.

"Besides his wife, Elizabeth, and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Purcell, he is survived by three sisters, Mrs. C. J. Rodman, Mrs. Owen Lewis, and Miss Ruth Purcell, all of Alliance. Private funeral services will be conducted at the Cassiday and Turkle funeral home at 2 p.m. Friday. Dr. W. H. McMaster, president of Mt. Union college, and J. W. Stephens, Jr., pastor of the First Presbyterian church will be in charge. Burial will be made at the city cemetery. The family has requested that there be no flowers.           

 City Band Postpones Opening Of Season

"At the request of Mayor C. S. Westover and in view of the recent air tragedy, which has cast a gloom over the city, the concert of the Alliance City band announced for Wednesday evening at Stanley Park. Opening of the summer concert season of the band will probably take place next week."

Cited below are news articles from the New Philadelphia Daily Times (OH), June 16, 1932, Salem News (OH), June 16, 1932 and the Zanesville Times Recorder (OH), June 15, 1932, and the local Alliance Review of June 15, 1932, right, courtesy of a site visitor.

New Philadelphia Daily Times (OH), June 16, 1932 (Source: newspapers.com)
New Philadelphia Daily Times (OH), June 16, 1932 (Source: newspapers.com)

These articles present slightly different "facts" surrounding the accident.

Salem News (OH), June 16, 1932 (Source: newspapers.com)
Salem News (OH), June 16, 1932 (Source: newspapers.com)

Below, we learn that Miss Cobb was a relative.

Zanesville Times Recorder (OH), June 15, 1932 (Source: newspapers.com)
Zanesville Times Recorder (OH), June 15, 1932 (Source: newspapers.com)


R.A. Purcell, Grave Marker, 1932 (Source: ancestry.com)
R.A. Purcell, Grave Marker, 1932 (Source: ancestry.com)









The site visitor who provided the Alliance Review article says, "Mr. Purcell was an up and coming young engineer likely to take on a big role in the Alliance Machine Co. (Manufacturer of Overhead cranes and steel mill eqpt.). He built a big home in Alliance complete with a ballroom etc. but never got to occupy it due to his untimely death."






UPLOADED: 10/29/07 REVISED: 07/28/17

The Register

A site visitor from Alliance, OH sent us the news article from the Alliance Review, below.


I'm looking for photographs of pilot Purcell and his airplane to include on this page. If you have one or more you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.

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