Researching my Chicago family, I found a devastating death in the now-forgotten 1919 Chicago dirigible crash.

1919 Chicago Dirigible CrashOn 21 Jul 1919. Marcus Charles Callopy and his colleagues were finishing work for the day. Mark, a clerk in the foreign exchange department of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank building, was in main banking hall, which was illuminated by a large skylight.

1919 Chicago Dirigible Crash

Overhead, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.’s Wingfoot Air Express was flying from Grant Park over the Loop. The dirigible caught fire. Crashing through the skylight of the bank at Jackson and La Salle, the engines and flaming wreckage engulfed Mark and his remaining coworkers.

Chicago Daily News Reports

The July 22nd front page of the Chicago Daily News:

Nine of [those killed instantly] were employees of the bank, trapped and burned to death in a withering rain of fire caused by the explosion of the balloon’s gasoline tanks as they hit the floor of the bank rotunda, where over 150 bookkeepers and clerks, nearly all girls, were working.

There was nothing to warn the hundreds of [employees] of the institution of the coming tragedy. A shadow passed over the marble rotunda, where 150 were busy, and a terrifying crash followed. The bank’s closing hour for patrons had passed, but the clerks were still at work in various departments.

It seemed, according to the survivors, as if the entire bank was on fire. Breaking through the iron supports holding the glass overhead, the fusilage [sic] of the blimp, with two heavy rotary engines and two gasoline tanks, crashed to the floor.

1919 Chicago Dirigible Crash inside bank

The Toll

Eleven people died instantly – nine in the bank and two from the dirigible. Mark Callopy died two days later, along with another person from the dirigible; 27 were injured.

Those killed from the dirigible: Milton Norton, Chicago Daily News photographer; Carl Weaver, Goodyear mechanic; and Earl H. Davenport, publicist for the White City Amusement Park.

Bank Victims:

  • Helen F. Berger, bank stenographer
  • James E. Carpenter, bank messenger
  • Marea Florence, bank clerk
  • Mary Gallagher, bank stenographer
  • Evelyn L. Meyer, bank stenographer
  • Irene G. Miles, bank stenographer
  • Edward A. Munzner, bank clerk
  • Carl Otto, bank telegrapher
  • Joseph Scanlan, bank messenger
  • and Marcus Charles Callopy, bank clerk.

The Callopy Family

“The Columns of the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, Chicago: In Memory of Those Who Died Serving, [Chicago]: Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, 1919. Courtesy Internet Archive]

The bank issued a special memorial issue containing the profile at right.

He left his widow, Emily Grennan Callopy, 31, and daughters Mary Rita, 5; Jean (later Sister Ann Stephanie), 4; Carol, 1, and a posthumous daughter, Marcella, born one month after his death. Emily never remarried.

Aftermath

In addition to passing legislation governing flight over the city, the city of Chicago closed the Grant Park Airstrip. This led to the opening in 1923 of the Chicago Air Park, the forerunner to today’s Midway Airport.

Read more about this tragedy in Gary Krist’s excellent book, City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago. And try GenDisasters: Events That Touched Our Ancestors’ Lives.

All photos courtesy Chicago Tribune and Wikipedia.