Red & Athley Gamber
Lt. Charles Taylor
Merle Fogg eased the control stick back in his little biplane. It rose from the ground and soared over the bay towards Fort Lauderdale beach. People near Las Olas Boulevard heard the engine chugging and looked up. They saw the sun sparking from the wings, marveled at the wonder of flight and the daring young man who braved the sky.
By 1928, Merle Fogg had become one of the best-known and best-liked residents in Fort Lauderdale. He was the operator of the city's first flying service. The rides he gave thrilled residents and gave them their first taste of flight. Time and time again he demonstrated the utility of his primitive craft by performing aerial surveys, taking photographs of the city, transporting passengers around the state and teaching residents to fly. Fogg was a visionary who believed in a bright future for aviation and although he would not live to see it happen; he would begin a series of events that would take aviation in Broward County from the era of the barnstormer into the jet age.
Fogg was born on May 26, 1898, in Enfield, Maine to Leslie and Alberta Fogg. He served in the Army during World War I, although he never saw combat. After he was discharged, he studied engineering and graduated from the University of Maine. But Fogg was smitten by aviation, an avocation not endorsed by his father. Leslie Fogg did everything he could to deter his son from becoming a pilot. In 1922, Merle traveled to Okeechobee, Florida. He reportedly told his parents that he merely wanted to winter in a warmer climate, but he was there to take flying lessons from Ralph De Vore of Clearwater. His parents were made aware of his activities when he shipped an aircraft engine back home.
After learning to fly, Fogg barnstormed around Florida for about a year before flying his biplane to Maine to barnstorm in his home state. It was a glamorous, dangerous way to make a living. An account in the Lewiston, Maine newspaper relates that both Fogg and his wing walker, George "Daredevil" Sparks, were nearly killed when at an altitude of nearly a thousand feet; Sparks walked out to the wing tip, lost his grip and nearly fell from the plane. As he tumbled over, Sparks wedged his ankle to a lift strut and hung suspended from the biplane. Although he didn't have much altitude, Fogg dove toward the ground and made a sharp turn, flipping Sparks towards the wing. Sparks grabbed a flying wire and pulled himself aboard. Fogg finessed the controls to end the dive before crashing into the ground.
Fogg returned to Florida around 1925, this time to Fort Lauderdale. The city was in the middle of a land boom, and he was hired to fly a seaplane owned by land developer Tom Bryan. Bryan was also a State Representative and with Fogg as his pilot, he was possibly the first lawmaker to commute to Tallahassee by air. Fogg also opened a base for his land plane. His tiny airfield was tucked into a spit of land just north of Las Olas Boulevard, where it meets the Intracostal waterway. Its primitive wood hangar was visible from the road. Big bold letters over the door proclaimed, "Merle Fogg Flying Service." If he was on the ground working on his plane motorists tooted horns and waved as they went by. Merle must have liked the attention because he always waved back.
One of his young admirers was Dwight L Rodgers, Jr. Rodgers, a Fort Lauderdale attorney, remembered, "I saw him land a few times, and it was great, really great!" Rogers says that Fogg's landing strip was only about a block long. "It was surprising that he could take off at that distance, but he could. He was certainly a well-liked person." Back to Top
Fogg's friends in Fort Lauderdale knew he could be counted on when there was trouble. After the devastation of the 1926 hurricane, he flew a hasty trip back from Maine and presented himself to the City Commission offering his services and his plane for whatever emergency service or relief work that might be needed. He told the Commission, "Gentlemen I can move anywhere, anytime. I will count it an honor for you to call on me." An aerial survey and photographs taken from his plane helped to detail the extent of the storm's damage.
Fogg wasn't the first aviator to fly from Fort Lauderdale. As early as February 13, 1920, a newspaper report told of preparations to open a landing field the following week in the northern part of the city. While he wasn't first, Fogg's name would become the one most remembered as Broward's pioneer aviator. One of his best friends and roommate was August Burghard, a reporter for the Fort Lauderdale Daily News. Later in life he would co-author "Checkered Sunshine," a history of the city. In it he wrote, "Fogg was locally loved as the operator of flying service, a unique vocation, and because he was a personable, outgoing young man. Among his exploits were the flying of the first airplane from Maine to Florida and setting down the first land plane on Andros Island and the island of New Providence (Nassau)."
What Burghard fails to mention is that the landing in the Bahamas was unplanned and nearly ended Fogg's life. A February 7, 1927, front page story in the Fort Lauderdale Daily News and Evening Sentinel relates that Fogg and his passenger R.G. Mills, made a forced landing, coming to a stop in the mud flats at Andros. Mills had enlisted Fogg's help in an aerial search for a missing barge that was owned by a company Mills represented.
Far at sea and with night fast approaching they made the decision to land on Andros and go back to Fort Lauderdale the next day. It did not go well. The nose of the plane flipped into the mud and for four days Mills and Fogg tried unsuccessfully to free it. With no provisions, they nearly starved, subsisting on a little water drained from the planes radiator, strained through their shirts. A sponge fisherman passing the island in a boat rescued them. The fisherman gave them water, food and helped right the plane. Fogg straightened the propeller and flew to Nassau for gas before heading back to Fort Lauderdale.
Fogg's aerial antics earned him a nearly legendary reputation. It was said that he once lassoed a deer from his plane, but how he did it was never explained. He used his biplane to flush birds in the Everglades and herd them to waiting hunters on the ground, and when his friend Burghard was sick, Fogg flew over the hotel where he was staying, cut the engine and yelled down to ask what he wanted to eat. Fogg landed, got his friends selection, and drove to the hotel to deliver the meal. His name was so tied to aviation, that any plane that flew over Fort Lauderdale usually produced the comment, "There goes Merle." When he wasn't flying, he drove around town in a top-down, Reo roadster with his puppy Collie, named, "Oscar" in the back. One resident remembered that children "worshiped" the young aviator.
On May 20, 1927, the world held its breath and waited for news on the fate of another young pilot by the name of Charles Augustus Lindbergh. When he landed in Paris the following day, his solo transatlantic flight made him an instant hero and convinced many that the airplane was no longer just a novelty, but could use to travel quickly to distant places. Lindbergh's celebrity rubbed off of on Fogg. Some of the children in Fort Lauderdale no longer called him, "Merle," instead they greeted him with, "Hi Lindy." Back to Top
By 1928, Fogg had a lot to look forward to. He owned land in Dade, Broward and Okeechobee counties. He had the tidy sum of $1,600 in the Broward Bank and Trust, and his reputation as a dashing, young aviator made him a sought after bachelor. (In a handwritten letter to a Miss Mildred Hyle in Gainesville Georgia, he quipped about the attention, "Ha! Ha! Almost had to spank another girl the other night. Guess had better get an assistant-too strenuous work for a slim joker.") Burghard was to be married in June and Fogg was to be the best man.
On May 1, 1928, Fogg made several flights, and in the afternoon flew A.W. Erkins to Miami to film a movie of the Shriners Parade. As they passed over Fort Lauderdale beach, bathers waved their towels, and Fogg raised an arm out of the cockpit and waved back. Erkins related that on the way to Miami the plane's engine sputtered but Fogg got it running again and they, "had a fine trip." Later in the day, two student pilots showed up at Fogg's hangar to use his Waco biplane for a trip to West Palm Beach. At first, Fogg declined an invitation to join them, but after getting a flying jacket for one of them, he impulsively jumped into the front cockpit with 22-year-old Thomas Lochrie. The other student, C.S. Nelson was in the rear cockpit, and would be at the controls during the flight. The trio lifted off the ground at 4:30 p.m., planning to be back in Fort Lauderdale a short time later.
As they approached the landing strip in West Palm, something went terribly wrong. The plane went into a spin and crashed in the Huffman orange grove about a hundred yards east of Military Trail. Nelson would survive his injuries, but Fogg and Lochrie were crushed by the plane's engine and died in a matter of hours after being rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital. Fort Lauderdale was stunned by the news. At just 29 years of age, a cherished friend and the man some called their "city's hero" was gone.
His body was returned to Fort Lauderdale's Griffith Funeral Home. Two thousand people from every walk of life passed by his casket. After the service, his body was taken to the Florida East Coast train station for a final trip back to Maine, where he was to be buried. Nearly 1,200 mourners joined in the procession. As the funeral cortege left the chapel, seven aviators flew overhead in their biplanes, dipped wings in a final salute, and showered the procession with hundreds of roses.
Three days after his death the Junior Chamber of Commerce discussed plans to redouble its efforts to establish an airport in Fort Lauderdale. Fogg had been a member of the Junior Chamber and was among those calling for a permanent airport to replace his make-shift field. A report on the meeting said, "No more fitting and lasting tribute could be paid Fogg than the creation of a local flying field, bearing his name."
On May 1, 1929 (exactly one year to the day after his death) 5,000 people attended the dedication of Merle L. Fogg Airport. It was located on the site of the Southside, municipal golf course which had closed in December 1928. Only a minimal amount of work was needed to convert it into an airport. Trees and bushes were cleared from the perimeter of the course, and its bunkers were leveled. Its unpaved runways were the former fairways, suitable for the planes of the day. It was hoped that Fogg airport would attract an airplane manufacturer to the city, but that never materialized. In the tough economic times of the 1930's, there was little flight activity, and the untended airfield grew high in weeds.
During World War II, Fogg Field, (as some called it) was acquired by the Federal Government and was greatly expanded as Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale. It was used to train aircrews in the Avenger torpedo bomber. After the war, it was acquired by Broward County and in 1953 Mackey Airlines began the first scheduled passenger flights. In 2003, 17 million passengers hurried through the airport first created to honor Merle Fogg. It is now known as Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
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Appointed by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners when Broward County took over the Airport from the U.S. Navy, Lee Wagener became the Airport's first general manager. He played a significant role in the growth and development of the Airport as well as the county. His "masterpiece" financial systems, as well as his ability to generate non-aviation income, helped guide Airport operations into its multi-million dollar future. Wagener served as a communications officer on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Theater during World War II before joining the Airport.
Red & Athley Gamber
Lt. Charles Taylor
An experienced Naval pilot with more than 2,500 flying hours, Taylor was the commander of the infamous Flight 19 that disappeared after takeoff from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 5, 1945, beginning one of the 20th century's most puzzling mysteries concerning the Bermuda Triangle. His flight team, consisting of five Avenger torpedo bombers and 14 crewmen, disappeared from radar and was never seen or heard from again. Lt. Taylor was an accomplished pilot and the recipient of such distinguished awards as the Presidential Unit Citation for service in World War II.
An ex-barnstormer, Joe Mackey founded Fort Lauderdale's first airline - Mackey Airlines - and began air service between Florida and the islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean in the 1950s. Mackey Airlines prospered and eventually merged with Eastern Airlines. Joe Mackey became a prominent Broward County politician.
When Mackey Airlines began, Joe Mackey brought fellow friend and barnstormer Len Povey into his company as the executive vice president. Before his career with Mackey, Povey helped organize the Cuban Air Force. His illustrious career also included work as a test pilot, a CAA inspector, a Marine Corps Reserve pilot and vice president of the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation. After the Mackey-Eastern merger, Povey became vice president and general manager of Eastern Aviation Services and was eventually inducted into the OX5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame.
The original sales manager for Mackey Airlines, Pete Goss, benefited from the Mackey-Eastern merger as well, becoming Eastern's Director of Airport Services and eventually becoming responsible for all of Eastern's operations in Broward County. FLL became known as one of the best-operating stations in the Eastern system while Goss was at the helm. He retired in 1989.
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