Monday, February 23, 2009

Images From Around Town

The Lincoln School in 1872. (Credit: Samford University Special Collections)

A colored postcard of the then three-story Marion Female Seminary (founded 1836), late 19th or early 20th Centuries. (Credit: Perry County Historical and Preservation Society)

Another postcard view of the three-story Marion Female Seminary. (Credit: Perry County Historical and Preservation Society)

A great image of students at the Marion Female Seminary, c. late 19th Century. Note the bearded gentleman (Headmaster?) in the center of the group, and the little boys in the very front. (Credit: Perry County Historical and Preservation Society)

Nicola Marschall, a Prussian-born art, music, and languages teacher at the Marion Female Seminary, is credited with designing the first official Confederate flag and the first Confederate uniform. (Credit: Alabama Department of Archives and History)

A colored postcard of The Chapel at Marion Institute, c. early 20th Century.

March 1, 1965, Marion, Alabama: Walking behind the hearse carrying the casket of Jimmie Lee Jackson are four noted Civil Rights leaders. Left to Right: John Lewis (who lead the march with Hosea Williams in Selma on “Bloody Sunday”); Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King’s most trusted lieutenant; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Andrew Young, another of King’s lieutenants. Dr. King and Andrew Young both married Marion women – King married Coretta Scott, and Young married Jean Childs. (Credit:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

From Where I’m Sitting, I Can’t See the Top of the Empire State Building.”

On the foggy morning of Saturday, July 28, 1945, at 9:49 AM, a U. S. Army B-25D Mitchell Bomber, flown by ace fighter pilot LTC William F. Smith, MMI ’38, USMA ’42, plowed into the Empire State Building in New York City. Smith and his two crew members and 11 civilians in the building were killed. The accident was a strange precursor to the events of 9/11 involving the World Trade Center in New York City.

LTC William Franklin Smith, Jr., MMI ’38, USMA ’42. His MMI nickname was “Liver Lips.” (Credit:

A native of Latham, Alabama, William Franklin Smith, Jr. (1918-1945), graduated from Marion Military Institute with the A.A. degree in 1938. His nickname at MMI was “Liver Lips!” Smith entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, became an All-American lacrosse player, and graduated in the Class of 1942. Trained to be an Army fighter pilot, Smith served in the European Theatre during World War II for two years, amassing over a thousand hours of flight time including 34 combat missions, and winning two Distinguish Flying Crosses, four Air Medals, and the French Croix de Guerre.

1944: LTC Smith commanding the 750th Squadron, 457th Bombardment Group during World War II. (Credit:

This particular flight originated in New Bedford, MA, and attempts to land at LaGuardia Airport in New York City were unsuccessful due to a blanket of dense fog and clouds which had socked the city in. Diverted to the Newark, NJ, airport, the tower at LaGuardia radioed LTC Smith that the ceiling was near zero and that forward visibility was limited to three miles only. The air traffic controller added: “From where I’m sitting, I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building.”

A B-25D Mitchell Bomber like the one LTC Smith was flying on that fateful day. (Credit: Jennifer Rosenberg, The American Dream)

At 9:48AM, witnesses on the ground saw Smith’s bomber barely miss Rockefeller Center, flying at about 500 feet. Then, the plane banked sharply and disappeared into the fog. Officials believe that LTC Smith had found a break in the clouds, that he saw a curved river ahead which he thought was the East River (it was actually the Hudson River), and that he then descended to 225 mph thinking that he was approaching the Newark Airport. Instead, he was on a course straight for the Empire State Building! Smith tried too late to veer away, and struck the 78th and 79th floors of the 102-story building’s north end. The impact – at the 913 foot level – tore an 18 x 20 foot gash in the building, and ignited a blazing inferno. In all, 14 people - Smith and his two crew members and 11 people working in the offices affected – were killed, and 26 others received severe wounds or burns. Material damages ran more than one million dollars.

LTC Smith was 27 years-old.

The burning Empire State Building and the gaping hole in its north side. (Credit:

The building in flames from another vantage point. (Credit:

The Army attempted to pay restitution to the victims of the crash into the Empire State Building, then the world’s tallest building. Some people accepted money, but a major lawsuit was initiated that resulted in landmark legislation for the nation. The Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, allowed Americans – for the first time – to sue the Federal government.