May 6 1935, Bronson Cutting
August 31, 1940: Ernest Lundeen
October 7 1962: Clement Miller
The First Senator to Crash: Bronson Cutting
The crash of the TWA Sky Chief on at 2:30AM on May 6 1935 was a disaster by any measure. An aircraft flying for the airline associated with the worst passenger crash to date – that of Knute Rockne four years earlier – runs out of gas in the fog in the early hours of a spring day, desperately seeking an emergency landing strip. The story, as told by the New York Times, sounds so familiar:
Out of fuel and desperately groping through a dense fog for a landing place, a twin-motored Transcontinental & Western Air liner crashed early today at the edge of a pasture here and killed United States Senator Bronson M. Cutting, the two pilots and a woman passenger. All the other nine passengers, including a baby, were injured.
The aircraft went down about fifteen miles short of an emergency grass strip in Kirksville. TWA hoped that the plane could make Kirksville after it was waved off from Kansas City because of impenetrable fog.
The eleven-person passenger manifest was chocked full of people of note. Senator Bronson Cutting, Republican from New Mexico and son of a prominent New York socialite family, was headed back east from being home in the state. He was the subject of extensive coverage in the eastern press, and was somewhat controversial because of his ongoing association with modernist poet Ezra Pound and also because of his courting of Spanish voters in New Mexico. Of the nine survivors (all seriously injured), five were associated with Paramount Pictures and were headed east to make a movie at the US Naval Academy: Richard Wallace, motion picture director; William Kaplan, motion picture executive, and his wife; C. G. (Pat) Drew, motion picture electrician; Harry Sharpe, camera man; and Paul Wing (father of actress Toby Wing), another movie executive. Only Kaplan escaped dangerous injury.
According to one of the passengers, the engine sputtered and then died, leaving “dead silence” before the crash. The most likely explanation for the crash was that they just ran out of gas. It was an epic collision. Farmer Charles Bledsoe observed
The plane hit with a violence that was terrifying, not far from a dirt road. The east bank of the road showed where it struck and there were marks on the west bank. Then it tore through a fence into the pasture, breaking down a small tree. Pieces o the engine were over the road and the pasture. The pilot kept mumbling he ran out of gas. Gentner built a fire, it was so cold and damp. Neighbors ran up and we got them by truck and otherwise, seven of them, to my house. Two doctors came. Most of the injured seemed blank. Some were suffering intensely.”
The pilot, Harvey Bolton, was 28 but with eight years of flight experience and 2,000 hours in the air. It was the first fatal crash of a TWA flight in four years, since the Knute Rockne crash near Bazaar, Kansas.
Ernest Lundeen, Isolationist & Party Switcher
Ernest Lundeen had a long history of isolationist and anti-war politics. As a Republican congressman from Minnesota, he was one of fifty members of the US House who voted against the US entry into World War I. And, like many of those war-reluctant members, he lost renomination to his seat. Lundeen changed party, from the Independent Republican (IR) to the Democratic Farm Labor Party (DFL). He again won election to the US House in 1932 and 1934. In 1936 he secured the DFL nomination for the US Senate and won the election that November as part of the Roosevelt landslide.
Lundeen never lost his orientation against war and against entanglement in foreign affairs. In March 1940, as the German War machine prepared for its turn to the west against France and Great Britain, Lundeen argued for “absolute neutrality in the quarrels of Europe and trade with all.” Speaking before a German-American trade group raising money for Polish relief, Lundeen promised to act as a friend of the German people and an opponent of “newfangled internationalism.” By the dog days of summer, as Germany consolidated western Europe and started bombing Great Britain, he was openly advocating for the formation of an anti-war poverty “to oppose the interventionist policy” that he believed infected Republicans and Democrats alike. In particular, Lundeen staked out his position as a vocal opponent of conscription and military assistance to the British, terming it “nothing short of slavery.” He called for a convention to be held in Chicago on September 1 by “red-blooded Americans who are not under European influence.”
On August 31 1940, Lundeen was flying on Pennsylvania Central Airlines (later Capital Airways) Flight 19 from Washington-Hoover to Detroit when his DC-3 encountered a thunderstorm and crashed in northern Virginia near Lovettsville, killing 25 passengers and crew. There were no survivors. Lundeen was the fifth of six US senators to die in a two-year stretch from November of 1938 to November of 1940. It is the highest rate of US senator mortality in a single election cycle.
Lundeen isolationism again entered the headlines of the nation after his death. Federal investigators, looking into the covert activities of Nazi agents in support of anti-war movements, discovered that “franked” mail envelopes issued to the office of the late Senator Lundeen and six other members of Congress (a frank is a form of mailer that allows members of congress to send mail without paying postage.) The envelopes were in the possession of the Make-Europe-Pay-War-Debts Committee and the Islands-For-War-Debts Committee, both of which were linked to alien efforts against the US government. Lundeen had advocated for recovering war debts by taking, if necessary, possessions of reluctant debtors in the hemisphere: “I know what Andrew Jackson would have said in this case . . . He would have said, ‘Let's seize Bermuda.’”
The crash that claimed the life of Ernest Lundeen was immediately seized on by Senator Patrick McCarran (D-NV) as evidence of failure in the regulation of the domestic flight. McCarran criticized the Roosevelt administration’s decision to eliminate the independence of the Civil Aeronautic Board by placing it in the Department of Commerce. McCarran had fought the reorganization, and blasted Roosevelt, declaring “There will be other and more disastrous wrecks unless the CAB is again put back in its independent status so that efficiency may prevail.”
The flight was crewed by Captain Lowell Scroggins and first officer J. P. Moore. Scroggins was a veteran pilot of eleven years’ experience. The roar of the plane over Lovettsville was followed by a crash. When local residents arrived at the crash scene, the initial reaction was that “the plane had been blasted apart by a terrific explosion.” However, no evidence of explosion was uncovered by the subsequent investigation. There was also no post-crash fire, and subsequent examination showed that the pilots had killed the engines immediately before the impact, probably to prevent fire. Sources on the ground reported hearing an explosion, but the New York Times reported that it was “coincident to a clap of lightning.” Gale force winds were reported that night. The best guess of investigators is that the plane encountered high powered winds and was then struck by lightning, leading to the semi-controlled crash into the ridgeline outside of Lovettsville.
Clement Miller: The Crash Of A Cold War Liberal
Clement Miller was a liberal Democratic congressman elected from northern California’s 1st congressional district in 1958 . Miller was one of a wave of liberal congressmen elected in ’58, and he moved to establish himself with the vocal liberal dissidents in the Southern-dominated House. A veteran of the ETO in World War II, he was descended from a line of Delaware Republican politicians including Charles Miller (former governor) and Thomas Miller (former member of Congress).
In early 1962, Miller was tied to James Roosevelt’s controversial volume The Liberal Papers. This volume was the effort by the son of FDR to articulate a radical departure in American foreign policy. The project had grown out of a working group which, late in the Eisenhower Administration, had sought to frame a new course for American foreign policy that would rely heavily on unilateral demilitarization, rapprochement with the Soviet Union, legitimization of the mainland Chinese government, and self-determination for Taiwan. Early in the Kennedy Administration, the essays that arose from the group were published by Doubleday, and seized on by conservatives as a nearly-subversive manifesto:
Posthumous notoriety came to the Liberal Project when Doubleday & Co., Inc. published a batch of the intellectuals' "new idea" … California's Representative James Roosevelt, a founder and leader of the Liberal Project, supplied an introduction for the volume [The Liberal Papers.] …. [Republicans] Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen and House Minority Leader Charles A. Halleck pounced on it at their weekly joint press conference … "This Democratic-sponsored book," rumbled Dirksen, "could well be renamed Our American Munich" If the proposals urged in the book were adopted … Red China would be admitted to the United Nations—with U.S. sponsorship … Formosa [Taiwan] would vote on whether they wanted their island to become part of Red China … West Germany would be demilitarized … NATO would shrivel into an "Atlantic alliance" of the U.S., Britain and Canada. These policies, said Dirksen, would amount to "surrender" … As the Liberal Project members still in Congress, the G.O.P. National Committee named (in addition to Jimmy Roosevelt) California's George P. Miller, Michigan's James G. O'Hara, Wisconsin's Henry S. Reuss and Robert W. Kastenmeier, Pennsylvania's William S. Moorhead. New Jersey's Frank Thompson. Men named on the list scrambled for cover. George Miller protested that the G.O.P. must mean somebody else. But when the G.O.P. substituted the name of another California Congressman. Clem Miller, he protested, too. "I enter a categorical denial." he said.
In the continuing environment of anti-Red rhetoric in American politics, Miller actively sought reelection to his northern California district, denying the stinging charges of Red sympathy.
Miller died on October 7 1962 while campaigning for election to a third term. The chartered Piper Avalanche he was flying on crashed into Chaparral Mountain near Eureka, California, killing all three persons on board. The craft had flown into a thunderstorm. Representative Miller was reelected to the US House that November over his Republican challenger Don Clausen. This gave Miller the dubious distinction of being the first deceased person elected to either chamber of the United States Congress (Clausen won a subsequent special election to fill the seat and would serve for two decades before losing reelection in the 1982 midterms.)