Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 2:12PM
Fifty years ago today, when two airplanes collided over Staten Island, sending one crashing down in a field and the other by the corner of Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place, the shockwaves were felt throughout the entire country. This was history's first major passenger airline disaster, and the sudden death of 136 people not only helped shed air travel's glamorous image, it inspired a revolution in radar and airline safety, and tested the mettle of the fledgling TV news industry.
In the ensuing years the crash was all but forgotten. The wreckage was cleared away, the damaged buildings demolished and eventually replaced by new apartments. Those who were there got older, and those who came after never learned about the crash (there's no marker on the site, after all). Thankfully, fifty years later, this tragedy is once again entering the public consciousness. A memorial to those who died was unveiled this morning in Green-Wood Cemetery, and New York Times City Room has published articles every day this week exploring every detail of the disaster, from the state of the neighborhood ("in transition") to the scene in the cockpit, to the media response, to the story of Steven Baltz, the 11-year old who survived the crash only to die the next day.
Here are some photos of the scene of the Park Slope crash, both then and now.
|Looking north up Seventh, towards Sterling.|
|Looking east on Sterling, towards Seventh. The 1887 Lillian Ward Mansion (r.) emerged unscathed.|
|North side of Sterling, looking east towards Seventh. Note the distinctive fence (l.)|
|The wing tore a gash through 126 Sterling Place before crashing into the church across the street.|
|Seventh and Sterling, looking west|
|Seventh and Sterling, looking northeast|
|Seventh and Sterling, looking northwest|
|North side of Sterling, looking towards Seventh, 1961|
|Looking south on Seventh, towards Sterling, 1961|
|View east up Sterling, towards Seventh|
If you're looking for any trace of the crash on this corner, you're not going to find any aside from the new corner buildings and 126 Sterling's missing cornice (those corner sites remained vacant lots until very recently). However, if you look carefully you may notice one remaining relic of the Pillar of Fire Church, the ironically-named epicenter of the crash. Some of its distinctive iron railing (noted in the photo above), with its squiggle pattern meant to symbolize fire, was salvaged from the wreckage and can now be found guarding the ground-floor windows of 109 Sterling Place.