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Fort Worth Flashback: Early aviator Vernon Castle memorialized in Benbrook

Posted Aug. 12, 2012

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Vernon and Irene Castle were a husband-and-wife dance team and the first pop superstars of the 20th century. They were young, rich and famous, and they authored books, starred in early Broadway musicals and movies and sold their names and faces to everything from record players to shoes to cigars.

Vernon, however, felt increasingly guilty about his life of luxury. He had been born and raised in England, and World War I was ravaging Europe. Vernon joined the Royal Flying Corps, was quickly commissioned as an officer, and flew 300 combat missions. He shot down two German planes and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for heroism.

In 1917 he returned to the U.S. to teach aviation students how to fly. On Feb. 15, 1918, at a military airfield southwest of Fort Worth, his plane stalled during a climb and roll maneuver. Vernon was only 75 feet in the air, but he had given the safer rear seat to his student, and died when the plane fell nose first into the ground.

According to the monument at the crash site, “Neither the other pilot, his student cadet nor Vernon’s pet monkey, Jeffrey, were seriously injured.” (Jeffrey’s ultimate fate is unknown, but Irene’s monkey, Rastas, is buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in New York. City)

The former Benbrook Field is now a tree-shaded housing development. The crash site is marked by a concrete pylon topped by a small sculpture of a metal biplane. The monument had fallen into disrepair, but was restored by an Eagle Scout in the late 1990s.

The Fort Worth Library has approximately 10,000 items pertaining to the history of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. These items include city and county government documents, newspapers, directories, cemetery association records, maps as well as popular and scholarly books written by local authors or about local subjects. To learn more, call 817-392-7740 or email the Genealogy, History and Archives Section.

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