By James Schmitt
While stories of Lakelanders may have been partially lost to time,the Lakeland Community Heritage Project (LCHP) has preserved stories of many community members. Through the project, I learned about Lakeland’s vibrant past and have been able to find clues to the identities of the men in the photograph. Violetta Sharp Jones, who is with the project, knew quite a bit about the Lakelanders who worked at the College Park Airport. She provided key details that helped me narrow some leads. One of the most interesting details Violetta offered was about one man’s name: The person we thought was Hans Hill was actually Abraham Hill. He likely went by the nickname Ham, which was subsequently confused with Hans.
I also found a number of useful details on genealogical websites, including Ancestry.com, which offered census information that allowed me to track the air crew members and their families through the decades. I learned, for example, that Charles Johnson, a mailman who worked at the airfield, was Dervy Lomax’s grandfather; Lomax became College Park’s first Black mayor. LCHP interviews with Lomax include fascinating details about his relationship with his grandfather, who inspired Lomax’s forays into politics. Fold3.com, a repository for military data., included a number of draft cards that helped me identify individuals in the photo, including Earl Bernard Brooks. On his World War I card, Brooks listed his occupation as a mechanic’s helper for the U.S. Aerial Mail Service; this definitively linked him to College Park.
Luke Perez, curator of collections at the College Park Aviation Museum, assisted me in this research. He opened channels to the Smithsonian’s archives, which include the papers of Charles Ingram Stanton, Sr. Stanton served as the superintendent of operations for the air mail service and collected service data on workers; his records list the names and service dates of several Lakelanders, including Charles Johnson.
Kevin found a second image in the museum’s archives of the crew surrounding a Standard JR-1B airplane. The people in it, including African American mechanics and groundskeepers, were likely celebrating a successful flight. One man threw his hands up in the air in excitement, while others smiled widely at the camera. People, both white and Black, who hail from apparently different professions, are side by side here, providing a unique look into our airport’s past. Although we do not know for sure if any of the individuals in the photo are the Lakelanders we have been researching, we are hopeful that our collaboration with the LCHP will help us uncover their identities.
Bio: James Schmitt is a museum guest services associate and historian at the College Park Aviation Museum. He has also worked on the Finding the Maryland 400 project, an initiative studying the state’s first regiment in the Revolutionary War.