First published in The Freeman’s Journal on Aug. 16, 1978.
TonyYackey – that’s not a name that falls easily from one’s lips. However, it is a name that fell frequently from the lips of Cooperstown residents during the summer of 1919.
Lt. Tony Yackey was a decorated aviator, an honored veteran of the air war in France and one of the convalescents at the Army Hospital here. Tony was from Detroit and Tony was tough. He was brash, adventurous and “called ’em as he saw ’em.” His speech had not yet been refined.
His fellow flyers enjoyed him. He was a hero to the kids in town. A lot of ladies were attracted to him. A lot of merchants had faith in him, and the crowds who watched at the county fairs loved him, for Tony Yackey was “one hell of a flyer.”
“Tail Spins,” the aviators’ weekly gossip column in The Freeman’s Journal of the day, and the Journal itself, tell of some of Tony’s activities.
He came to Cooperstown in April, 1919, among the first of the arrivals, and he was among the first eight patients who moved into the newly completed wing of Bassett Hospital in May. He was early selected to be the leader of the calisthenics drill, which was about the only daily requirement for the flyers, except for a “bed check” at night.
Late in May he was referred to as the “strawboss” at the Hostess House on the Hyde estate. And he was in the play, “The Eyes of the Army,” a local smash hit conceived, written, directed and acted by the flyers and some local thesbians. A lot of people got involved with the costumes, lights, make-up, etc. They had reams of publicity – they played here several times and in Springfield Center, and even in Utica (to an almost empty house and an emptier review.) The players had a fine float in an Oneonta parade (a crashed plane mock-up). Literally, for two months, the play was the thing.
From the June 4 Journal, this snippet gives the flavor of the first flush of the flyers: “Mrs. Root gave a party Friday evening in honor of her cousin, Miss Betttine Paddock and her sisters, the Misses Jean and Helen Ross. Other guests were Miss McDonald, Miss Elizabeth Prine and Lts. Yackey, McLean, Gray, Nolan, Shepley and Seaver. … The party enjoyed a picnic supper at Leatherstocking Falls.”
Tony Yackey reappears in a different role the following week in a cryptic notation; “The Seminole Tribe has nothing on Tony Yackey when it comes to pretty colors. He has an eye like a corned beef.” And at the end of the month, “Tony Yackey has been flying high this week – possibly for a world’s record.”
On July 12, it was, “Watch out for Tony as he passes through the big cities of Chicago and Detroit,” and on July 23, “Welcome home, Brother Yackey.
Tony returned just in time for a “Bal Masque” at the “Croix-Rouge” as the Hyde place was often called. “The Grande Bal Masque has been renamed a “feat” by our Tony.” And on July 30 he and eight others were ordered to Garden City for their discharges.
Tony Yackey and his “buddy,” Ogden M. Goodsell, were back in Cooperstown as civilians within a week, and in late August came the announcement that the Cooperstown Air Service had been formed and that Tony was off to Toronto to purchase a Canadian Curtiss bi-plane. He planned to return in time to fly at the Otsego County Fair in Cooperstown and to give rides at $1 per minute. Instruction and exhibition flights were also planned. George Hyde Clarke offered his Homestead Farm fields as a base for the Air Service and W.T. Hyde offered his Glimmerglen Farm, but ultimately the Frank Smith farm at the Phoenix crossover was used.
The officers of the Cooperstown Air Service Corporation were: Pres. George Hyde Clarke; V.P. and Gen’l Manager, William Smalley; Sec. James J. Byard, Jr and Treas. Edward Lindsay.
A telegram from Toronto arrived on Wednesday, August 28, reading “Weather Bad. Have ship and expect to start Thursday morning. Tell people, Signed Tony.” The people awaiting his landing at Hyde Hall went home.
On Thursday, Yackey left Batavia. On Friday, he crashed at Schuyler Lake. On the flight from Batavia, Tony lost his way due to his high altitude and the thick clouds. He flew at about 2,000 feet, went right over Illion, Frankfort, Mohawk and Herkimer “so high and so fast that he was unable to distinguish at which town to “turn the corner” for Cooperstown and he finally had to put down at Schenectady for gas. He returned but missed Cooperstown, went right over Oneonta and to Unadilla before returning and landing at Schuyler Lake.
Taking off from Schuyler Lake the plane “got caught in a wind pocket, which caused the ship to do a somersault throwing the pilot out and landing the plane on its back,” cracking the propeller and breaking a portion of the fuselage.
On Saturday, Lt. Goodsell was dispatched to procure a second Canadian Curtiss and on Sunday headed for Cooperstown. “Daring aviator reaches Town” – on Monday, Sept. 3, Goodsell circled the village and then landed at Hyde Hall. And on Tuesday, we read: “Aeroplane Flights Thrill Spectators.”
The boys finally flew at the fair – “The Birdmen gave a splendid exhibition including a nose dive and a loop the loop. And on the same day the new company began carrying passengers from the. King Farm south of the village. Mrs. Waldo C. Johnston being the first to go up. She made the trip with Lt. Yackey who accomplished several flying feats while she was in the machine.”
In the next three days, the Corporation earned about half the cost of one machine. All September and into October the derring-duo flew the county fair circuit – Cooperstown, Brookfield, Potsdam and Ogdensburg, claiming the local headlines and making aerial history, all but obliterating the October first feat of two others here at home – Lt. Sheridan, U.S. Army pilot, and “W.C. Johnston, an agent of the Clark estates,” who flew from Mineola to Cooperstown in a record 90 minutes in a “Giant De Havilland 4 Vampire” which averaged 125 miles per hour or, in Johnston’s words, “almost twice the speed of the Canadian Curtiss training planes which make their home in this village.”
By Oct. 8, both Curtiss planes were busy at the Honesdale Fair, after which Yackey and Goodsell returned, leaving the planes in Pennsylvania, with intentions of heading south for the winter.
As far as the newspapers were concerned, Tony Yackey and the Cooperstown Air Service disappeared from the scene, except for a November notice that Goodsell had crashed and broken his leg in Richmond, Va.
The U.S. Aviation Hospital had closed in late October. The last paragraph of the article reads as follows: “The Hospital will be turned back to the contractors who will continue it to its completion as the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital of which this village soon will be proud.”