Time Collector Preserves Aviation History

A serendipitous discovery uncovers priceless aeronautical memorabilia.

My father and his elder brother Otto were not fond of each other, and so I know little about Uncle Otto that is not in the public domain. He was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States, settling in New York, where he and his wife, Ilse, founded an art gallery: the Gerson Gallery. (“Garrison” was a youthful indiscretion of my father, which he regretted late in life.) After Otto’s death in 1962, the Gerson Gallery merged with the Marlborough Gallery, and so on. It’s all in Wikipedia.

In a separate thread, an old friend of mine, Tom Shima, married Barbara Kallir. It took several years of knowing Barbara for me to learn that her grandfather, Otto Kallir, had been a gallery owner in New York, and shared, along with his given name, my uncle’s narrative of emigration from Europe in the 1930s and a dedication to serious modern art and artists. It is likely that the two men knew each other, as their galleries were literally a block apart on 57th Street in Manhattan.

.” Here are relics of his mail flying career, including his matter-of-fact typewritten report of parachuting out of his airplane into a dense fog. The airplane crashed nearby and was demolished, but the mail was intact and Lindbergh dutifully saw to it being delivered safely to a nearby post office. And then—perfectly preserved—his checks paying Ryan Airlines for the construction of the Spirit. Suddenly speaking French—Je certifie être parti…—he signs his name to the document of the Aéro-Club de France that makes his distance record official. We know, but he does not know yet, that his life will never be the same.

The Wrights, of course, figure prominently, as does the beautiful handwriting of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Among the lesser figures, I spot a familiar name: Jimmie Mattern. Mattern resided, like many others, in the second tier of distance flyers of the 1930s. I met him once, and he gave me one of his patented aluminum “computers”—the word had a different meaning then—which combined an E6B with a pair of dividers calibrated to measure distance on aeronautical charts, and also, being quite sharp, was useful for self-defense. It is still in my airplane.

Ah, Otto—I wish we could have met. Perhaps, if my father had been a more polite and compliant 19-year-oldwhen he arrived in New York in 1937, I might have gotten to know my Uncle Otto, and he might have introduced you to his nephew who had just begun to fly. Perhaps you would have shown me some of those yellowed, handwritten pages, those hastily scrawled signatures, those faded bouquets of penny stamps canceled with the then novel words “Air Mail”—perhaps even let me touch them, and follow their scent back to where this all began.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Q2 2022 issue of FLYING Magazine.


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