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This is the photo I took at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6, 1941.
In 1941, Paul Ryan was the editor of the Kaydet, the St. Thomas Military Academy yearbook. I was the photo editor. We were searching for what novel approach we might take for the spreadsheet inside the front and rear covers of our yearbook. Why not take an aerial photo of our campus?
We all agreed that would be a great idea, but how could we get the shot? I knew that the College of St. Thomas had a U.S. Government-sponsored Civil Air Patrol (CAP) program to teach college students how to fly. I also remembered that George Kell, a student who ran the darkroom, had just obtained his private pilot’s license. What a thrill it was for me to know that George would take me up for my very first airplane ride that Saturday morning. And I would be George’s first passenger.
The morning sky was sunny and crystal clear on Dec. 6. George drove me to the hangar at Wold-Chamberlain Field (now Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport). We found the CAP plane. It was a J-3 Piper Cub with 60hp and two-place tandem seating. George – the pilot – sat in back, and I sat up front. There was one problem: The plexiglass windows were scratched. Not ideal for shooting photos.
We couldn’t let a little problem like that spoil our project, so George and I just removed the airplane door. We took off and headed across the Mississippi River to the St. Thomas campus.
My camera was a press style Speed Graphic that the academy had provided for the photo editor. Film was 3.25-by-4.25 inch single sheet Kodak Super XX that I had loaded into three wooden sheet film holders. Each holder contained two sheets so I could take six exposures. Film speed was ASA 100 – the highest speed available in those days. Of course, color film was not yet available.
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As George circled the campus at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, I checked to see that my seat belt was securely fastened for when I would lean out through where the door had been. I was concerned that the slip stream of wind would collapse the bellows of my camera. That turned out not to be the problem since the cub had a cruising speed of only 65 miles per hour. So, I set the lens aperture to f5.6 and the shutter to 1/250 second and shot six photos from various campus angles hoping that one would be suitable for our yearbook project.
When I returned to campus, I immediately went up to the college darkroom to develop the film. (The college graciously allowed me to use its darkroom in the science building as there were no such facilities in the academy building.) I made 11-by-14 inch prints on the college enlarger. One was selected for the 1942 Kaydet yearbook insert. The other five obviously went to the nearest trash can.
Some months later, Father Forum in the college administration building met me and commented that I should have waited until there were leaves on the trees before taking the photo. I responded that waiting one more day would have meant that there would have been no photo because President Roosevelt grounded all private civilian airplanes on Dec. 7.
The St. Paul campus was much smaller in 1941. The football stadium is in the center foreground. The St. Thomas Military Academy building was north of the power plant and west of the college science hall. The rifle range and Armory were on the site of the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, which opened in 2010, when O’Shaughnessy Hall was razed. Still serving the university today: Aquinas Hall, Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, 100-year-old Ireland Hall and the Alumni Center, which then served as the Infirmary.
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