McMullen: Hitting the Wires

Bryan McMullen, like several other pilots in the early days of the air mail service died due in large part to bad luck. The Omaha Bee tells the story in some detail. McMullen left Checkerboard field near Chicago just before 6am on October 16, 1920s. It seems that the weather was creating difficulties, and McMullen attempted to land in a field. A farmer and his wife saw the plane head towards the field before hitting a telephone wire, flipping over, and bursting into flames. They were unable to reach the McMullen and he burned, along with a large portion of the mail. He left behind a devoted wife who met him at Omaha’s Aksarben field almost every morning since he had been stationed there in October. His mother took over the funeral details, and he was buried near his home in Dallas Texas.

While it is true that the weather played a roll, had McMullen not hit that stretch of wire, had he been a couple of feet higher, it would have been your run of the mill, this is 1920, emergency landing. If you were lucky the farmer’s wife would make a cup of coffee and offer you breakfast while you waited for the weather to clear or the farmer would have given you a ride into town so that you could report your predicament. This time things took an unfortunate turn.

McMullen was born in Texas in May of 1893. According to census records in 1900 he was living in Gatesville, Texas with his father, mother, and sister. Ten years later he was 16, and living with his grandfather, a publisher, and his mother in Palo Pinto, Texas (about 20 miles west of Dallas). His mother and grandmother worked as milliners, meaning they sold and possibly made women’s hats. In the 1920 census, he was working as a salesman and sewing merchant in Dallas Texas. He and his wife, Eva, were boarders. Texas World War I records indicate that McMullen had served overseas from July 1918 to July, 1919. He likely learned how to fly in 1916 when he had been sent to flying school in Newport News Virginia due to being a Lieutenant in the 4th Texas infantry (El Paso Herald—March 24, 1916).

A basic internet search does not indicate what McMullen did overseas, specifically whether he was in the Army Air Corps. Regardless of his service duties, it is easy to imagine a young man, just home from the war, finding temporary quarters and selling sewing supplies while figuring out what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He began flying for the Air Mail Service in August of 1920, only two months prior to his death.

McMullen’s mother died two years later in 1922. Although his father appears to have exited the scene sometime between 1900 and 1910. Daniel McMullen didn’t have an occupation listed in the 1900 census. He died in 1923 in Davenport, Iowa where he worked as a salesman (Iowa Death Records).

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