The flights of Thomas Fitzpatrick

The flights of Thomas Fitzpatrick

There are some events you hear of and can’t help but wonder — how come nobody ever told me this?

That’s how I feel about the two legendary flights of Thomas Fitzpatrick, which I first learned about on Twitter recently. I was so surprised by Mr. Fitzpatrick’s feats of trans-Hudson aviation that I doublechecked the cited Wikipedia entry to make sure I was not being hoaxed.

How could it be that Mr. Fitzgerald stole a single-engine plane from the Teterboro Airport around 3 a.m. on September 30, 1956, flew it across the Hudson without using either the lights or the radio, and landed on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street in Washington Heights to win a drunken barroom bet — and paid a $100 fine for it — and then went and repeated the stunt two years later, on October 4, 1958, this time landing on Amsterdam Avenue and 187th Street at the heart of Yeshiva University’s campus, without rumor of this feat reaching my ears when I was a student there a mere quarter century later?

Is fame so fleeting, is oral tradition so fallible, or had solo aviation been so disgraced among Jews by Lindbergh’s antisemitism that word was never again spoken of the affair? While the second flight took place in the middle of Sukkot, when YU students likely were home for the holiday, the school’s newspaper, the Commentator, reported on the rerun, for which Mr. Fitzpatrick received a six-month sentence.

And yet, not only did no word of the tale reach my ears, but they had not even reached those of our columnist Joseph Kaplan, who was quite a few years ahead of me at Y.U.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Mr. Fitzpatrick learned to fly in the U.S. Marine Corp; he’d enlisted during World War II, when he was 15. After his discharge, he joined the U.S. Army and won some limited fame by being the first person from New York City to be wounded in the Korean War.

After that, he worked as a steamfitter, and lived in Washington Township. He died in 2009 at 79 — sadly, without the cover story he deserved in this paper for his heroic efforts in bridging the distance between Y.U. and Bergen County.

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