Aviation goggles used by pilot Eddie Gardner
Pilot Eddie Gardner was wearing these borrowed airmail goggles when he died in an airplane crash in 1921.
The Post Office Department’s superintendent of the airmail service, Benjamin Lipsner, hired Gardner to be one of first pilots to fly the mail in August 1918. Gardner ran afoul of Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger when he refused to carry the mail in dense fog. Praeger was not a pilot and was often criticized by his airmail pilots for insisting they fly in dangerous weather. He fired Gardner for refusing to fly. Although another official rehired him, Gardner left the service for good in April 1919. He began working for Nebraska Aviation, promoting the company by flying at air shows across the country. Gardner was wearing these goggles when he took off in his Nebraska Aviation Standard airplane during the Holdrege, Nebraska, aviation tournament. During the conclusion of the performance, Gardner’s plane went into a tailspin from which it did not recover. The airplane crashed to the ground. Gardner was pulled out seriously injured, but still alive. He was carried to a hospital, where he died on May 6, 1921.
These goggles and other gear worn and used by Eddie Gardner were eventually presented to Benjamin Lipsner, who had befriended Gardner during the time they worked together. Lipsner was not present at the airfield during Gardner’s crash, but after speaking to friends who were there, blamed the crash on the loaned goggles. He believed that the poorly-fitting goggles had obstructed Gardner’s view just enough to have caused the crash. Although Gardner survived the crash, his only words after the crash did not put blame on the airplane. He muttered “the ship was alright” while being carried to the hospital.
National Archives and Reference Administration, record group 28
Bruns, James H. Turk Bird: The High-Flying Life and Times of Eddie Gardner, Washington, DC: National Postal Museum, 1998.