Emil “Ace” Feroldi and Hank Anholzer never saw aviation legend Charles Lindbergh barnstorming around the country in his first airplane—a 1918 Curtiss “Jenny.” Of course, that didn’t stop the two friends from volunteering to restore the airplane five decades later, creating the nucleus of the 63 planes and spacecraft now on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, N.Y. (pop. 21,672).
Their journey began in 1973 when George Dade, a self-made millionaire and aviation buff from Glen Head, N.Y. (pop. 4,625), found the Jenny in a barn in Coggon, Iowa, transported it to his home, and set about recruiting volunteers to restore it in his basement.
Feroldi and Anholzer were a perfect fit. They had more than 80 years of experience with Pan American airlines between them, beginning on a Long Island, N.Y., assembly line and later traveling the world as aviation troubleshooters and inspectors. One night a week for four years, they painstakingly brought the old bird back to its former self, even exposing a strut on which Lindbergh had carved his initials.
“It was in really sad shape,” recalls Anholzer, who rebuilt the fuselage while Feroldi spliced and rigged all of the cables and lines by hand.
“Dade put in the milling machines, the lathes, everything we needed to build a plane,” Feroldi says. “Where else would I get such a big erector set to play with?”
Eventually the restored Jenny was moved to a hangar in the old Mitchell Field Air Force base on Long Island, as Dade worked to create a museum to display the historical aircraft. New York’s Long Island was a perfect location for a museum devoted to aviation. If Kitty Hawk, N.C., can be called the Birthplace of Flight, The Hempstead Plain—where Garden City and several other Nassau County towns exist today—can be considered the cradle where aviation grew, developed and took its first steps. The plain, a long, wide, flat area next to the ocean, topographically lent itself to the testing and flying of airplanes during the golden years of aviation between 1918 and 1939.
The aircraft industry boomed there, and Pan Am shared the spotlight with manufacturers such as Grumman, Republic, Curtiss and Fairchild, which between them produced more than 45,000 aircraft during World War II, the height of aircraft production there. The crowning achievement was perhaps the building of the Apollo Lunar Modules by Grumman in the 1960s and ’70s that first put men on the moon.
In 1979, Dade’s dream was realized, and the Cradle of Aviation Museum opened its hangar doors. The Jenny was later joined by other restored airplanes, including the sister ship to the Spirit of St. Louis, a P-47 Thunderbolt, and one of the first jet fighters, a Grumman Tiger.
“I worked on every one of them, a little bit here, a little bit there,” Anholzer says, standing in the museum’s modern-day complex, which opened in 2002.
Today, the Jenny still is a popular attraction at the museum, where Feroldi, 84, and Anholzer, 82, continue to volunteer their time.
“They were a bunch of dusty old men working on dusty old planes in dusty old hangars,” says Tom Gwynn, the museum’s vice president of external relations, of the museum’s early days.
Today, the museum’s collection includes a 1909 Bleriot 11, the sister ship to the first plane to cross the English Channel, and the LEM 13, the Lunar Module that stayed home when the Apollo program was terminated.
“We have a diverse collection spanning 100 years here,” says museum curator Joshua Stoff of the growing collection created and restored by Feroldi, Anholzer and more than 250 other volunteers.
“These guys are doing it because they love it,” says Gwynn of Feroldi and Anholzer. “They are the superstars in that area. It is not only inspiring, it is contagious.”
Ironically, neither of them ever learned to fly. “I just love fixin’ ’em, building ’em,” Anholzer says. Feroldi puts it more simply. “I just love old planes.”
For more information on the Cradle of Aviation Museum, call (516) 572-4111 or log on to www.cradleofaviation.org.