I like the idea of writing about and remembering Warren and Nelson Kerns, two unknown young men who lived real lives a long time ago.
Above is a photo of two tags that would have been attached to projects entered in competition at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. These projects belonged to Nelson Kerns, my grandmother’s little brother, who was killed in an airplane accident when he was fifteen on July 24, 1930. His brother, Warren, 16, also died in the crash. Read here to learn more.
I’ve written a few posts about the brothers. Those posts included letters written about a month before their deaths to their mother, Caroline (Phillips) Kerns, who was visiting her parents in California at the time of the accident.
However, instead of dwelling solely on the boys’ deaths, it seems more productive to commemorate their short lives by posting about their activities beyond farm work.
And that’s why I’ve included the state fair entry tags. The top tag in the photo, I believe, accompanied a model or diorama of a working farm. The bottom tag accompanied some type of toy that Nelson built.
I don’t know whether these projects won any prizes. I’ve searched newspapers.com for a list of winning entries at the 1929 fair, but so far have been unable to find any information or even whether a list was published. It’s my guess that most records from that long ago have been lost or were never published in the first place. However, I did find listings for winning sewing items and livestock in an August 1930 issue, so I’ll have to make a call to the state fair office to find out for sure.
Below is another keepsake, some handwritten notes for the design of a biplane. Both brothers possessed a keen interest in flying. I have five more note sheets like this one, but this is the only one that’s signed. The brothers may have planned on building one of these airplanes since they were known to design projects together.
I don’t know anything about flying other than how to book a ticket online and I’m not even very good at that, but flying was apparently a fascinating subject for the brothers, and they weren’t the only ones with this affinity.
Barnstorming was a popular form of entertainment at the time and was completely unregulated, according to The History of Barnstorming on the All Things Aviation website.
The author writes, “A typical barnstormer (or a group of barnstormers) would travel across to a village, borrow a field from a farmer for the day and advertise their presence in the town by flying several low passes over it – roaring over the main street at full throttle. The appearance of the barnstormers was akin to a national holiday. Entire towns were shut down and people would flock to the fields purchasing tickets for the show and plane rides. Locals, most of them never having seen planes before, would be thrilled by the experience.”
On that late summer day in 1930, it was likely a similar scene at the boys’ hometown of Hume, Mo., which was celebrating the anniversary of its founding fifty years earlier. The accident was an abrupt end to what had been a celebratory day.
News of the accident traveled fast and far. Many local and area newspapers covered the accident and the funeral services for the boys. Here are some of those: Jefferson City, Springfield, and Chillicothe in Missouri, and Iola, Kansas. Two of the headlines read “Accident Mars Celebration of State Town’s 50th Anniversary” and “Crash Mars Festivities – Two Home Town Boys Die on Hume, Mo. Fiftieth Anniversary.”
The news traveled much further, however, thanks to The Associated Press, which distributed the story and caused it to be picked up in Lincoln, Neb.; Miami, Okla.; Corsicana and Denton, Tex.; and Ogden, Utah. Even the Los Angeles Times ran a short paragraph about the crash on page one of the July 27, 1930 issue; however, it doesn’t mention the brothers’ names, but instead only the pilot’s. Here is the clip from the July 26, 1930 Ogden Standard-Examiner:
Most of the other newspaper clips about the accident and funeral services are much more detailed, and the longest clips from the closest surrounding towns are very, very sad. I may post those, but I’m not sure. I prefer to focus instead on the lives of Warren and Nelson, to envision the boys as they lived.
I will, however, post the last three paragraphs from one longer newspaper story headlined “Many Attend Funeral of the Kerns Brothers.” This clip reveals how much the boys were admired locally. Here it is:
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