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The Groundhog and the Nurse

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Edna Newcomer with Groundhog Tailwind

Photograph by Rudy Arnold

I have a hunch that there aren’t a lot of aerospace museums that could come up with an appropriate image for Groundhog Day, but it’s at moments like this that the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Division really shows the range and depth of its holdings. The photograph shown above – the only aviation/groundhog picture that I’m aware of – shows Edna Newcomer and her groundhog Tailwind waving from the cockpit of the Bellanca Skyrocket The American Nurse, at Floyd Bennett Field, New York in September 1932. Dr. Leon Pisculli, also seen in the window, organized the non-stop New York to Rome flight to study the effects of long-distance flight on humans, and presumably, on groundhogs. Newcomer, a nurse and a licensed pilot, planned to bail out over Florence and descend by parachute — it’s not known if she intended to jump with Tailwind. Dressed in white riding clothes, Newcomer also brought along a dress in case she was presented to King Victor Emmanuel III.

But it’s very sad to report that there was no parachute descent on Florence, and no royal audience – American Nurse was last seen by the S.S. France 400 miles from its European landfall. Edna Newcomer, Leon Pisculli, pilot William Ulbrich, and poor Tailwind the groundhog were never seen again.

Allan Janus is a museum specialist in the Museum’s Archives Division.

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7 thoughts on “The Groundhog and the Nurse

  1. A sad story but characteristic of a truly romantic age, maybe the last time that individuals could become adventurers and pioneers. Thanks for this.

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  3. It’s sad to hear they disappeared. Sounds like she had a great life while it lasted. If the plane went down over water, I think the ground hog may have been ok, as I think they are great swimmers. The humans, not so much…

  4. Sad story, I would like to think they all made it through the fall, clung to some debris and got themselves to the Azures where there sons and daughters still live to this day, including the groundhog!

  5. Your article on the American Nurse was terrific. My late mother was Gladys Bramhall Wilner, who was first enlisted as copilot and nurse/jumper on the flight. She eventually declined.

    Mrs. Wilner had a vivid recollection of the flight and preparations. She described Edna Newcomer, her replacement, as a “dancer” not a nurse. Edna’s jump training consisted of Mrs. Wilner pushing her out of the Bellanca twice. She was not a pilot, leaving the unfortunate Ulbrich as sole pilot, copilot and navigator.

    The takeoff message from Ms. Newcomer was, “let them wish me well or go to hell.”

    I took mom to a Lakeland Sun N Fun a few years back and walked into the OX5 club. Her logbook from Roosevelt Field air races c. 1931 was quite a hit. She died in 2009 at 98.

    Perhaps there are other interesting clippings from the little known saga of the American Nurse. I’d love to see them.

    Norwood S. “Woody” Wilner
    nswlaw1@yahoo.com
    Jacksonville, FL

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