The Dallin Aerial Survey Company collection at the Hagley Library has been one of our most heavily used collections since it landed here in 1970. The collection of over 13,000 aerial photographs were taken primarily of the mid-Atlantic region over a period from 1924 to 1940. Pilot and photographer Colonel Victor Dallin, who learned to fly as a member of the Royal Air Force in World War I, founded his Philadelphia company on the airfield that has since grown into the Philadelphia International Airport. Working with cameras of his own design, he flew his photographers over estates, businesses, factories, golf courses, events, towns, and cities leaving behind a historical treasure that uniquely documents an American landscape between the two World Wars.
Victor Dallin is a bit of a celebrity to Hagley Library staff so it was exciting to correspond with his granddaughter -- Sara Thompson -- late last year. And even more exciting when she scheduled a visit to see the Dallin collection and bring a small set of 16mm films that belonged to her grandfather. Mrs. Thompson told me prior to her visit that among the films was reel with a promising label that simply read "Lindbergh."
When she came to visit, we looked through boxes of her grandfather's collection and she shared memories that offered previously unknown insight into Mr. Dallin's personality. Mrs. Thomspon assisted us in identifying her grandfather in a few photos. While we have photographs where Mr. Dallin is positively identified, we had others that only the eye of someone who knew him well could confirm with any certainty.
We ended our tour in the Library's film room to view the reels she brought to donate to Hagley. Of course, we all wanted to start with the Lindbergh film. After about four-and-a-half minutes of footage showing an unknown airfield with no sign of Mr. Lindbergh, the content of the reel switched to the scene that we had all hoped. I immediately recognized the location as Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia and knew it as one of the locations on Lindbergh's tour of America after his historic trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. About one-and-a-half minutes later, Lindbergh appeared in frame riding on the back of a car and waving to the crowd as he entered the stadium. The film also included footage of Lindbergh at an airfield presumably after his appearance at Municipal Stadium greeting visitors, posing for photographs, and finally boarding the Spirit of St. Louis en route to the next stop on his tour of the United States:
As far as we can tell, this is one-of-a-kind footage and hasn't been seen by anyone outside of the Dallin family for decades. We are so grateful to Sara Thompson and the Dallin family for donating this film to Hagley. It is the ideal home for it, an invaluable addition to our important collection documenting the work of Colonel Victor Dallin.
Kevin J. Martin is the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Audiovisual and Digital Collections at Hagley Museum and Library.