CLARION - Parker D. Cramer did not stay long in Clarion but he left behind a legacy that continues to this day.
Parker D. "Shorty" Cramer was born in Indiana in 1896. The Cramer family moved to Bradford where young Parker Cramer soon fell in love with aviation. After acquiring one of the earliest pilot's licenses, Cramer became the first pilot to land in Bradford in 1919 before moving to Clarion in 1920.
During his time in the area, Cramer formed multiple aviation companies, first with local stuntman Jack "Red" Bartow and subsequently with his brother Bill Cramer.
Cramer once flew a plane through the hangar at the old Clarion Airport from end to end.
Among other historic flying stunts was an attempt to fly off from Sixth Avenue in Clarion. It ended in a crash but Cramer emerged unhurt.
By 1925 Cramer had received the local contract for mail delivery and in 1927 he received the position of inspector for the Department of Commerce and oversaw all aviation activity in the county.
Cramer was, at heart, an adventurer. That led him into the greatest stunt of his life -- to prove the "Great Circle Route."
A Great Circle Route is the shortest route between two points. That seemed simple enough until the dawn of the age of aviation.
Suddenly something that had been known for years became something new. The circles airplanes flew were curved due to the curvature of the earth.
Proving the validity of the theory enticed Bert Hassel and Parker Cramer into flying the Great Circle Route from Rockford, Ill. to Stockholm, Sweden.
Hassel had written a book, "The Hiking Viking," in which he pointed out the advantage of such a route.
The people of Rockford, Ill. became interested and decided to back Hassel's scheme.
A Stinson Detroiter monoplane was obtained and planning of the flight began.
As his co-pilot and navigator, Hassell selected Parker "Shorty" Cramer, and together they began making test flights in the vicinity of Rockford.
They set the date for the take-off as July 26, 1928.
The first flight proved to be anticlimactic. When the appointed time arrived, they took off with the crowd cheering. But the fuel load proved too heavy and they wound up in a cornfield west of the river.
After repairing the plane, they took off again on Aug. 16, 1928, and headed for their first scheduled refueling stop, a base on the Sondre Stromfjord in southwest Greenland.
After 20 hours in the air, they failed to find the base and were forced to make an emergency landing.
The Aug. 23, 1928, issue of the Clarion Democrat reported, "Bert Hassel and Parker Cramer who were flying on the second leg of their proposed flight from Rockford, Ill. to Stockholm, Sweden, last week have disappeared somewhere between Cochrane, Canada and Mt. Evans, Greenland.
"Their last radio messages were from near Cape Chidley, Labrador, at which point they would pass out over David Straight, a long stretch of ocean. The messages ceased shortly afterward.
"It may be possible that their plane came down and they reached land. If so they may be found. If not they probably passed to the great beyond."
Survival and a fateful second try
The newspaper was a bit premature.
The two adventurers set out to walk to the base. Two weeks later, just as they were about to be given up for lost, they encountered a group of Eskimos who brought them into the camp.
From the base, they worked their way to Holstenborg on the coast, where they got passage on a tramp steamer to Europe. From there, they made their way back to the United States and Rockford.
Hassell and Cramer were the toast of Greenland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
In New York, Mayor Jimmy Walker welcomed them with a ticker-tape parade. In Washington, D.C., they met President Calvin Coolidge and President-elect Herbert Hoover.
Undaunted, the pair decided to try the route again. In a second attempt to map the route in 1931, Cramer disappeared somewhere in the North Sea off the coast of Norway.
The fate of the plane and the crew remain a mystery. In 1932, papers belonging to Cramer were found floating in the sea off the Shetland Island.
Included in the debris were a letter to his mother, his pilot's license and a description of the plane in which he was making his final flight.
Cramer's federal pilot's license was "No. 4."
The saga of "Shorty" Cramer, however, was not complete.
Robert Carlin, district manager of National Airlines in Houston, an aviation buff and a native of Rockford, started a crusade to bring Shorty's first plane back to Rockford.
The Hassell family joined in. Finally, in 1968, Shorty Cramer's Stinson Monoplane was rescued by helicopter from its 44 year-old resting place on the Greenland ice cap where Cramer had landed it safely.
Parker D. Cramer, a World War I veteran, was honored by Clarion.
The airport the first municipal-owned airport in the nation built in 1919 -- and the Clarion Veterans of Foreign Wars Post were named in his honor.
Lt. Parker D. Cramer, second of the same name in the family of the late pioneer Clarion aviator, was killed in Vietnam on May 6, 1963.