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Checkerboard Flying Field / Maywood Air Mail Field

At First Avenue between Roosevelt and Cermak Roads was Maywood’s airfield. Initially it was owned by Society Brand Clothes and used to fly company clothing orders in and out of the Chicago area.  David D. Behncke and Bert R. J. Russell had opened this field in 1919, and used it as a shipping center.  The airport derives its name from the checkerboard advertising patterns on the company planes.  It was also called Maywood Air Mail Field at this time.

The regular airmail Chicago stop was at Grant Park, but flying conditions near Lake Michigan were too often far from favorable. The conditions at and location of Checkerboard Field were much better. 

During the early 1920s air mail operations at "Checkerboard Field" was moved across First Avenue to two longer runways used only for the air post operations.  (Although this other field had another official name it was still referred to by most people as Checkerboard Field or as the Maywood airfield.)  These runways were on the grounds currently occupied by the Edward Hines Jr. Memorial Hospital, where it remained until the post office turned over transcontinental routes to private contractors in 1927.

In 1923, Behncke sold the field to Wilfred Alonzo Yackey, a former military and airmail pilot. From 1923 until Yackey's death in an airplane crash, the Yackey Aircraft Company and Checkerboard Field were the center of aircraft manufacturing activities in the Chicago area.

From 1923 to 1927 the field provided air mail operations.  It was also called Maywood Air Mail Field at this time.

The air mail company operating with Maywood Air Mail Field was the Robertson Aircraft Company. The company's chief air mail pilot was a Charles Lindbergh.  One of Mr. Lindbergh's duties was to lay out the 285 mile route between Saint Louis to Maywood. The route included nine intermediate landing fields about every 30 miles. The intermediate landing fields were necessary due to the equipment and operating conditions of the day.  Consider the following factors:

On April 15, 1926, a slender Kelly Field graduate who worked his way up to a captain in the Army Air Corps Reserve, made the first airmail flight from Chicago (the Government air field on the hospital grounds) to St. Louis. The plane used for this inaugural mail run was a DeHaviland. The pilot was Captain Charles A. Lindberg.

In 1926 Charles Lindbergh fell victim to the conditions of the day.  A thick fog covered Checkerboard Field leaving the ground hidden. He tried using his one flare (standard equipment in those days) to give himself some visibility, but the flare failed to ignite. After circling for a while he was forced to leave the area with only twenty minutes of fuel in his plane’s tanks. While searching for an open area he flew toward other possible landing areas.  Finally near, Ottawa, his engine coughed and died – his fuel exhausted. With no decent alternative he bailed out of the plane and survived.

In 1927 Checkerboard Field lost its air mail contract due primarily to two events.

Today, the site of the original Checkerboard Field is across the street to the east of the land now occupied by the Hines Veterans Administration and the Loyola Medical Center.  This area is now part of the Cook County Forest Preservc District.  A stone marker near the south entrance to this preserve is dedicated to the "Air Mail Pioneers" who flew into and out of the airfield.

The source for this information is:

Last Modified:  01/08/2006