A family photo album illuminates a landmark in aviation history

Historians in the News
tags: family history, aviation history

Marc Wortman has written three history books, including 1941: Fighting the Shadow War: A Divided American in a World at War.

Sometimes we hold history in our hands and don’t know it.

As a five-year-old, Todd Ryan lived with his grandparents at their house in Queens, New York City. He often joined his grandfather, Gene Smyth, in his carpentry shop. “Instead of saying, ‘Don’t touch that,’ ” Ryan recalls, “he’d say, ‘Let me show you how to do that.’ ” He also recalls spending hours leafing through an airplane-spotting book in the house and then drawing pictures of images in the book.

The day after Ryan turned six, his grandfather died. Ryan eventually inherited his tools, a gift he still treasures to this day. Ryan later became a photographer, graphic designer, private pilot, and skydiver, as well as an avid aviation history buff. “He set me on a path,” he says of the time he spent with his granddad. That path has come full circle.

While clearing out his mother’s house last year, Ryan, now 67 and living in Colorado Springs, came upon another treasure his grandfather left behind: a yellowed envelope containing a handful of small, black-and-white photographs. In one is a large flying boat. In another, his grandfather sits at the front of a large crew of sailors, some holding a large propeller with “Carpenter Gang” painted on it.


Read entire article at Air & Space Magazine

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