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Final Flight

Towards the end of June, 1940 Fred Fletcher, sportswriter for the New York Daily News, stopped by to see the new home of Lou Gehrig. When appointed a parole commissioner by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Gehrig had to move within the city limits so he and Eleanor packed up and moved from their apartment in Larchmont. Their new home was a house at 5204 Delafield Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, about a block from the Henry Hudson Parkway. Fletcher found the Gehrigs in a charming home, built in 1929 and boasting almost 3,000 square feet on a wooded lot. Squirrels and birds abounded, soon to be joined by peacocks that Lou would feed with peanuts.

During their conversation, Lou admitted that he and Eleanor were quite comfortable but there was one thing that he had never got to experience. Fred set out to fill that void in Lou’s life. He contacted Captain Jack Boettner who agreed to arrange a flight over New York City by a Goodyear blimp. In early evening on July 4, 1940 Lou, Eleanor and Fred met Captain Roland Blair on the north edge of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, then stepped aboard one of the blimps in the Goodyear fleet.

Captain Blair piloted the airship over Manhattan and the Bronx for an hour before sunset, cruising lazily along at about forty miles an hour at a height of about 1,500 feet. The passengers marveled at their view, quickly noticing that everything seemed more enjoyable than when flying over the city in an airplane. They even got a closeup view of the dirigible mooring mast atop the Empire State Building that had recently been converted into a radio transmitter. Fred noted that Lou almost teared up while floating over Yankee Stadium. People on the streets stopped to watch the blimp float by, waving to people aboard that they could not see. A photo of Lou with Captain Blair shows the Yankee slugger, appearing thinner than in his playing days, seated while the airman leans down next to him. Ever the optimist, there is a grin on Lou’s face.

Within but a few months, ALS would rob Lou of the ability to smile, but he would always have that memory of a blimp ride over New York when he said good-bye to the city that loved him with all its heart.

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