On a terrible December night fifty years ago Pan-American World Airways Flight 214 exploded in the dark Cecil County sky. On that unsettling cold, rainy Sunday, as lightning periodically illuminated Elkton, eighty-one people perished when the big plane broke apart in flight and debris rained down on a cornfield at the edge of the county seat. Hours later, while Chief Edgar Slaughter steadily coordinated the tri-state response to Maryland’s largest loss of life accident and rescuers combed the wreckage, a first responder, Steward W. Godwin of the North East Volunteer Fire Company, suddenly collapsed and died.
Sunday, Dec 8th, 2013, the Historical Society of Cecil County and the Singerly Fire Company will host the “Flight 214 Remembrance Program,” honoring the memory of those on the flight and the emergency personnel who answered the call that stormy night. The program takes place at the firehouse at 300 Newark Avenue in Elkton at 2 p.m. and is open to the public.
Retired school superintendent Henry Shaffer will moderate the program. Henry, a 16-year-old rookie firefighter in 1963, was on the first fire engine to reach the disaster site. Following greetings from Don Hicks, the fire company president, and Paula Newton, the Historical Society president, there will be a number of speakers. The afternoon includes the sharing of memories, reflections of loved ones, the Singerly story, and remembering a fallen comrade. There will be outtakes from the Society’s oral history collection and displays of material from the history group’s library, such as newspapers, the emergency radio communication tape, photographs, and television and radio news broadcasts.
For well over a year, as part of the Society’s mission to chronicle the past, volunteers have been busy creating a remembrance archive. A major part of this involves interviewing witnesses, residents of the area, and family members and it also involves collecting research materials. The group has already done a lot of work and has found that with the greatest clarity, this searing incident is clearly imprinted on a generation of Cecil County residents and first responders.
In continuing with this initiative the event hosts will open up the Flight 214 listening station on Saturday, Dec. 7th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. During half-hour appointments, people will be invited to privately share their stories about the tragedy as oral historians working at recording booths, listen to people, ask a few questions, and record the conversation. If you are interested in an interview email the Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On this weekend for remembering the fire company will focus on interviewing its members who answered the call that December so long ago, according to President Hicks. “While we pause and reflect on the painful tragedy that altered so many lives and is forever seared into the county’s history, we also want to recall the dedication of the emergency workers who rushed out into the threatening, stormy darkness to try to help.”
Although half a century has passed, “the memories are crystal to clear to those who lived in Elkton in 1963 or had family members on Flight 214,” Paula Newtown, remarked. “Over the years we have heard many personal stories about what people were doing at the time or what they witnessed. We felt it was our obligation as the county’s heritage keepers to preserve these memories so that this day is never forgotten.”