Wrong Way Corrigan’s Toledo Connection

Toledo Irish: “Wrong Way” Corrigan’s Toledo Connection
by Maury Collins

My Father, Maurice Collins, immigrated from Mullintoura, County Cork to Toledo, Ohio in 1928.  He kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles of things that interested him, mostly about Irish events.  There was one article about “Wrong Way Corrigan,” with his handwritten notation; “He knew exactly where he was going.”

History.com tells the story of Douglas Corrigan.  The last of the early glory-seeking fliers, takes off from Floyd Bennett field in Brooklyn, New York, on a flight that would finally win him a place in aviation history. 

Eleven years earlier, American Charles A. Lindbergh had become an international celebrity with his solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic. Corrigan was among the mechanics who had worked on Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis aircraft, but that mere footnote in the history of flight was not enough for the Texas-born aviator.

In 1938, he bought a 1929 Curtiss Robin aircraft off a trash heap, rebuilt it, and modified it for long-distance flight.  In preparation for his great adventure, Corrigan gave his plane a name. ‘I had always considered my plane as a little ray of sunshine,’ he said, ’so now I put the name Sunshine on the cowling.’

In July 1938, Corrigan piloted the single-engine plane nonstop from California to New York. Although the transcontinental flight was far from unprecedented, Corrigan received national attention simply because the press was amazed that his rattletrap aircraft had survived the journey.

Almost immediately after arriving in New York, he filed plans for a transatlantic flight, but aviation authorities deemed it a suicide flight, and he was promptly denied. Instead, they would allow Corrigan to fly back to the West Coast, and on July 17 he took off from Floyd Bennett field, ostentatiously pointed west. However, a few minutes later, he made a 180-degree turn and vanished into a cloudbank to the puzzlement of a few onlookers.

Wrong Way Corrigan takes flight
Twenty-eight hours later, Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin, Ireland, stepped out of his plane, and exclaimed, “Just got in from New York. Where am I?” He claimed that he lost his direction in the clouds and that his compass had malfunctioned.

The authorities didn’t buy the story and suspended his license, but Corrigan stuck to the story, to the amusement of the public on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time “Wrong Way” Corrigan and his crated plane returned to New York by ship, his license suspension had been lifted, he was a national celebrity, and a mob of autograph seekers met him on the gangway.

Now for the Toledo connection; the annual St. Patrick’s Mass at the Historic Church of St. Patrick in downtown Toledo took place on March 17, 2019.  At the end of the Mass Msgr. Christopher Vasko accepted what he reckoned as the historical Irish “key to the city.” 

Pat Foy Daly traveled from Defiance, Ohio, to present her grandfather’s shillelagh to Monsignor Vasko.  Mrs. Daly said the historical weapon was supposed to remain in her family’s lineage after her grandfather, then-Toledo city councilman Dominic Foy’s, refusal to give the gift to famous pilot Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan.

Mrs. Daly added that Mr. Corrigan was one of few pilots at the time, and as tradition, he was scheduled to “barnstorm,” buzzing the barns of small communities and rally locals to a small landing strip in Toledo.   Per Irish tradition, a local politician would greet the pilot with a significant gift.

Rich in local history, Mrs. Daly said her grandfather cut blackthorn from Magee Marsh near Bay View Park and shellacked the weapon for presentation, only to refuse to give it to Mr. Corrigan because his ancestry included being an “Orangeman.”  She added that her grandfather’s ancestors lived along the border of Northern Ireland and had many troubles with the Orangemen, so much so that her grandfather swore to never return to Ireland.  “So Wrong Way Corrigan was an Orangeman; grandpa kept the shillelagh,” she said. 

Crediting Monsignor Vasko for his diligence in up keeping both the Historic Church of St. Patrick and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Mrs. Daly said she felt compelled to donate the shillelagh to the Immaculate Conception, the parish of both her grandparents and great grandparents. 

Penny “The Saint” Collins and Msr. Vasko

Monsignor Vasko said the gift is a part of the Catholic Parishes Legacy Initiative, created to

raise donations and awareness for the parishes’ repairs.  Upholding a long legacy of outreach, Mrs. Daly said she hopes that Irish men and women will travel to visit both local parishes and donate to the worthy project.

She said local parishes are seasoned with the history of Hungarian, Polish, and early Irish parishes that were formed by early immigrants.  “A long time ago in Pioneer Toledo, even before it was called Toledo, the immigrants came over here and they formed they own parishes… this one has survived grandly, and we hope Immaculate Conception will do the same,” she said.

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