Fifty years ago on the morning of the 16th, two commercial jets collided above New York City, plunging one into Park Slope and the other into a Staten Island neighborhood, killing a total of 134 people in the worst aviation disaster up to that point.
In Brooklyn, United Airlines Flight 826 heaped devastation upon Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope, which at the time was a run-down shadow of what the neighborhood has become.
But the tragedy is one that seems almost forgotten, seared only into the memories of witnesses.
“To the newcomers of Park Slope — really, anyone who moved there within the last 30 years — the history of the crash is absolutely forgotten,” said Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn’s borough historian.
But that will begin to change today. Green-Wood Cemetery is dedicating the crash’s first official memorial, an eight-foot granite slab with the names of all who died, which included all aboard both planes and six people on the ground.
“The crash needs to be remembered, and that’s what we do, preserving history,” cemetery president Rich Moylan said. “The community needs it.”
In Park Slope, a row of brownstones erupted in flames but mostly survived, but the McCaddin Funeral Home on Sterling Place, was completely destroyed, along with the ironically named Pillar of Fire church across the street. Fifty years later, funeral home owner Henry McCaddin, who reopened his business nearby, vividly recalls that day.
“When I came outside, I saw dead bodies everywhere,” McCaddin, now 79, said outside the new apartment building that sits where his funeral home did 50 years ago.
“To see the tail of that plane sitting in the middle of Seventh Avenue … you never forget that.”
Stephen Baltz, an 11-year-old passenger in the Park Slope crash who briefly survived, has long been honored at a nearby hospital memorial. But the intersection itself bares subtle scars but no official mention of the tragedy.
“It’s shocking no one knows about it, like it’s just forgotten from the city’s history,” said Marc Van Lohuizen, a younger Brooklynite who lived in Park Slope for four years unaware of the crash.
For Moylan, that’s why the memorial is vital.
“The people who remember the crash are starting to go,” he said. “That memory needs preservation.”
Reminders of the crash:
* 126 Sterling Place: A wing ripped into the top of the building, the repair marked by differently colored bricks.
* 133 Sterling Place: Condos now stand at the site of the destroyed McCaddin Funeral Home.
* New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn: A plaque hangs in the chapel in honor of Stephen Baltz, 11, who survived the crash but died a day later. The plaque features pocket change the boy was carrying.
* Ocean’s 8 on 308 Flatbush Ave.: This sports bar was a bowling alley during the crash, and it was used a makeshift first-aid station.