Six decades later, plane crash memorial honors victims

Dee Ann Lemon and Diane Doughty Madsen live 800 miles away from each other.

Up until Aug. 27 they had never met, never so much as exchanged a phone call.

But for one moment the two women felt a special bond that was forged 61 years ago when a plane crash shook their childhoods.  

A Northwest Airlines Martin 202 carrying Lemon’s mother, Helen Overlien Hott, clipped a flagpole at Fort Snelling while attempting to land on March 7, 1950. It crashed into the Minnehaha Parkway home of Doughty Madsen, killing her brother and sister. All 13 people aboard Flight 307 were killed, including Lemon’s mother.

The dedication of a memorial marker near the site of the crash brought the two women together. Along with other family members of the victims, they pulled off a cloth to reveal a 2.5-ton boulder with the names of the victims and the history of the crash.

“I felt like I was sitting by a friend and sharing something,” said Lemon, who was 8 years old in 1950. “I felt pain for her, because this happened right here to her in her home.”

Lemon and her husband drove from Ohio to Minneapolis to attend. They weren’t the only ones who traveled to the ceremony. About 300 people packed the gymnasium of Lynnhurst Community Center, including family members of seven of the victims, neighbors who lived on Minnehaha Parkway in 1950 and people interested in the history of the plane crash.

“There were so many people,” said Doughty Madsen, who was 15 at the time of the crash. “I just can’t believe the response. Very heartwarming.”

Following speeches by family members and city officials — including Council Member Betsy Hodges (Ward 13) and Park Board commissioners Brad Bourn and John Erwin — the group walked four blocks up the parkway to the corner of Emerson and Minnehaha, on the north side of the creek. That’s where the boulder sits, across the street from the plane crash site.

Within a couple minutes of the unveiling, a plane took off from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, flying low and loud over the crash site. It served as a somber reminder of the events in 1950.

A blizzard hit the Twin Cities that night. The twin-engine plane was carrying 10 passengers and three crewmembers and making stops across the Midwest. Doughty Madsen and her parents were on the first floor of their home when the plane struck the house. They escaped to safety, but Doughty Madsen’s sister Janet, 10, and brother Tommy, 8, who were in their upstairs bedrooms, did not.

For Doughty Madsen, who now lives in Elk River, the event stirred emotions but also served as a reunion with the friends and neighbors she was abruptly separated from after the crash.

Susie (Monies) Anderson lived two houses east of the Doughty residence. Anderson moved in around the same time as Madsen and the two girls were the same age. As the new kids on the block in 1949, the two became friends. Madsen remembers Anderson taking her sailing on Lake Harriet. After the crash, Anderson loaned Doughty Madsen clothing.

When Anderson, who lives in Florida, found out about the dedication, she made sure to clear her calendar on her annual Minnesota summer trip. She called Madsen and the two went out to lunch a week before the dedication.

They had a lot of catching up to do — 61 years worth. After the crash, Madsen was uprooted from her neighborhood and the two girls attended different high schools, making it difficult to maintain their friendship.

“We had so much fun,” Madsen said of the lunch reunion. “We just talked and talked and talked.”

The ceremony largely was the work of Mark Kaplan, a former Minneapolis City Council member who lives across the Parkway from the crash site. For the last several months, Kaplan has dedicated countless hours to reuniting the victims’ families and putting their stories together. He also spearheaded a fundraising drive for the memorial and got Park Board approval for its placement.

For him, getting together the families of the seven victims was a huge accomplishment. He called small-town newspapers, city halls and schools to track down relatives. Though he couldn’t quite find every family, seeing the ones who could attend share their stories provided some closure to his project.

Also in attendance were: Grace Jones, the 99-year-old wife of Flight 307 pilot Donald Jones; Kathleen Kennedy, the sister of flight attendant Mary Alice Kennedy; John Collins, the grandson of passenger Robert Lohn; and several relatives of passenger Emery E. Oliver. Countless other grandchildren, nephews, nieces and great-grandchildren attended.

“I would have loved to somehow listen to every conversation that occurred between people on Saturday,” Kaplan said. “I saw some of those going on, and it was awesome.”