Tom Teresi and Mark Kaplan had to be grinning as the sun rose over Minneapolis on March 17, 1960. By nightfall, sorrow would shadow the day.
Teresi was 16, a junior at Henry High School. About 7 a.m., he dropped off his 21-year-old brother, John, for a final exam at the University of Minnesota’s Nicholson Hall. John and his best friend were then heading to Miami for spring break. That meant the little brother could drive the big brother’s 1957 Ford Fairlane, with its stylishly tapered fins, to high school.
Kaplan was almost 11, heading to Mexico for a family vacation. At 12:50 p.m. at Minneapolis’ Wold-Chamberlain Airport, Kaplan’s family was among 69 passengers and six Minnesota-based crew members boarding Northwest Airlines Flight 710 — a Lockheed Electra bound for Chicago’s Midway Airport.
That last exam complete, John also climbed into the plane along with 30-year-old figure skater Martha (Marty) Chalfen and her three kids — Debbie (7), Linda (5) and Morris Dickie (2). Their dad, Morris Chalfen, had co-founded the Minneapolis Lakers basketball team and ran the widely popular Holiday on Ice skating shows, which put him in Paris on that St. Patrick’s Day 60 years ago this week. Morris Chalfen would never again step inside his family’s house on Lake of the Isles. It was too heartbreaking.
Flight 710 landed in Chicago about 2 p.m. Kaplan, his parents and 5-year-old sister Alice joined 47 deplaning passengers.
“Alice and Linda Chalfen were classmates at Northrop Collegiate School and probably played on the first flight,” said Kaplan, now 70, who switched planes and flew off to Mexico City.
About 3:15 p.m., 18,000 feet over southern Indiana, witnesses saw smoke, heard two explosions and watched as a wing and engine fell from the four-engine propeller plane. Arcing with one engine on the stub of its left wing, the fuselage plowed into a remote soybean field at 600 mph near the Indiana-Kentucky border — killing all 63 aboard and leaving a huge, ghastly crater.
The Kaplan family learned what happened the next day at a Mexican newsstand.
“I was more nonplussed than you’d think. As a kid, you’re like: ‘Wow, that was lucky.’ It gave me something to tell my friends back at Blake,” said Mark Kaplan, who would grow up to serve on the Minneapolis City Council. “I have no memories of being hit by a big shot of adrenaline like I would had I been an adult. It didn’t faze me for decades until it dawned on me just how I’d dodged a bullet.”
Tom Teresi had driven his brother’s Ford to Henry High School and then went to work as a Western Union messenger downtown before heading to his family’s home at 3731 N. Upton Av. in Minneapolis.
“I got home at 6:30 that night and everyone was gathered around the TV, crying in shock and disbelief,” said Teresi, now 76. “My brother was so happy, so destined for good things. John was five years older than me, the captain of the hockey and baseball teams at Henry and — darn it — he was better looking than me.”
With neither a body to bury nor a mortuary, Tom said mourners flooded his family’s home. He remembers how John’s girlfriend sat in a chair, crying.
“They’d met at Welcome Week at the U and had been together for more than three years — she was at such a tender age of 21,” he said, asking that we not use her name because she never divulged her first love to her eventual husband and kids.
Ten years ago, when Tom visited the crash site memorial near Tell City, Ind., for the 50th anniversary, a story appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Soon afterward, John’s girlfriend rang him up from the lobby of Tom’s senior building in New Brighton. He’d lost track of her as a teenager nearly 50 years earlier, but she’d seen the story. They’ve since gotten together a few times. She’s now a widow with three children. Tom is married with four kids.
“I only have four or five photos of my brother so I asked her if she had any,” he said. “She said she did, but after 49 years, she decided to destroy them.”
Tom, his parents and sister attended a memorial service at the crash site back in 1960, but his folks refused to fly. So Northwest picked up the tab for first-class train fare. A design flaw in the wing, it was later determined, brought down Flight 710 — the third deadly Electra crash in fewer than 13 months.
During the grisly recovery of remains, Indiana searchers located John Teresi’s intact billfold. His brother keeps it in a storage closet across the hall from his apartment with his few photos and John’s red-and-gray Henry High letter sweater.
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at email@example.com. His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: http://strib.mn/MN1918.