formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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September 30, 2014 Tommy - not the rock opera

The Liberty Gazette
September 30, 2014

Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Linda: After the young Marine was discharged from duty during the Korean War and came home with a Purple Heart, he found work in New Jersey as a steamfitter, and there he worked for 51 years, during which time he also married and raised three sons. At least that’s what we can find out about Tommy Fitzpatrick from articles written after his passing in 2009.

But in reality, Tommy didn’t settle in to a quiet civilian life immediately after the war. There were some wild years when he was in his 20’s that included a lot of time spent in bars in his old stomping grounds in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

That’s when the trouble started.

It so happened that exactly 58 years ago today young Fitzpatrick accepted a bet while imbibing with friends. The bet was regarding whether Tommy could get to Washington Heights from New Jersey in 15 minutes; Tommy insisted he could, and promptly left for New Jersey to prove it.

By 3:00 a.m. he returned to the bar on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street, still inebriated, making a perfect landing at the front door.

Yes, he landed there. In the middle of the night, with no lights and no radio, on a narrow street, missing the street lights, the buildings, and parked cars, he landed an airplane he stole from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics, on a street in New York City in front of a bar.

He won the bet, hopefully enough to cover the $100 fine he received from the judge for "wrongdoing".

Mike: The owner of the airplane refused to press charges and everyone was quite impressed with this war hero’s skill. Even the New York Times said he made a "fine landing", calling it a "feat of aeronautics".

And maybe all that about being a hero for winning the bet the way he did just went to his head, because the story continues.

I can just imagine the scene in that bar two years later, as the unbelievable account of wager comes up in conversation and a patron new to the area thinks this is one tall drinking tale. Clearly people in New York City weren’t used to big, wild stories like that, unlike all of us Bob Jamison fans, who were treated to unusual lore often, because that poor sucker of a new-kid-on-the-block fell prey to Tommy’s bet when he insisted Tommy couldn’t possibly have done what he was claiming he did.

At 1:00 a.m. he did it again. He stole another plane from Teterboro, flew it to Washington Heights and nailed another perfect landing on the street in front of the bar. He won the bet again, but this time he had to pay a heavier price, as the judge did not agree this was the best way to clear any doubt the other bar customer had about Tommy’s pilot skill. He gave Tommy six months to think it over in a jail cell.

You can find photos of the incidents online. Among them will be one that includes the pavement in the photo, to show where the airplane landed. If you look closely you will see there on the ground is drawn a silhouette, an outline around the entire plane, the "victim’s" chalk line.

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