Emilio Carranza Crash Monument
Tabernacle, New Jersey
The "Lindbergh of Mexico," Emilio Carranza Rodriguez, will forever be bound to a patch of forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
In 1928, Emilio Carranza Rodriguez was 22 years old and a hotshot hero of Mexican aviation. Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight the previous year and his subsequent dramatic flight to Mexico City made a powerful impression south of the border. Influential men in Mexico decided that their country should have its own flyboy glory. A plane was built, the Mexico-Excelsior (an exact copy of Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis), and it was announced that Captain Carranza would fly from Mexico City to New York and then back again.
The trip to New York was done in stages and went smoothly. But the return flight was going to be a non-stop, grueling test of endurance. Carranza delayed his departure for three days because of bad weather, and then abruptly flew off on the evening of July 12, 1928, in a wild thunderstorm.
Rumor has it that he was forced to leave on orders from a jealous Mexican general, whose telegram to Carranza was reportedly later found in the aviator's pocket.
"Leave immediately," it read, "or the quality of your manhood will be in doubt."
Carranza only got about 50 miles south before his flight ended in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey, a vast stretch of pine trees and sand. His body was discovered the next day by some locals picking blueberries. Carranza had a flashlight in his right hand -- literally in his right hand, as the force of the impact had driven it into his palm. He had apparently been looking for a place to land when he crashed into some trees.
The heartbroken children of Mexico contributed pennies to build a monument, inscribed in both English and Spanish, to mark the spot where their hero had died. It still stands today, an arrow on one side pointing skyward, an Aztec eagle on the other plummeting to earth. Eerie footprints have been carved into the granite to signify Carranza's final touchdown. "THE PEOPLE OF MEXICO," its inscription reads, "HOPE THAT YOUR HIGH IDEALS WILL BE REALIZED."
The ground where Carranza met his end is as empty today as it was in 1928. A lonely road leads past the monument, through miles of pine trees. The closest neighbor is several miles up the road, the "Life Skills and Leadership Academy," a boot camp for teen criminals. Perhaps they draw inspiration from Carranza when they police the grounds around his memorial, but otherwise this is a lonely place.
Once a year, at 1:00 P.M. on the Saturday closest to July 12th, Emilio Carranza is honored. American Legion Post 11 drives out to the monument from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, along with representatives from the Mexican consulates in New York City and Philadelphia. There, they hold a ceremony for the Lindbergh of Mexico. For one afternoon Carranza is again a hero, although he might have preferred to be remembered* for something other than this.
* Charles Lindbergh, who left several crash site landmarks (none of them fatal), gets no annual ceremony at those sites -- so there. Lindy is chiefly remembered (by us) for his baby's kidnapping/murder and his Spirit of St. Louis shipping crate.