Louie Mitchell, pioneer aviator

Louie Mitchell in his hydroplane, undated (eBay)

Louis “Louie” Mitchell not only was one of America’s first air pilots; at 210 pounds, he also was the heaviest. Mitchell had no connection to Sangamon County in life, but his final resting place is in Oak Ridge Cemetery’s Abbey mausoleum – apparently only because his brother happened to live in Springfield at the time.

Weight – the lighter, the better – was an important consideration when flying the very first airplanes. As Wikipedia, writing of aircraft in 1909, explains:

The limited engine power available meant that the effective payload was extremely limited. The basic structural and materials technology of the airframes mostly consisted of hardwood materials or steel tubing, braced with steel wires and covered in linen fabric doped with a flammable stiffener and sealant. The need to save weight meant that most aircraft were structurally fragile, and not infrequently broke up in flight especially when performing violent manoeuvres, such as pulling out of a steep dive….

Mitchell was doing a flying show at Montgomery, Ala. on Oct. 23, 1912, when he lost control of his Wright biplane while making a spiral glide, according to story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that is reprinted on the website earlyaviators.com.

Aviator Louis Mitchell, president American Aviators, while 200 feet in the air, lost control of his machine while making a spiral glide, and is dead.
Mitchell had been circling the exposition grounds for more than an hour at varying heights. Shortly before 5 o’clock he began his descent in a spectacular glide. At 600 feet he lost control of his machine, and at 200 feet the aeroplane went to pieces. Mitchell was pinned to the ground under the heavy motor, dying before surgeons could reach the spot.
Aviator Eugene Heth of Detroit, Mitchell’s partner, saw the accident, together with a crowd of 5,000 spectators.

Mitchell’s wife was in the grandstand at the show. Contemporary newspapers disagree on whether she actually saw her husband crash.

The Illinois State Register called Mitchell (1878-1912) “an aviator of national fame.” A native of Camden, Ark., Mitchell owned a profitable movie agency in Memphis when he saw his first aircraft. He had been piloting both airplanes and hydroplanes for something over a year when he died.

When Louie Mitchell died, his brother, Dr. Meek Mitchell, had lived in Springfield for about three months (he previously lived in Los Angeles, the Register said). That seems to be the only reason Mitchell’s family decided on Springfield as his final resting place.

It’s not clear how long Meek Mitchell remained in Springfield – local newspapers mention his name only seven times, and six of those stories were in connection with his brother’s death. (The seventh article was about a car-train collision two weeks earlier in which Meek Mitchell received minor injuries.) He also seems to have appeared only in the 1912 edition of the Springfield city directory.

At any rate, ancestry.com records indicate Meek Mitchell was back in Los Angeles by 1916. He died there in 1932. Louie Mitchell remains in the Abbey mausoleum.

Hat tip: Thanks to earlyaviators.com for compiling information on Louie Mitchell’s life and death.

Second hat tip (sort of): SangamonLink was alerted to  Mitchell’s local burial by the 2020 book Not Just Lincoln’s Tomb Oak Ridge Cemetery: A Walk Through Illinois History by Robert Lawson. We are grateful for that. In general, however, Not Just Lincoln’s Tomb badly needed a fact-checker and a copy editor. SangamonLink does not recommend the book.

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society. Learn how to support the Society. 



This entry was posted in Air travel, Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *