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Carranza Road

Carranza Road


Carranza Road is a long, not completely paved road that winds its way through the Pine Barrens. It seems to me like this is the Clinton Road of south Jersey, with notable Jersey Devil sittings and other weird things.
History located below


Captain Emilio Carranza fell to his death around 8:30 p.m. July 12, 1928. A stone monument marks the quiet spot in the woods, southwest of Chatsworth, a rural town in central Burlington County once famous for being a stop on the Jersey Central railroad line. There is the occasional roar of a fighter jet from McGuire Air Force Base.

Beyond that, silence.

Carranza's death was international news. He was Mexico's foremost aviator, trying to get home after a goodwill flight to New York. President Calvin Coolidge offered the battleship U.S.S. Florida to take the body home, though eventually the cortege took a train. In New York, the coffin was borne through the streets on a gun caisson, draped with Mexican and American flags, followed by 10,000 soldiers. Though ballads are still sung in Mexico about the 23-year-old pilot, in America his name is largely forgotten, if it was ever known. Yet, there are still a few faint echoes of that distant crash.

Every year the American Legion Post 11 of Mount Holly has sponsored a ceremony marking the anniversary of Carranza's death. In recent years the ceremony has lacked a band, firing squad and flag detail, owing to cutbacks at Fort Dix. Yet some 200 people still venture yearly through ticks, black flies and 90-degree heat to the deserted clearing in Wharton State Forest. They come from Philadelphia and New York. Many, like Ismael Carranza and Carmen Corkett, are relatives.

They gather around the monument built with money raised by Mexican school children. They make speeches and have a moment of silence. Then they go to the Pemberton American Legion post for refreshments.

"I've been asked many times why we do this," said Bill Nee, who has chaired Post 11's Carranza ceremony for 15 years. "The simple answer is that we do it because it was done before us, and we don't want to be the ones to stop it. Especially with excuses such as that it's too hot, or it costs too much. My father-in-law was chairman of the event for 28 years, and he kind of browbeat this service into my head. Every year we have little minor problems to solve, but we're not going to let it lapse."

It was Post 11 members who guarded Carranza's body in Mount Holly in 1928. It is Post 11 that still feels obliged to preserve his memory. "You have to remember that when Carranza crashed, we were only 10 years past the first world war," said Larry Gladfelter, Post 11 Commander. "The vets of that war were especially patriotic, and felt strongly about the comradeship among service people. And since then there has been a certain comradeship between the United States and Mexico, because of it. "At the same time our ceremony happens in the pines, the same ceremony, much less abbreviated, is going on in Mexico City, so the ties are definitely there. And all of this happened long before trade agreements."

Well on his way Emilio Carranza came north to repay a goodwill flight made by his friend, Charles Lindbergh, to Mexico. He left Mexico City in early June, in the same kind of plane Lindbergh used to cross the Atlantic. He hoped to fly non-stop to Washington, but was forced down in North Carolina. For his return, he planned to fly non-stop from New York to Mexico City. But weather delayed his takeoff several days in a row. At last, at 7:18 p.m. on July 12, Carranza's single-engine Ryan lifted from a soggy Roosevelt Field, swept with rain, on Long Island.

"Heading southward towards a city which eagerly awaited him as its favorite son," an Associated Press writer wrote on July 12, "Capt. Emilio Carranza, Mexico's Good Will flier, presumably was well on his way today on his 2,400 mile non-stop flight from New York to Mexico City." Before this article appeared, however, Carranza was already dead. Not more than two hours out of New York, trying to fly above the thunderheads, his plane crashed in the woods eight miles southwest of Chatsworth.

Even now it is unclear whether the plane was struck by lightning or whether Carranza was flying too low because of error or engine trouble. Residents remembered hearing a plane engine misfiring. Investigators believed the plane hit the tree tops and flipped. Carranza died with a flashlight in his left hand, perhaps searching out the window for a landing site. The design of his plane did not include a windshield.

It wasn't until late the next morning that Henry Carr, prospecting for blueberries with friends, found the wreckage, or most of it. There was the fuselage, the engine, parts of the wings. Carranza's body was nearby, his face smashed. A big hole Stephen Lee, who then, as now, lived about five miles from the place, saw the wreckage that afternoon.

"The weather that year was like we had on the Fourth of July," Lee said. "Real hot and humid. And that night there were severe thunderstorms, as we had in the last few days here. "My mother always spoke about hearing the plane going over that evening. Well, the next morning my dad and I happened to be in that area, looking for blueberries. But we didn't see the plane." "When we went back that afternoon, we found parts of the wing and fuselage, also the engine and part of the cockpit. The motor itself dug a big hole, and the leaking fuel killed the foliage around it."

"There were a lot of local people combing the woods by then. People found debris miles away." Lee himself found the Ryan's altimeter, a fragile little dial with a stuck needle. He still has it - until he can find a relative to entrust it to.

Carranza's body was taken to the garage at Buzby's General Store in Chatsworth, where it was laid on Mrs. Buzby's wallpaper board and covered with a sheet. Proprietor Willis Buzby, knowing nothing of Emilio Carranza, called the authorities in Mount Holly. "We were having an outdoor birthday party that night for my father-in-law, (Willis)," said Katie Buzby, now 93, "and we had to go inside because a shower came up real sharp. A sharp, hard shower.

"The next day, Friday, we went to Atlantic City. And by the time we came home, you couldn't get by on the road, there were so many people." Detectives and a coroner arrived, confirmed the body as Carranza's. Members of Post 11 came and bore it back to Mount Holly, where it lay at post headquarters until the Mexican authorities arrived the next day. Post 11 began its annual commemoration that year. The Mexican government sent the monument two years later. "The Mexican children put the monument there, right near the railroad," said Buzby. "But I guess it's deteriorating now. Not many people are curious about it anymore."

The part of the woods where Carranza died - locals call it Sandy Ridge - is not much busier than it was in 1928. A paved road runs east to the monument from Tabernacle. East of that, where the pavement stops, the way becomes indistinguishable from 100 other washboard roads in the pines. Nearby is the Batona campsite, maintained by the state in Wharton State Forest. Threading through the pines is the Batona Trail, the 50-mile wilderness trial between Bass River State Forest and Ongs Hat.

The trail passes within 100 yards of the monument, yet most hikers pass without seeing it. Fewer still would know what it is. Nevertheless, among the few whose job is partly to remember, the memory will abide. "If we haven't quit since 1928, we must take it pretty seriously," said Gladfelter. "No, we have not ceased having that ceremony, and it is my hope that we shall not."


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