The picture accompanying this article shows a calm and lovely Mary’s Pond, but as I looked through a scrapbook at the museum, I found an article that showed a very different scene on a May Day about 75 years ago. In the 1940s, Rochester residents were used to seeing planes maneuvering in the sky as the Navy practiced by dropping dummy bombs, targeting an island in Snipatuit Pond, so no one was paying particular attention to the two scout bomber planes out of a Rhode Island Naval station.
The two planes spent the day on flying maneuvers and making continuous circles overhead. At one point, the pilots flew off with one going north and the other west to come back in another circular route. The plane that had been heading north began to dive while the second plane flew beneath it. The consequences of those two moves were disastrous. The diving plane struck the tail of the one below, shearing it off and losing its own two wings.
The tailless plane plummeted into the pond, skidding across the surface before it disappeared beneath the water. The other plane spun in lazy circles for a few seconds before it crashed and burned in the bog less than 100 ft. from Mary’s Pond Rd. It crashed at such speed that it forced itself into the ground and threw the pilot out of the plane. Both pilots who were flying alone were killed instantly. One pilot was found to the east of his plane still wearing his safety belt around his waist and the cord on his chute hadn’t been pulled.
The Navy Rescue Crash Truck crew came from Quonset and found the second pilot in the water near his plane. The plane sank in 80 feet of water. Debris from the crash was strewn over an area of up to a half mile. The tail of one plane and the wings of the other were at opposite ends of the crash site. Pieces of the planes and their contents were everywhere, and crowds quickly gathered.
Rochester Police Chief Walter Jenkins took charge of the scene with the help of conservation officers and town police until two State Police sergeants from the Bridgewater Barracks and two State Police patrolmen from the Wareham barracks arrived. In the confusion, one young man from town found a machine gun that had detached from a plane and took it home. The crowds were cleared and a Marine stood guard through the night until a specialized salvage team was sent to raise the sunken plane and clear the wreckage.
Between the practice bombing runs over Snipatuit Pond and the plane crash, many people went from searching out old bottles and Indian arrowheads to looking for plane parts and bits of bullets and bombs, and, oh, yes, the day wasn’t over when there was a knock on that young man’s door and the State Police were there to recover the machine gun.
I want to thank everyone who attended our October 2 event and viewed our new exhibit, which was supported by the Rochester Cultural Council, a local agency, supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. We hope you will join us for our October 20 meeting at 7:00 pm where Malcolm Phinney will present, “Parlor Entertainment at the Turn of the Century.” The museum will be open Sunday, October 10, and most Sundays through November.
By Connie Eshbach