Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 101218 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Fatal Crash On Richmond Street
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
Fort Myers has a lot of World War II history, what with
Buckingham Army Air Force Base and Page Field being
established early in the war and the influx of tens of
thousands of military personnel over the course of the war.
But there’s one wartime story that’s hard to top for poignancy
and drama, and it had nothing to do with the actual war.
Seventy-five years ago, downtown Fort Myers witnessed a
young pilot’s unforgettable aerial antics.
At about 2 p.m. on October 14, 1943, Ensign John Bernard
Sholz of Toledo, Ohio flew low over the business and residential
sections of town for about 15 minutes, as people exited homes
and businesses in droves to observe the low circling and barrel-rolling of his fighter
The pilot had been recently stationed at Opa-Locka Naval Air Base in Miami to serve
as an instructor.
That day, he was reportedly flying a single-engine plane similar to the AT-6, which
was also used at nearby Buckingham Army Air Force Base as well as many other bases.
According to local lore, the pilot wanted to impress his girlfriend, Zeta Wells, also
from Toledo, whom he had seen the previous weekend when she had been staying at
the St. Charles Hotel.
Genevieve Bowen, who was a child at the time, remembers hearing about the story.
The pilot repeatedly flew up and down Jackson Street past the hotel, making sharp
turns in between passes, she said.
He flew quite low and “buzzed” the hotel, which straddled the block between Jackson
and Lee (where the CityGate Ministries parking lot now is).
After the incident, students and other people reported that the pilot waved to them
from the steel-frame birdcage cockpit.
Students at the Gwynne Institute at Second and Jackson were glued to the windows
watching the aerial swoops.
The pilot completed about six circles before clipping a wing tip on some Australian
pines behind the First Baptist Church at Second and Jackson. Fabric from the plane
landed on the roof of a house on Second Street near the foot of Jackson.
The plane eventually hit the ground on Richmond Street, crashing into the front
room and porch of a home at a spot that is now the edge of the library’s Cornog Plaza.
The pilot died.
As the News-Press described it in a front-page piece headed Stunning Flier Dies in
Crash, “the fuselage and motor shot through the walls and skidded 50 feet.” Minor
continued on page 8
THE RIVER - OCTOBER 12, 2018
Students at the Gwynne Institute (right) at Second and Jackson had a front row seat for the
ill-fated flight, as the pilot repeatedly flew up and down Jackson Street. The St. Charles Hotel
was located where a church parking lot is now (center distance). photos by Gerri Reaves
The plane came down on Richmond Street, crashing into a house at the edge of today’s
Cornog Plaza at the library (left). The fuselage and motor crashed through the walls of
the house and skidded 50 feet, causing minor damage on Royal Palm Avenue (center
This aerial photograph from the mid-1940s gives an idea what the pilot saw as he
repeatedly buzzed the St. Charles Hotel on Jackson Street. The tallest downtown building at
the time was the Franklin Arms Hotel (center) at First and Lee. Jackson Street is one street
west (left) of Lee.
photo courtesy Florida State Archives
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