Marvel Crosson, born in 1904, was the sister to one of Alaska’s pioneer aviators, Joe Crosson. Marvel was thirteen years old when she first saw the amazing flying machine at the Logan County Fair at Sterling, Colorado. She and Joe were swept off their feet and excitedly exclaimed that they wanted to grow up to be aviators!
Joe went to Alaska in 1927 but meanwhile Marvel continued to fly and establish herself in San Diego as an accomplished aviator. “The San Diego newspaper described Marvel as ‘so steeped in aviation that she carries you into the clouds the moment you speak with her’” (Tordorff, 73). She ultimately joined Joe in Alaska in the fall of 1927 and began flying for Cann’s Photography Studio of Fairbanks taking aerial photographs. Marvel quickly became a fixture at Rickert’s Field. She flew with the other pilots and her flights between 1927 and 1928 were the first flown by a female pilot in Alaska. Ben Eielson, the Department of Commerce check pilot, signed her commercial pilots license, another first for women in Alaska. Her flying skills had broadened from her time in Alaska; carrying passengers, flying at temperatures of forty below zero, delivering cargo to mining camps, and keeping the aircraft functional in extreme cold and while mounted on skis.
Marvel made it to San Bernardino in good time, however reported problems with her engine. A new engine was sent but never installed. On the next leg, the motor had developed troubles again. Other pilots encouraged her to withdraw, but Marvel, not one to give up, remained in the race. She took off again on August 19 but never made it to the next check point. Searchers discovered the site of the crash in a ravine. Her Travel Air was found, nose down, four of the seven cylinders were torn from the motor and her body found in her released parachute. Rumors flew about sabotage, several other pilots reported incidents of sand in fuel tanks and wires dissolved in acid, but nothing was ever confirmed. Her family and other racers were devastated by the event. While a dark cloud hovered over the race with the loss of Marvel, the race did continue on.
Marvel’s legacy lives on in Alaskan aviation history. She was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009 along with Irene Ryan and Ruth Jefford.
References and Sources:
Tordhoff, Dirk. "Mercy Pilot", 2002.
The Milwaukee Journal, 1929.
International Women's Air and Space Museum.
Alaska Women's Hall of Fame