Readers of a certain age no doubt remember The Saturday Evening Post. Even readers born after the Post’s heyday, are probably familiar with some of its familiar Normal Rockwell covers. But, did you know of Montgomery County’s connection to the iconic American weekly?
Published in Philadelphia, The Saturday Evening Post goes all the way back to 1821, but it rose to prominence in the twentieth century under the direction of Charles Horace Lorimer. Lorimer lived in Wyncote, part of Cheltenham township. Much of his estate is now occupied by Ancillae Assumpta Academy.
Lorimer was also the author of the book Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son. While it’s not widely known today, it was a best-seller in the early twentieth century.
Cover from Letters from a Self-Made Merchant, from our collection
Lorimer left the Post in 1936, in part, according to the Saturday Evening Post Society’s website, because he felt out of touch with New Deal era America. The cover in our collection dates to 1949, when Ben Higgs was editor.
It shows a well-known corner of Montgomery County – Skippack Pike and 202 in Whitpain. Men run to the engin of the Center Square Fire Company on one side of the street and the recently closed Reed’s Store appears on the other side. The note for this cover claims that the artist, Stevan Dohanos, was looking to capture a small town fire company. It goes on to say, “Incidentally, four Post artists, long fascinated by that Center Square department store, have tried to figure out a theme for coverizing it, and failed.”
The Post continued to be an influential magazine into the 1960’s when competition from television led to the decline of print media. The Post’s parent company lost a major libel suit and the magazine stopped printing in 1969. Since then, it has been revived, most recently by the non-profit Saturday Evening Post Society.
Connie Wolf in her balloon from the National Balloon Museum
In November of 1961, a fifty-six year old grandmother from Blue Bell broke the women’s ballooning endurance record in a hydrogen filled balloon called “Yellow Wolf.” Connie Wolf (née Cann) described herself to the Norristown Times-Herald as a “dedicated capitalist” who was “sick of the Russians holding all the records.” (November 21, 1961).
Connie Wolf first learned to fly airplanes on her honeymoon in 1931. Her husband, Alfred L. Wolf was a lawyer and an enthusiastic pilot. He later went on to have a distinguished career in the Air Force. It wasn’t until 20 years later that she learned ballooning while her husband was stationed in Germany. It became her passion.
In 1952, Mrs. Wolf was one of the founders of the Balloon Club of America, which flew from Valley Forge Airport until its closure. It then moved to Whig’s Field in Whitpain Township, right next to the Wolfs' home “Wingover.”
The poster for Around the World in 80 Days from IMDB
Even before her world record flight, Connie Wolf was a well-known balloonist. She served as a technical consultant on the movie Around the World in 80 Days which won the best picture Oscar for 1956. Connie flew the balloon featured in the movie, “La Coquette,” over Paris and London to promote its release.
In 1960, she put a “Nixon-Lodge” banner on her balloon. Nixon himself gave a speech from the balloon’s gondola (it was on the ground at the time).
Her record breaking flight did not take place in Montgomery County, however. She took off in her large balloon known as “Yellow Wolf” on November 12, 1961 from Big Spring, Texas. She landed over forty hours later in Boley, Oklahoma. She had broken 15 different records, including the women’s endurance record which had previously been held by a Russian woman named L. Ivanova (her first name isn’t listed even in the official record). Her record was 34 hours, 21 minutes, and it was set in 1948.
Big Spring, TX to Boley, OK on Google Maps
At the time of her flight, the Times-Herald reported that Connie Wolf was the only licensed female balloonist in the US. Montgomery County celebrated her achievement by declaring December 21, 1961 “Connie Wolf Day.” She was also awarded the Montgolfier Award by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. She was the first woman ever to receive that honor.
Although the forty hour trip exhausted her, Connie Wolf went back to ballooning. In 1976 she flew a Liberty Bell shaped balloon for the bicentennial, and in 1982 she flew a balloon with an image of William Penn from Penn’s Landing in honor of the tercentennial of the founding of Pennsylvania.
In 1986, the couple founded the Wolf Aviation Fund, which promotes general aviation through various grants and programs.
When Connie died in 1994, she still held the women’s endurance record. It was broken the following year by Lesley P. Davis of the USA who flew for over 60 hours. Connie was inducted into the National Balloon Museum's Hall of Fame in 2015.