This series of posts will provide a chronological overview of the life of my father, Keith Black (1942–2016), who passed away on March 8, 2016. My aim in this first installment is to give an overview of his first seven years, from his birth and early childhood in Washington state to his entering elementary school after his family moved to Santa Barbara, California.
If you have any stories to share about my father, whether privately or stories I could share publicly, I would be grateful. Please do so by leaving a comment below (comments stay private until I publish them).
I’d like to wish all of my family, old and new, near and far, a wonderful Easter and happiness throughout the Spring.
Because I couldn’t find any vintage Easter-related photos that I haven’t already used (I went a little overboard with last year’s Easter post), I’ll leave you with a few Easter photos of me, my sister Jill, my mother Polly, my father Keith, my uncle Gary, my grandmother Dorothy McMurry Black and my grandfather Vernon C. Black taken by by father at my grandparents’ home at 13846 Hamlin Street, in Van Nuys, California, on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1971.
Today’s post isn’t so much a post as it is a visual travelogue. While scanning hundreds of loose negatives that once belonged to my grandparents, I’ve found about 40 photos that appear to document two trips that Vernon Black and his sons Keith and Gary (and probably his wife Dorothy, too, although she doesn’t appear in any of the photos) made from California back to Vernon’s childhood home in Kansas.
For those of you who didn’t previously know about these trips, please enjoy the photos. For those of you who either went on the trip or were among those who hosted and/or visited with the Black family on their travels, please spill all you know about these trips in the comments section below. Whether you remember details of the trips, can recognize any of the Kansas relatives in the shots, or can help fill in the story of these trips, please share that information with the rest of us!
In the nine months since I wrote that post, I’ve kept my eyes open for more photos from that historic day. I felt confident that they didn’t go to the opening day of Disneyland and just take three photos. Last week, while visiting with my father in Washington state, he gave me several small stashes of black-and-white negatives. When I looked through them, I found the negative to one of the prints I had already seen. It was mixed in with photos of a circa 1953 trip to Kansas to visit relatives. The more I looked through the negatives, the more I realized that at some point, they had all been mixed up and then later incorrectly grouped with other negatives.
In my recent trip to Washington state to see my father and do some family history research, my father gave me some older black-and-white negatives that I’ve been scanning and archivally rehousing. Quite unexpectedly, I found eight photos from 1965 or 1966 of my uncle Gary with the very plane whose crash claimed the life of his flying instructor and very nearly killed my uncle as well (for details on that crash, see my earlier post on the topic).
I compared the plane’s registration number (easily visible in several of these new photos) to that on record in the NTSB report of the crash, and saw that it was an exact match—N5472E. It was eerie realizing that this was the same plane that would almost take his life just a few months, weeks, days, or perhaps even hours after these photos were taken.
While looking through a set of photos from the 1950s that once belonged to my grandmother, Dorothy (McMurry) Black, I found a fun surprise—three photos of my father and his family visiting Disneyland just one day after its grand opening day. Disneyland had its grand opening on July 17, 1955, but only press and invited guests were allowed in the park on that day. The next day—July 18, 1955, was the first day that the public was allowed into Disneyland, and these three photos were taken on that day.
My grandparents, Vernon and Dorothy (McMurry) Black took four very lucky children to Disneyland that day: their two children (Keith and Gary), their foster son (Richard Bearden), and their nephew (Jude Laspa). Richard, the oldest, was 14 years old. Keith was 12, Jude was 11, and Gary was 6. Vernon and Dorothy were both 38, but children for the day, I’m sure!
My uncle Gary was in a fatal plane crash just a few months before I was born. He was only 17 years old and he was taking flying lessons with the hope of earning his pilot’s license. It must have seemed a perfectly safe and reasonable choice to his parents, as they lived close to the Van Nuys airport and his father was also a licensed private pilot.
Gary and his instructor took off from Van Nuys airport in the single-engine Ercoupe on Saturday, January 22, 1966. The Ercoupe has only two seats—Gary was seated in the left-hand seat and his instructor, Donald K. Carey, was seated in the right-hand seat. On their approach to the Santa Paula airport from the northeast, their plane apparently ran out of fuel just short of the airport. Their plane sputtered and lost altitude. The plane hit a eucalyptus tree in a residential backyard, and nearly hit two houses before it crashed into electrical and telephone wires. The plane made a hard landing on its right side, crushing the right wing and causing fatal injuries to Mr. Carey.