Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tales from the Flying Circus, Part Deux

Usually, the archive only acquires actual photos, not printed material, but the
connection with our Inman photos made this postcard-sized advertising card
hard to pass up. Cards like this would be mass-mailed to addresses in the towns
that the Circus would be visiting. The card was published sometime between
1935 (when Donald was killed) and 1937 (when Melvin Hart went to Alaska).
One of the first major posts on Vintage Air featured a couple of trimotors flown during the Great Depression by the Inman Brothers Flying Circus, a barnstorming act that toured the Midwest during the 1930s.

The Inman Brothers, Rolley, Arthur and Donald, developed one of the most successful aerial stunt acts during the inter-war period. Various other pilots (including Tex Johnston, as we mentioned in that original post) also flew with the Circus. Since that original post, my fascination with the Circus has grown, and the archive has been able to acquire a few more pieces. Personally, though, I don't feel that the exploits of the Inman Brothers have yet been adequately covered on the web. Someone should write a book....

Donald, the youngest of the three brothers, was killed at the age of 22 during a flight in Ellenton, Florida, on February 10, 1935, as reported in an article in the Southeast Missourian (the article is slightly confusing, and it's not clear if this was a Flying Circus flight, or whether Donald had set off barnstorming on his own). While the newspaper doesn't identify the type of aircraft, Donald was flying with another pilot, Charles Hoanes, when the aircraft suffered an engine failure on takeoff and dove into some trees. While Donald was killed, the newspaper credits him with saving a 17-year-old woman, Miss Corrine Edwards, as he "threw himself across Miss Edwards, to prevent her from being more seriously hurt." Though soaked with gasoline, fortunately the plane did not burn.

The caption taped to the back of this glossy reads, "QUEEN
OF THE FLYING TIN GOOSE -- Mrs. Leona Pemberton of Sun
City was one of the first women to achieve serial noteriety as
she worked with the Inman Bros. Flying Circus out of Coffeyville,
One of the "other" pilots, Merle Smith, on the far right in the adverstising card photo above, was also a Kansas native. Smith taught himself how to fly as a teenager, and after flying with the Inmans for a few years, he felt the "call of the wild" and headed for Alaska, where he hired on with the Cordova Air Service. After a mishap on a soggy, muddy bush field that caused him to nose over his Stearman (he reportedly got the plane running and flying again using nothing more than a screwdriver, putty knife and an old rag), he picked up the nickname "Mudhole". Smith eventually became the president of Cordova, and led it into a merger with Alaska Airlines in 1968. From then until his retirement in 1979, "Mudhole" served on the Board of Directors and as a VP at Alaska. A more detailed bio of his adventures in that state can be found at this Alaska Airlines page.

Recently, the Archive acquired two 8x10 glossy publicity photos featuring one of the Inman wives, Leona, who was married to Art (she's the second from the left in the ad card picture). Leona had served as Stewardess on the Ford Trimotor that the Circus used for giving passenger "thrill rides".

The caption provided by the PR firm and taped to the back
reads, "RETIRED NOW -- In her garden at Sun City, Mrs.
Leona Pemberton recalls her early days as "Queen of the
Barnstormers," when each flight was full of adventure,
excitement and danger."
Both photos appear to have been printed in the 1960s or 1970s by the Dewey W. Linze Company, a Hollywood PR firm (I can't find any trace of them these days), and the one on the left bills Leona as once the "Queen of the Barnstormers", although I have yet to find a period reference to her as this. I'm not sure why these photos were produced (was she trying to build a career as a speaker, trading on her old days of glory?), but interestingly, the photos don't note that she was an Inman at the time!

The last item that I've found on the Flying Circus was this 1987 obituary from the New York Times for Margie Inman (far left on the ad card). The wife of Rolley, she performed in the act as a wing-walker, among other duties. The article notes that Rolley died "in a crash" in 1944, though it doesn't say whether this was in the War or stateside.

Sadly, her end seems like a sad one, in failing health and living in a lean-to with numerous pets in Fort Lauderdale. The same 1935 newspaper article that talked about Donald's death also gives some insight into her love of animals...evidently for a while, the Circus included a pet lion - named "Kitty" - who lived with Rolley and Margie, and accompanied the couple both in the air and "on motor car journeys as well. Often the animal may be seen occupying the rumble seat of Rolley Inman's automobile."

And lastly, this tidbit...while I've not been able to find any references to the post-Flying Circus career of Carl Hall (second from the right on the ad card), it's interesting to note that the Canadian Air & Space Museum is located at 65 Carl Hall Road in Toronto. Coincidence?


  1. Hello, My name is Charles L. Puckett. My Grandmother is Jenny Inman, Sister of Art, Rolly, and Don Inman. Jenny passed away in Key Largo Florida in 1988 or 1989. She had great stories of The Inman Brothers Flying Circus including that of being a wing walker herself. She was like "Hollywood" when she would visit our home in Wisconsin back in the 60's and early 70's when I was a kid.

    I have original photographs of Don's wrecked bi-wing airplane as well as some hand written notes about the crash. I believe the crash site is in Florida, and Don is buried there.

    Being high-time multi-engine pilots, Art and Rolly ferried bombers to Africa and England in support of the war effort. Rolly died in up-state NY in 1944 when the plane he and several others were being transported back from England in lost it's way at night while in weather, ultimately crashing into a mountain side. Rolly and others were sleeping at the time of the crash, or so it has been told to me.

    Art went on to fly commercial passenger planes as a Captain at Pan-Am (or one of the other larger airlines- I would have to look it up...). He was married and lived in the Van Nuys California, retired at some point and passed away in the mid to late 1970's, I believe. Rolly had one son by the name of Bill Inman. The last I knew Bill lived in the Van Nuys area. I think it's I try to contact Bill, we haven't communicated since the late 1980's and sort of lost touch. And so it now occurs to me, it's yime to call my Dad's cousin Bill.

    Please flee free to contact me at with any questions, or information at charliecompanylz@gmail.com

    Thank you,

    Charlie Puckett

    1. Wow, Charlie, fantastic information, thanks so much for sharing! I look forward to corresponding more! Alan

  2. Carl Hall lived next door when I was growing up in Miami in the 1950's. He was a flight engineer and aircraft mechanic. I am sending an email.