The Tragic 1935 Deaths Of Legendary American Celebrities Will Rogers And Wiley Post

Wiley Post held up the khaki-colored safety belts in front of his friend, the celebrated humorist, and film star Will Rogers. Rogers eyed the equipment they would need in case they crash-landed in the water during their flight, according to The Vancouver Sun. "You know we've got to take these along with us," Wiley, the famed pilot who'd been the first man to fly solo around the world, said. Rogers, looking serious, shook his head. "I don't like to think about that. I want to have a good time," he answered Post.

It was the morning of August 7, 1935, and the two friends were at the Renton Airport in Seattle, Washington, preparing to fly north to Alaska in Post's brand-new bright-red Arctic Sky Cruiser outfitted with pontoons for water landings. Post planned to fly to Siberia and then Moscow, and Rogers was tagging along as far as Point Barrow, at the northernmost tip of Alaska, according to the Associated Press. He hadn't yet decided if he would go any further with Post. As it turned out, neither man made it to Point Barrow.

Two famous friends from Oklahoma 

Wiley Post and Will Rogers met four years earlier at an event in Tulsa through a mutual friend of theirs, and while they were very different in temperament, they became quite close, per the AP. Post was driven and moody and Rogers was happy-go-lucky and a decade older, but they shared a common background of growing up as country boys in Oklahoma, per ThoughtCo.

Post was born in Texas in 1898 and later moved with his family to Oklahoma, lost an eye while working in the oil fields, and became famous as an aviator, a dream he'd had since childhood, per the AP. He and his navigator broke the speed record for circumnavigating the globe in 1931 and two years later Post became the first person to circle the globe solo and broke his previous record time, per the National Air and Space Museum. Rogers, born in 1879 as a member of the Cherokee nation in what was then called Indian Territory, became an early film and radio star and had a hugely popular nationally syndicated newspaper humor column, per Britannica.

A shocked nation mourns  

After leaving Washington state, Wiley Post and Will Rogers flew to Juneau, Alaska, where they had dinner with the territorial governor. After a weather delay, they again took off, hopscotching from Yukon Territory to the Northwest Territories, and back to Fairbanks, Alaska, per the AP. On the evening of August 16, 1935, they headed for Point Barrow but landed at Harding Lake 50 miles away to wait out a dense fog. They again landed a short time later and asked a group of Inuit people the way to Point Barrow, per the AP. As the plane took off its engine suddenly misfired only about 50 feet off of the ground. The plane careened out of control, and hit the water.

A telegraphic report from Point Barrow soon reached the Seattle headquarters of the U.S. Army Signal Corps: "Native runner reported plane crash 15 miles south of Barrow. Immediately hired fast launch proceeded to scene found plane complete wreck, partially submerged in two feet of water." The news quickly spread across the globe. Will Rogers and Wiley Post were dead. The next day, the pair received eulogies from Hollywood, famous pilots, and politicians. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was "shocked to hear the tragedy that has taken Will Rogers and Wiley Post from us," he told the AP, calling Rogers "an old friend of mine, a humorist and philosopher beloved by all." Of Post, Roosevelt said he left "behind a splendid contribution to the science of aviation."