If you go to Scarsdale Village Hall, turn towards the display case on the first floor and look up, you will see propellers mounted on the wall. Those propellers are a reminder of a proud - and terrible - chapter in Scarsdale's history, World War II. It was during this time that Scarsdale earned the right to be called Thunderbolt Town.
Our story begins before the war, with a man named Gordon Sleeper. Mr. Sleeper was the consummate volunteer, active in the Town Club, a Boy Scouts leader, and he was for a number of years an officer in Scarsdale's Caleb Heathcote Trust Company. He also had been a combat aviator. When the war came, Mr. Sleeper left banking to take a job at Republic Aviation in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he was appointed assistant to the President.
It is not absolutely clear that Gordon Sleeper came up with this idea - Gardiner Rome actually chaired Scarsdale's War Savings Staff - but it was arranged that Republic Aviation would letter each plane paid for by bonds bought in the Village with "Scarsdale", followed by names that Village residents dreamed up. All those planes would be P-47 Thunderbolts. The plane's punch was most colorfully described in a Scarsdale Inquirer article on December 3rd 1943, as "one of those neat little packages packed with more power than 7-star cognac on an empty stomach."
In addition to the Scarsdale Legionnaire, there was the Thunderbird, the Comet, the Scout (see the header image) and so on. In all, funds raised in Scarsdale enabled the purchase of 125 Thunderbolts. The pilot shown with the Scarsdale Thunderbird was local boy Edward "Jonesy" Szaniawski, whose amazing life is documented here.
A sign reading "Thunderbolt Town" was erected at the train station, to show pride in the Village's accomplishments in supporting the War, and to spur on further purchases of war bonds.
I have to say, while this feature celebrates Scarsdale’s unique role in World War II, it also was humbling for me to research. Perusing the archives, were many, many articles detailing local boys perishing, or missing in action. Any warfighter will tell you that the real heroes never live to tell their story. The incredible exploits of Scarsdale’s "Greatest Generation" also should be remembered. Who knew that Scarsdale-bred flyers were present in the air forces fighting for China, against the Japanese, even before the war had started for us?
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Sources and Errata
Village Staff provided me with some excellent photographs based on their own interest in this topic.
As always, the archives of the Scarsdale Inquirer were extremely helpful. (The image of Edward Szaniawski came from its pages, though this image almost certainly was not taken by the Inquirer.) SUBSCRIBE to your local paper!!!
There is much more to this story. For example, not only did Gordon Sleeper's son buzz his hometown in a P-47, later on, so did his father!