Jerrie Mock, First Woman to Fly Solo Around the World, Honored with Statue
Columbus is home to an often overlooked piece of history. Today, the Columbus Foundation celebrates the 50th anniversary of Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock’s historic flight. On April 17th, 1964, Mock became the first woman to fly around the world solo when her tiny Cessna 180 plane, named The Spirit of Columbus, touched down at the Port Columbus International Airport.
“I was a little kid in the fifth grade and I listened on the radio to what she was doing,” Mock said in a statement. “Amelia was my hero and I told my friends then, I’m going to fly around the world.”
At the time, she was a 38-year-old amateur pilot at the time with fewer than 700 flight hours to her credit. Her aspirations had to be kept quiet, should they stir interest from a more experienced woman to challenge her.
“I had to do my training in secret. I had to keep it quiet,” said Mock.
One veteran commercial pilot, Joan Merriman Smith of Long Beach, California did decide to come forward, beginning her flight two days before Mock’s. The two women chased the record, which did not allow Mock to do as much sight-seeing as she had planned. But it was Mock who was victorious, completing the trip in 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes. Her flight was also certified as a round-the-world speed record for aircraft weighing less than 3,858 pounds.
Mock was met on her landing by her family, several thousand men, women, and children, and Governor James A. Rhodes, who declared April 18 “Jerrie Mock Day.”
The Saturday, April 18, 1964 edition of the Columbus Evening Dispatch dedicated much of the front page to Mock’s accomplishment with the headline “Jerrie Does It; Sets Global Airmark”.
On May 4, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented her with the Federal Aviation Agency’s “Decoration for Exceptional Service.”
The Columbus Foundation has been promoting Mock’s historic accomplishment throughout the year through social media, sharing photos and excerpts from Mock’s book Three-Eight Charlie, which is also the nickname she gave her plane on aviation radios.
“Ohio’s long and storied aviation history should hold a special place for Jerrie Mock,” said Douglas F. Kridler, president and CEO of The Columbus Foundation in a statement.
Mock’s story will be forever remembered by a life-size bronze statue now on view at the Port Columbus International Airport.
“Jerrie’s legacy is not only her accomplishment, but the inspiration she provides all of us to reimagine what is possible,” said Elaine Roberts, President & CEO of the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, which operates Port Columbus.
The 400 pound statue was sculpted in oil base clay, which was then cast in bronze by local artist Renate Burgyan Fackler. It depicts Mock holding a globe.
Fackler had created a life size sculpture of Jerrie in 2013 which was installed at the Works, a museum in Newark, Ohio, where Mock was born. She has been sculpting for 28 years.
“Bill Kelley, from Newark, Ohio, saw my sculpture of Brutus on a bench at the Ohio Union in the Columbus Dispatch in 2010,” says Fackler. “In July of 2011, he asked me to make a maquette [of Jerrie], which is a 3-D sketch of what it will look like. Fundraising for the project began in October of 2011 by the Licking County Foundation, with Susan Reid, Jerrie’s sister, spearheading the fundraising.”
Reid also posed for the sculpture, wearing the actual clothes and shoes that Mock wore, and by using old photos, Fackler was able to create a portrait of Jerrie at age 38.
“When you see the sculpture, be sure to notice the high heels,” says Fackler. “We asked Jerrie how she wanted to be sculpted- with or without heels. She said, “if I’m wearing a skirt, I’m wearing heels!” Whenever she landed, she put her heels on.”
Shortly after the first sculpture was unveiled at the Works, Fackler was contacted by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a member of the Pilots Club, to recreate the sculpture holding a globe. Funding was raised by the Pilots Club and The Columbus Foundation.
Reworking the sculpture to include the globe showing Mock’s flight stops took Fackler about a month. The original casting of Mock took about three months. The second sculpture is 5 feet 3 inches tall with the heels and a big hairdo.
Travelers will be able to view the statue when going through the ticket lobby and be moved as needed as the airport undergoes terminal modernization efforts. Once construction is completed in the ticket lobby, the statue will be placed in its permanent location, the newly designed Legacy of Leadership, two exhibit-style lounges in the ticket lobby tracing the history of Port Columbus.
Although Mock is now retired and was unable to attend the ceremony, her pioneering spirit will inspire others traveling through the Port Columbus International Airport.
“I hope … that somewhere here and there, just my doing something that hadn’t been done, will encourage someone else who wants to do something very much, and hasn’t quite had the heart to try it,” she said, minutes after her plane touched down that day.
To find out more about Jerrie Mock’s flight, follow The Columbus Foundation’s social media updates.