Wartime Wednesday: Daredevil Adeline Gray
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, parachutes were made of silk. When Japan became an enemy of the U.S. after the attack at Pearl Harbor, trade relations were cut off, and the military needed to find another fabric that would be as effective. Enter nylon.
Invented in 1935 by Wallace Hume Carothers at DuPont’s research facility, nylon was first used for toothbrushes bristles in 1938. Women’s stockings were exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and weren’t sold commercially until 1940. However, the product was met by distrust and fear by the general public because a newspaper article claimed that one of the chemicals used in nylon’s production was extracted from corpses. A lengthy advertising campaign finally squelched the rumors by 1942.
The government was tentatively optimistic about producing nylon parachutes and contracted with Pioneer Parachute in Manchester, Connecticut to have a prototype manufactured. As with any new piece of equipment, tests had to be conducted to determine viability. By June 1942 it was time to make the first jump with the nylon parachute. Who would be selected?
Twenty-four-year-old Adeline Gray had been working as a parachute rigger with the company for five years. Prior to her employment at Pioneer, she had been a sky diver who made her reputation as a female dare devil jumper. Born in 1917 and raised in Oxford, Connecticut, she was infatuated from a young age with the idea of parachuting. Stories are told about her jumping from the loft of a barn into bales of hay, holding an umbrella to slow her fall. After high school she learned how to pack and repair chutes, and made her first jump from a height of 2,000 feet at the New Haven Municipal Airport.
With thirty-three jumps under her belt, and as the only female licensed parachute jumper in the state, Adeline made an excellent candidate. More than fifty senior military officers lined up at Brainerd Field in Hartford to watch her jump. The leap and landing were a success, moving the manufacture of chutes from silk to synthetics.
The New York Times marveled at her confidence: “As calmly as if she were going out on the porch to bring in the daily paper…[she] stepped out of an airplane.” Adeline’s new-found nationwide fame opened other doors, and she found herself featured as a heroine in True Comics.
It’s been six months since Ruth Brown followed clues to England and discovered the identity of her sister’s killer. War continues to rage as Ruth reports on food shortages, the black market, evacuation of London’s children, and the bravery of the British people.
When a bombing raid destroys her home and unearths a twenty-year-old skeleton in the cellar, her reporter’s senses tingle in anticipation of solving another mystery. Unfortunately, the by-the-book detective inspector assigned to the case is not interested in her theories. As Ruth investigates the case on her own, she butts heads with the handsome policeman.
Will she get to the bottom of the story before he arrests her for interference?
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