6. The neighborhood was the site of one of America’s deadliest plane crashes

The Sterling Place building which was partially reconstructed following the Park Slope plane crash
The Sterling Place building which was partially reconstructed following the Park Slope plane crash.

On December 16, 1960 — one day before the 57th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight — a deadly mid-flight plane crash sent shockwaves throughout the Park Slope community. As eyewitness and radar reports suggest, two planes — a United Airlines DC-8 bound for Idlewild Airport and a TWA Super Constellation descending into LaGuardia Airport — collided in midair over Staten Island. Following the collision, the TWA plane crashed into Miller Field on the southeastern coast of Staten Island, where New Dorp High School now stands. However, the DC-8 took a different path, crashing in Park Slope at Sterling Place near the intersection of 7th Avenue. Wreaking havoc on the surrounding area, 10 brownstones, a funeral home, a deli and a laundromat were all set aflame. The Pillar of Fire church was also completely destroyed. As the deadliest aviation disaster in the world at the time, the crash killed all 128 passengers aboard both planes, as well as six people on the ground. Miraculously, 11-year-old Stephen Lambert Balt from Illinois briefly survived the crash after being thrown out of the plane onto a snowbank. Unfortunately, he passed from pneumonia the following day.

Remnants of the carnage can still be found scattered across the neighborhood. At 126 Sterling Place, the different brickwork across its top portion and missing black cornice highlight the building’s remodel following the crash. In addition to patched brick columns at 123 Sterling Place, the most striking vestiges of the crash lay in the backyard of sculptor Steve Keltner, taken from the church before it was cleared out. Keltner has two large metal pieces from the plane, one of which appears to have come from the gasket of the plane labeled “No. 5 main tank Auxiliary Fuel. Structural limit 17,605 lbs.” While there is no official plaque for the plane crash at Sterling Place, the historic event has been commemorated elsewhere in Brooklyn. In 2010, the Green-Wood Cemetery erected a memorial to the victims of the plane crash in a lot purchased by United Airlines for burying the unidentified remains.