Off Beat: Russian flight crew's money all also flew through the air

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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We wrote about their record-setting flight.

We wrote about their unexpected arrival in 1937.

And then we wrote about what they had in their pockets. Of course, a story featuring $100 bills flying around always makes for interesting reading.

The 75th anniversary of the Chkalov flight provided a chance to visit our archives and pull out an inch-thick notebook tagged "Russian Flight."

Some clippings were of stories written in the 1970s and 1980s, including one from our current outdoors writer.

First, those C-notes. A 1985 story cited a book by Gen. George Marshall's wife, who wrote how an orderly took up food so the fliers could eat breakfast in their bathtubs.

"Our orderly came down with his eyes bulging and said, 'General, there are $100 bills blowing all over the rooms," Katherine Marshall wrote.

Valery Chkalov, Georgy Baidukov and Alexander Belyakov had been issued rolls of U.S. currency, and left the cash on their dressers. The wind blew some of it through their windows, and hundreds of dollars wound up on the lawn.

Note-able achievement

In 1975, Columbian reporter Allen Thomas talked to people who'd been part of the story. Thomas, now our outdoors writer, interviewed a Russian-born woman who was working at Portland's Meier & Frank department store in 1937.

The store gave the three fliers new clothes, and they loaned their flying suits for a front-window display. Store employees found notes in the pockets and had sales clerk Nadezhda Lenhart translate them.

It had been so loud inside the plane that the fliers couldn't talk to each other, Lenhart told Thomas. They must have been running out of paper, she said, because many of the sheets had writing on both sides.

There were flight data and instructions, including a note that gave orders to land in Vancouver, she said.

It wasn't all serious stuff, however. One note made fun of the fact that Baidukov was getting sleepy.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.