Taking Flight

While many Birmingham residents are familiar with the Southern Museum of Flight, few have heard the tale of its beginning- the aviation adventures that initiated the museums ultimate take off. 

Take that ring off now, or I’ll take it off and throw it out the window!”

Mary Alice Gatling sat stiffly in her seat. Defiance danced in her eyes as silence settled in the stilled passenger car. The only motion that threatened to rock the tracks was the thundering voice that demanded the hand of the silent woman who had yet to speak a word.

Donald Croom Beatty steadied his gaze. He knew patience. But he was even better acquainted with the power of purpose.

When he had learned of Mary Alice’s engagement, he had wasted no time in jumping aboard his small plane and tracking down the train that was transporting his girl. Having found it, he landed in a nearby field and then halted the southbound train.

Now he refused to leave until the ring Mary Alice wore was replaced with the one he now held out to her.

Slowly the diamond ring began to twist from her slender fingers.

It was done.

“You’re my girl, and don’t you forget it!” Beatty boomed.

It would only be a matter of time before the hands of Mary Alice Beatty, more accustomed to frolicking across the piano keys at The Juilliard School, would take a bounding, daring leap and learn to soar across the heavens.

And he would teach her.

While many Birmingham residents are familiar with the Southern Museum of Flight, very few have heard the tale of its beginning—the aviation adventures that initiated the museum’s ultimate take off.

Since the moment it first revved up its engine for guests in 1983, the museum has been home to over 90 aircraft and numerous exhibitions and memorabilia, including more than 70 mounted biographical plaques documenting southern aviation history in the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.

Behind these exhibitions are many exciting years of teetering upon makeshift runways and gliding above horizons glimmering with mystery and danger.

“Dad taught Mother how to fly when girls never learned how to fly,” Mary Alice Beatty Carmichael, daughter of Donald and Mary Alice Beatty, recalled. Besides being a businessman, Donald Beatty was an aviator, explorer and inventor.

Carmichael explained that because of society’s expectations for women at the time, her mother never mentioned her flying lessons during her tutorship.

According to Carmichael, Beatty learned to fly in the early 1920’s. At that time, “ladies didn’t throw their legs over anything, and the only way you can get in a plane is to climb on the wing, throw your leg over the cowling and drop down into the seat.”

Carmichael is the second of three living children to Donald and Mary Alice Beatty, both of whom have since passed. She serves on several of the museum boards, including the Foundation Board, the City Board and the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame Board.

Although well occupied in their early years of marriage with explorations and expeditions—one of which was sponsored by J.P. Morgan after the historic stock market crash of 1929—Donald and Mary Alice Beatty spent most of their lives in Birmingham, where they had been born and raised.

Donald left behind a legacy of inventions and aerial flight routes through the hearts of Central and South America that have marked history. While Mary Alice accompanied and assisted her husband in many of his endeavors, perhaps her most invaluable contribution to Alabama is the Southern Museum of Flight.

With her husband’s vast collection of artifacts, plane pieces and memorabilia from various expeditions, Mary Alice Beatty initiated its creation.

“They started a museum that was in the attic at Samford above the library,” Carmichael recalled. She described the museum’s initial take off first at the university, and then as its cargo grew, at the Birmingham Airport before its final landing in the Historic East Lake district, where it is nestled today.

Carmichael remembers her mother quipping, “I had to do something to get Daddy’s things out—Daddy’s junk out of the closet!”

Although its engine has gently cooled over the years, today the Southern Museum of Flight still serves visitors as a quiet wonder tucked snugly into the heart of the steel city.

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Behind the Beats: Birmingham Mountain Radio

Birmingham Mountain Radio’s studio is tucked away in the halls of a the local music venue WorkPlay. Step into the station’s office and you will find walls covered in signed posters from bands like Alabama Shakes, Moon Taxi, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and other great musicians who originated in the heart of Birmingham.

Birmingham Mountain Radio is a locally run alternative music station that cultivates an authentic relationship between the listeners and the station by focusing on new artists as well as local advertisers – creating a movement that is bigger than they ever imagined.

The station got its start in 2011 after a few local radio stations that fell through and after the alternative 107.7 went off air. At that point, friends Jeff Clanton and Geno Pearson assumed there probably wasn’t going to be an alternative station to return to Birmingham.

“We sat on the idea of starting our own for a few months thinking that somebody else would pick up the gauntlet – they never did,” Clanton said.

Clanton and Geno decided that since they didn’t have the means or the know-how to run an FM station, they would start by creating an Internet-based radio station. In January of 2011 they launched the online version of BMR, and they were blown away by the response. Since then, BMR has paired with Summit Media Group and launched their FM station in June 2013.

“The community embraced us,” Geno said with joy as he looked out the window.

The BMR staff hopes to lift the community up through partnering with local vendors and advertisers. “We really want to be community driven,” said Scott.

“We want to lift people up who are doing great things in Birmingham. That’s what we hold near and dear – our community.”

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In with the Old and Out with the New

Rickwood Field gives fans a sense of nostalgia

For a short window, Birmingham had the oldest and newest professional baseball parks in America.

When you think about that, it’s pretty extraordinary.

Birmingham’s minor league baseball team, the Barons, now plays at the modern Regions Field, which opened in 2013.

But Rickwood Field, the old home of the Barons, has survived for over a century and is still in use today.

From the outside, the ancient glass windows and concrete pillars makes Rickwood look worn out, like a rickety staircase.

But set foot inside, and it’s a sight that will take your breath away – especially those who appreciate the history of baseball. The park incorporates both new and historic features that make anyone feel like they’re stepping back in time as they walk through the gates. The gazebo-style pressbox, the freshly cut infield grass and dirt, the vintage signs in the outfield and the wooden benches in the dugouts display Rickwood’s contrast of old and new.

Although the playing surface itself has been altered and well maintained over the years, the outer structure has remained the same.

While Rickwood may not be hosting baseball games every day anymore, it is still an important historical feature of the city, and one that is being used in new and different ways.

Construction of Rickwood Field broke ground in the spring of 1910. The very first game was played later that same year. Birmingham Barons owner Rick Woodard built this park that served as the home field for two teams: The Barons and the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues. Both organizations competed at Rickwood for several decades.

Additionally, legendary major leaguers such as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial came through playing in exhibition games.

The crowds filling Rickwood’s stands experienced the wonder, the romance and the magic of baseball – just the way it was meant to be.

“There’s something romantic about the game of baseball that made America fall in love with it,” said David Brewer, executive director of the Friends at Rickwood.

The love of baseball was shared no matter what your skin color is. Going to the ballpark for a minor league game was a big deal back then.”

A photo of a Barons game taken in 1948 shows no empty seats in the house. In the photo, fans can be seen dressed in business attire while attending games. The community felt strongly about coming to support their teams.

Although the Barons moved their home games to Hoover and later to Regions Field downtown, Rickwood Field has been preserved. The park was saved because some local baseball fans joined in 1992 to become “The Friends at Rickwood.” Since then, the Friends have taken excellent care of the facility and are restoring it to its former glory.

“The move for the Barons downtown has reenergized the city,” Brewer said. “Regions Field is in a good location – but it’s all good for us, here at Rickwood. Geographically, it’s not too far away. You can see the Barons current park and their old park, which has value for us and for the city of Birmingham. Regions Field has filled that role of a catalyst for re-development in the downtown area.”

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A Scene from History 

Rickwood Field is more than just a historic baseball park where over 100 Hall of Famers once played.

It played a key role as a community and cultural center during Birmingham’s Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

“You cheered for your heroes whether you were Caucasian or African American,” Brewer said. “This place served as a civic identity and was about community pride.”

From a cultural standpoint, it represented more than tracking who hit the most homeruns. The field represented blacks and whites coming together to support minor league baseball, which was finally integrated in 1964.

From 1947-1963, there were separate segregated teams in Birmingham. The facility was segregated then too, with white and black fans sitting in different sets of bleachers.

These days, the park hosts almost 200 baseball games each year, including the annual Rickwood Classic, which features the Barons playing a visiting team on their old home turf.

Birmingham-area high schools, Miles College, wooden-bat tournaments and other organizations are still able to play on hallowed ground. In May 2012, scenes from the movie 42 were filmed at Rickwood Field.

Today, Rickwood Field also hosts current events, such as youth baseball camps and a weekly summer men’s league. Visitors are able to walk in and explore the grandstands or run the bases. People can reserve the field for photo shoots, weddings, family reunions and corporate events.

Rickwood Field, with all of its rich history, is still in excellent condition and is occupied quite frequently today.

Rickwood Field is located at 1137 2nd Ave. W. The park’s hours are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through