We at the American Philatelic Center were saddened to hear that Robert Hines (1930-2021) of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, passed away a few months ago. Robert was an active community member, a lifelong supporter of multiple local fire companies and member of several flying and transportation organizations. More personally to us at the APS, he was the nephew of U.S. airmail historian Daniel Hines, and worked with the American Philatelic Research Library to make sure that his uncle’s life work and research would be preserved for future generations. The result, completed in 2004, was the Daniel Hines Air Mail/Aviation Papers, a collection available for visitors and researchers to the APRL to peruse.
Figure 1. Charles Ames, photograph courtesy of the Daniel Hines Air Mail/Aviation Papers.
Daniel Hines’ fascination with the U.S. Air Mail Service began in his youth – he lived with his family, including his plane mechanic brother Ellis Hines, close to the Bellefonte airfield. The airfield was for almost a decade the singular stop on the first U.S. westward airmail route, from New York to Cleveland, inaugurated in fall of 1918. Through his brother, Daniel met several of the pilots as they passed through the station. Daniel would later become a pilot himself and work for the U.S. Postal Service. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that he began to collect airmail – specifically Bellefonte-connected and U.S. Air Mail Service material – in earnest. He also began working on a manuscript, unpublished, that he called “The Air Mail Story.”
My first introduction to the Daniel Hines Papers was through Kathleen “Kitty” Wunderly’s book Bellefonte and the Early Air Mail, 1918-1927 (first edition 2007, third edition 2019, and available for purchase from the APS Publication Shop). In my first year at the APS, the third edition was being completed and I had the great pleasure of reading the book cover to cover – joyfully recognizing the landmarks of my youthful wanderings (relative youth, as I know among APS members I’m a spring chicken) as Wunderly named them. Wunderly conducted her research in part from Daniel Hines’ collection of early Bellefonte airmail material – newspaper clippings, flight records, correspondence and photographs among them.
Figure 2. A postcard, including the text “Ames – Lost for 10 Days.” Courtesy of the Daniel Hines collection.
The archives of the American Philatelic Research Library are distributed throughout the building – in the stacks, various back rooms, piled in boxes awaiting proper identification. The Daniel Hines collection specifically is mostly in archival-safe boxes in the stacks, with the photograph collection safely tucked away in the study carrel room. To find out the contents of the collection, a finding aid is available on the APS website at https://classic.stamps.org/Subject-Guides-and-Finding-Aids (see: “Daniel Hines airmail/aviation papers”).
Some of the best stories from Hines’ collection are about the pilots, many of whom were permanently stationed in Bellefonte and greatly beloved by the community. I’ll just mention one, Charles Ames, about whom Hines had the opportunity to collect much material. On October 1, 1925, Ames went missing with his airplane instead of arriving as scheduled in Bellefonte. What followed was a 10-day search by over 1,000 volunteers and the Pennsylvania National Guard, reported in papers across the country. The crashed plane and Ames’ body were found on October 11 on the nearby Nittany Mountains. Hines’ collection includes countless local and national newspaper clippings, photos, and ephemera about Ames and the search (Figures 1-3).
Figure 3. The Pennsylvania Nation Guard conducts a search, courtesy of the Daniel Hines collection.
For those interested in U.S. airmail, Daniel Hines’ collection is just the beginning of the material you can find on the topic at the APS. For those interested in perusing the APS archives for unpublished material, there is so much primary material to rediscover.
As a side note, I want to encourage anyone who hasn’t already begun such a collection to begin looking into your own local postal history. As a native central Pennsylvanian, Wunderly’s book gave me a new appreciation for my local history and geography, even spurring me to pull up and study topographical maps of central Pennsylvania, tracing the mountains and valleys I usually traverse by car and seldom think about twice. It may seem obvious, but discovering the postal history of your hometown will change how you understand your community and the connection you have with your surroundings.
When next I hike in the Nittany Mountains, will I keep one eye out for the Ames memorial, deep in the woods? I will certainly remember to thank Daniel Hines, his nephew Robert, and Kitty Wunderly for keeping the story of Bellefonte’s airmail pilots alive.
If you are interested in learning more about Daniel Hines and the airmail history of Bellefonte, read this article that was recently published to honor his legacy and this article about a podcast exploring the history of Centre County.
Also feel free to check out the C3a course page to explore some of our courses related to airmail, such as Air Mail Pioneers.