JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Momma's Marine: 1916

Momma's Marine: 1916

Washington, D.C., circa 1916. "Mrs. George Barnett and son." Lelia Gordon Barnett, wife of the Marine Corps commandant, and her son Basil Gordon, who in 1923 became the first person to crash an airplane in the District of Columbia. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Mum's remarriage

What a charming photo. Enjoying all the comments here, too.

Here's the announcement of his mother's remarriage to Lt. Col. George Barnett in 1907.

They met at a supper dance on Dec. 9, 1906, and he immediately began wooing her. In fact, he was said to have "pursued her as if he was assaulting a military objective," according to "Commandants of the Marine Corps." They finally wed on Jan. 11, 1908. Barnett was later the 12th Commandant of the US Marine Corp., ousted by some guy named Lejeune in 1920 (joke) and died in 1930.

I've found shockingly less on the Marine in the photo, though he served in the Great War and was still stationed in France for a while thereafter. The elder Basil Gordon, who had wed his mother in 1892, died in 1902, leaving her with four young children.

Commandant Barnett

My dad was in Marine training in 1917. Here is an excerpt from one of his letters dated August 5, 1917, Marine Barracks, Port Royal, South Carolina:

I got to see Brigadier-General Barnett, the head of the Marine Corps, a while back. He was inspecting the training camp on this island and we were drawn up in two lines while he passed between them.

I will save this picture and put it into his album just for additional background to his military history. Thanks Dave.

A Very Handsome Chap

He is one good looking young man. Must have been terrible to crash and mortally injure a friend. On a happier note I adore his mom's shoes.

Not the first crash

Actually, the first aircraft crash in DC proper was on September 17, 1908. On the date mentioned, Orville and Wilbur Wright were demonstrating their machine for the Army at Fort Myer (also where Arlington Cemetery is), and Lt. Thomas Selfridge volunteered to be a passenger ...

[Fort Myer isn't in D.C. -- it's in Arlington County, Virginia. - Dave]

Shape Up or Ship Out

Gawd, a Marine without a spit shine on his Class A uniform boots. Horrors!


Somebody called this marine a soldier in a previous post. Marines don’t like that.

Anyway I respectfully disagree about the breeches. Although horse marines did exist, I believe riding breeches were de rigueur for all officers back in 1916. This young man appears to be a lieutenant.

Mrs. Commandant

Politically, Mrs. Barnett was a force to behold in WWI Washington. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels crossed her when he tried to install his favorite marine (John Lejeune) as commandant of the Marines, in place of her husband. After Daniels asked his most senior officers for resignations (effective at the end of the war) and received them from all but Barnett, he blamed Mrs. Barnett, quipping that Barnett's Indian name would have been "'the-man-who-is-afraid-of-his-wife.'" When Daniels ordered the change, Mrs. Barnett worked through the crippled president's personal physician and her allies on Capitol Hill in an unsuccessful bid to countermand it. Her son Basil, said to be one of the most undisciplined members of the Corps, asked her to help get him released when he was confined to quarters. It did not succeed.

How thymes change

Can you imagine any modern-day Marine Corps commandant naming his son Basil? He must have grown to become quite a sage.

[Yes, he'd be mustard right out of the military. But the General had no input into Basil's name -- he was his stepfather; Basil was named after his father. - Dave]

Wally and Basil

Mrs. Barnett was first cousin to the mother of Wallis Warfield, the future Duchess of Windsor. She and her son showed amusingly understated enthusiasm in 1936 when King Edward abdicated and announced his intention to marry Mrs. Simpson. Basil is quoted as saying, "I haven't seen Wally for six years. She seems to be going places."

Focus, focus, focus

Why are the buckles on his boots and the buttons above them in perfect focus, yet the rest of the photo is a bit softly focused?

[The shoes didn't move. - Dave]

Riding Breeches

The riding pants indicate that this guy was one of the Horse Marines. And, yes, they did exist.

Like Mother Like Son

I can see where he got his good looks - from his mom. Such a proud mother. Ooo-rah!

Will fight for food

Looks like Momma didn't feed her Basil quite enough. That is one skinny soldier.

Last Flight of The Elaine

Washington Post, Dec. 10, 1923

Passenger Killed,
Basil Gordon Hurt
As Plane Crashes

Edwin Trusheim, 21 years old, of 210 B street southeast, was killed, and Basil Gordon, 29, stepson of Maj. Gen. George Barnett, was seriously injured when the airplane in which they were riding crashed to the ground on a vacant lot at Half and L streets southwest shortly after 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Trusheim, a passenger in the machine, which is owned by Gordon, was killed almost instantly, being crushed under the heavy motor as the craft was wrecked. Gordon, who piloted the plane, was taken to Providence hospital, where , it was said last night, he has a good chance for recovery, despite the seriousness of his injuries.

Yesterday's accident is the first time in history that an airplane has fallen within the city limits of the Capital, despite the great amount of flying which has been done in the vicinity during and since the war.

According to witnesses, the plane was about 2,000 feet in the air when it began to flutter. As it neared the ground, and when at a height of about 700 feet, it went into a nose spin, and struck the ground first with its propeller, the heavy motor being pushed onto Trusheim, who was riding in the front seat.

So far as could be determined, the wings and struts were in good condition, and the theory was advanced that the cause of the trouble must have been in the motor. Failure of the motor at the height at which the plane was flying would have made it impossible to right it before hitting the ground, it was said.

Gordon tested his plane, and then he and Law climbed into it and took off. For fifteen minutes they circled over the field, and made a short trip over the city.

"The machine ran very smoothly," Law said last night. "Though I had never been up before, I had the greatest confidence in Basil's ability to control the plane, for he has quite a reputation as an expert aviator. During the flight we talked about how well the machine was running, and what a beautiful view of the city we had. We made a perfect landing."

After Gordon returned with Law, Trusheim said that we would like to make a flight, and a few minutes later "The Elaine," as Gordon had christened the plane, took off on her last trip.

For a few minutes the plane flew swift and straight over toward the city. Then to the little group of relatives standing at the flying field, it was seen to hesitate, to shiver, and then, with a quick, whirling motion, descend.

With realization that something had happened, Mrs. Gordon and Miss Gordon, with Law, jumped into a motor car and started for the city. It was nearly an hour before they could locate the scene of the wreck in the little hollow south of the Capitol. And by they time they arrived on the scene the victims had been removed.

What an honor!

Did he survive?

[He did, but his passenger, 21-year-old Edwin Trusheim, was not so lucky. "Goodbye, old man, it's all over," were the pilot's parting words. - Dave]

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Site © 2022 Shorpy Inc.