Young aviator’s rediscovered photo albums are full of history, mystery

Feb 15, 2024, 2:44 PM | Updated: 8:38 pm

A Seattle family recently re-discovered a collection of photo albums that belonged to a great uncle who was a Navy flyer at Sand Point nearly 100 years ago – which was the same time the famous Naval Air Station was taking shape on the shores of Lake Washington.

KIRO Newsradio got a peek at some of the images and dug into some of the history – and mysteries – they contain.

Many of us have old family photo albums stashed away somewhere and the pictures inside are probably pretty interesting to us and our relatives. These albums are a little different. Carol Mandel posted some of the old photos on Facebook late last week and KIRO Newsradio reached out to her right away.

Learning about Ludwig Schreuder

Mandel told KIRO Newsradio the photos were taken by her great uncle – a man named Ludwig Schreuder who was her grandmother’s brother.

“He grew up in Seattle. His father emigrated from Norway to Chicago as a child (at) about 11 years old, and eventually found his way from Chicago, after he got his medical degree, to North Dakota for a while, because that’s where my grandmother was born,” Mandel said. “And then in (around) 1904, they moved to Seattle.”

Schreuder was born in Seattle in 1904 and graduated from Lincoln High School in the Wallingford neighborhood and then from the University of Washington. By 1929, he was in the U.S. Navy and flying from what was then the relatively new Naval Air Station at Sand Point, now Magnuson Park.

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Lt. Schreuder was also an amateur photographer who, it appears, to have brought his camera along on many of his Navy adventures – which is why so many of the photos in the old albums are taken in midair, out on the runway or the water. Newspaper photos from that time generally aren’t taken as close to the action as many of these photos were.

Mandel said specific details about her great uncle’s career are a little unclear, but Lt. Schreuder continued to serve as an aviator in the Naval Reserve into the early 1930s. He was flying a Navy plane near Long Beach, California, in 1934 when it ran out of fuel and crashed in the ocean. He died in the accident. Ludwig Schreuder was just 30 years old.

Mandel says that her grandparents and her parents never really talked about Uncle Ludwig. She didn’t really think about him very much herself until she recently returned to Seattle and moved into her late parents’ old house.

“For a long time, I didn’t even know what he looked like,” Mandel said. “And then my mother had these photo albums stashed away in a drawer when we discovered them. The first thing my daughter, who is also a pilot, said to me was, ‘I want those. Don’t give them to anybody.'”

Mandel explained her daughter is an airline pilot – meaning she’s the fourth generation pilot in the family. In addition to her Great Uncle Ludwig, Carol’s father was a blimp pilot during World War II, and Carol married a Navy pilot. Aviation is in this family’s blood, apparently.

Mandel says that she and her daughter are actively embracing the challenge of researching and learning more about Ludwig Schreuder, and they’re not yet ready to donate the photo albums to a museum or archive. However, they recognize the historic value of the materials and they may be open to pursuing that option sometime in the future.

Sharing the old black and white photos

In the meantime, they shared several of the images with KIRO Newsradio and MyNorthwest.

The old photos are black and white, of course, and many have a sepia tone. In the images, many of which are quite tiny, we see planes with wheels on the grass runway at Sand Point, float planes in Lake Washington, planes in midair and even the results of a few plane crashes. Most of the images appear to have been created by Ludwig Schreuder, though at least one is a formal portrait of a number of aircraft and men at Sand Point, posed on or near the grass runway, and taken by well-known photographer Asahel Curtis.

Schreuder’s stint at Sand Point came during a pivotal era in the late 1920s and early 1930s. This is the time from after World War I through World War II when people on the Pacific Coast depended on men in flying machines for defense. And unlike the modern era, the men and machines were all based here in the middle of the community, and they could be seen every day going about their training and other duties to protect the U.S. from an enemy attack.

It was also an era when military and commercial aviation was rapidly evolving and maturing – the world famous Charles Lindbergh had just crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and visited Sand Point in September of that year – and public interest in aircraft and aviators was perhaps at its highest point ever.

The bottom line is even a cursory look at the photos in Lt. Schreuder’s albums shows what appears to be some great history that previously hasn’t been seen this way. Aviation historian and researcher Lee Corbin has already identified several of the aircraft pictured and will be sharing his research with Mandel and her family.

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One photo sticks out

There’s one image in particular that already stands out for Mandel.

In describing the old photo, Mandel says she sees a person “in a full flight suit (who) looks like it could be a woman . . . and there’s a guy in jodhpurs, and then there’s a businessman standing there holding his overcoat. And I thought ‘Oh, Amelia Earhart,'” Mandel said. “Well, it turns out she did visit Seattle, but she did not fly in and out of Sand Point – she took a train.”

Obviously, that one is going to require more research to fully determine who’s depicted and what’s going on. As Lee Corbin pointed out in an email after the radio version of this story aired, the image “looks like an aviator son, with his parents, getting ready to take his mom for her first airplane ride while dad stays on the ground.”

KIRO Newsradio also shared a few of the images with aviation and maritime historian and maritime explorer Matt McCauley of the Northwest Shipwreck Alliance, who has explored wrecked aircraft off Sand Point and recovered a few which are now being restored.

“They give us a snapshot into a period of time in the very beginnings of what became a Naval Air Station Seattle at Sand Point that we have never seen,” McCauley said Tuesday. “It’s amazing how few photos are in circulation from that era. From the local angle, obviously it’s hugely significant, but it’s also an important part of the national story of the origins of naval aviation, because that’s when things are really kind of getting up and going.”

The ANT-4: A large Soviet plane

Along with naval aviation activities, Lt. Schreuder also captured images of other aircraft that visited Sand Point during the bustling year or so that he was there.

One of those was a giant Soviet airplane that came to Sand Point in October 1929, the twin-engine ANT-4. The ANT-4 was on a flight from Moscow to New York, and came down to Seattle via Alaska and British Columbia on floats. At Sand Point, the plane had its floats changed out for wheels so it could then land on airstrips (rather than water) as it flew cross-country.

Know-it-all aviation history types will note that this is the opposite of what the Around-the-World Flight Douglas World Cruisers did at Sand Point in 1924.

The ANT-4 was one of the first all-metal aircraft to also be covered with metal skin – not wood or metal covered in fabric. In the images Lt. Schreuder took, the ANT-4 looks fairly crude and very “Soviet,” if that can be used as an adjective. The aluminum skin was corrugated, not smooth, and the plane had an open cockpit atop the fuselage. Either way, the ANT-4 was huge. The photos still have visual impact 95 years later, and the visit of the plane and the Soviet flyers is still recalled by historians as big news in Seattle when it happened.

Schreuder’s photos of the ANT-4 also serve as a reminder to some aviation history buffs of some controversy that emerged decades after the 1929 visit.

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Boeing’s ‘Monomail’

A few years after the Soviet ANT-4 visited Seattle, Boeing introduced its first airliner – the Model 247, which was also all metal construction, and which also had two engines. Much later during the Cold War, the Soviets began to make claims that Boeing engineers had spied on the ANT-4 while it was parked at Sand Point in 1929. From there, Boeing stole the technology and then used what they learned to develop the Model 247.

To get to the bottom of all this, KIRO Newsradio contacted Boeing Corporate Archivist and historian Mike Lombardi.

Lombardi knows more about Northwest aviation history than just about anybody. He says the timing just doesn’t back up the Cold War Soviet claims. The Soviet ANT-4 visited Sand Point in October 1929, Lombardi says, and then about six months later, Boeing rolled out a new plane called the “Monomail.”

“What Boeing introduced was an all-metal, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, smooth-skin construction,” Lombardi told KIRO Newsradio. It was “very aerodynamic, and was arguably several years ahead of what that ANT was.”

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Lombardi says the timeline – and the advanced design of the Monomail – pretty much debunks the Soviet claims, and that there’s no connection between the ANT-4 and the Model 247. Lombardi further points out that the ANT-4 was based on a design by German firm Junkers which the Soviets had licensed.

“So, you know, looking at it, putting on your thinking cap, putting on your historian hat and really doing some investigative work,” Lombardi said, “there probably wasn’t any influence on Boeing, or what Boeing was designing.”

If photos from Schreuder’s photo albums whet your appetite for more Sand Point aviation history, the timing is good, since 2024 is the centennial of the Around-the-World Flight which began and ended there. Many activities are planned for later this year, and the first event on the calendar is Mike Lombardi’s history talk on the 1924 feat, which will be held at the Museum of Flight in Tukwila on Saturday, April 6 at 2 p.m.

In the meantime, Mandel continues enthusiastically scanning photos from the albums along with other documents related to her great uncle’s aviation career. After sending one fairly large batch of scans to a radio historian late one evening earlier this week, Mandel wrote in an email, “Are you totally overwhelmed now? I am!”

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, email Feliks.

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Young aviator’s rediscovered photo albums are full of history, mystery