1944 Riverside plane crash first to receive ‘Pop Up History’ treatment

By Steve DiMattia


Jay Robinson was just seven years old when two low flying P-51 Mustang fighter planes hit some trees and crashed in Riverside near Post and James streets on July 20, 1944.

“I saw it happen — It was around 7 o’clock in the morning and I was awake in bed. They came over and it was so loud and the two planes were so low that I jumped out of bed and looked out my window. I thought they were going to crash into my house, they were that low,” said Robinson, 75, now a San Marco resident.

The crash was the largest in Jacksonville history, damaging 18 houses, four apartment buildings, a dozen garages and eight vehicles. John Egar and James Cope, the two pilots, were “buzzing” Egar’s childhood home at 2749 Post Street instead of conducting training exercises from Pinellas Army Air Base near St. Petersburg. Both died, as did Millard McGee, a resident who was in his bathroom shaving when the engine from Cope’s plane burst through the wall.

“I tell people about it and they don’t believe it,” Robinson said. “They’re like, ‘you must be pulling my leg.’ I’d bring them to Post Street where part of the engine went through the side of the house. I’d relive some of those memories to sort of substantiate the fact that it did really happen.”

That fact was substantiated in a big way on July 21 when over 200 history buffs of all ages “popped up” at the Jenks House Bed and Breakfast to commemorate the occasion with a tour of the crash site, slideshows, a scavenger hunt, a food truck and recollections from Robinson and nine other witnesses. The Jacksonville Historic Society, in partnership with Jax Truckies, sponsored the occasion.

Announced at the last minute via email and Facebook (“Shhh, it’s a secret…tell everyone!”), it is the first of “several a year” Jax Pop Up History events that will use social media to “bring attention to history in our own backyard,” said Riverside Avondale Preservation founder Wayne Wood, who organized it along with Emily Lisska, executive director of JHS.

“Standing on sites where events took place helps make history come alive,” Wood said.

History was not only brought alive but passed on for Robinson, who was joined by his two granddaughters, 10-year-old twins Haley and Morgan Williams. They did not know about the crash until Pop Up History.

“It was cool that he [Robinson] told us that after the plane crash he could go just up the block and find pieces of the plane,” Haley said. Morgan was saddened about the loss of life, especially that of Millard McGhee.

The loss of live still resonates with Robinson. “Today is a reaffirmation of what the guys sacrificed in the war and what affect it had on Jacksonville. I’ll never forget it.”

As far as the next Pop Up History event? “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” Wayne Wood said.

To see video of the crash: http://www.t3licensing.com/video/clip/5110066AA7181_006.do

Jax Pop Up History Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jaxpopuphistory or Jacksonville Historical Society: http://www.jaxhistory.com.

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