Two workmen, high above the ground in this historic photo from the archives of Lighthouse Digest, are shown celebrating the completion on November 13, 1928 of the Fanning Memorial Beacon that once stood on Beacon Hill in East Spokane, Washington.
Privately built, but operated under the auspices of the Department of Commerce Airways Division of the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses, the 36-inch rotating beacon held a 10 million candlepower lamp that could be seen for 150 miles. It was accompanied by a large lighted arrow to guide early pilots toward Felts Field in Spokane, Washington.
It was named after famous World War I aviator Maj. John T. Fancher, who had been killed just months earlier after completing an illuminated night flight air show at the East Wenatchee Airfield in East Wenatchee, Washington where he had thrilled the crowd with throwing grenade-like bombs from the cockpit. The bombs had been built to explode six seconds after the fuse was scratched. However, some of the grenade-like bombs had not been exploding correctly.
After landing his aircraft, he hollered, “What’s the matter with these things?” He grabbed one of the bombs, scratched it, threw it, and it exploded when it hit the ground. He scratched another, threw it, and it landed without exploding. He grabbed a third bomb and scratched it. However, he did not have a chance to throw it; it immediately exploded, blowing off his right hand, gouging out his right eye, and literally burned off his shirt, leaving his upper body badly burned. He was in agonizing pain.
As his fellow airmen rushed him by car to the nearest hospital, he is reportedly to have said, “Well boys, I’ve made my last flight and I’m glad it was a night flight, but I’ll still be able to handle a team on the farm, I guess.”
But it was not to be; Maj. John “Jack” T. Fancher died the following day from the internal injuries he had suffered from the force of the explosion.
The 70-foot-tall skeletal Fancher Memorial Beacon remained in operation until the 1950s after which it was subsequently vandalized. What was left of the structure was demolished in 2012. Still remaining at the site is the memorial plaque placed there in 1928 to honor the memory of Maj. John T. Fancher.
The beacon that bore the name of one of our nation’s famous World War I aviators is no more, but it is now remembered here, in the pages of Lighthouse Digest.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2020 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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