Roadway marker tells story of Carnegie hero

Roadway marker honors Carnegie hero
Organizer Chris Hammond speaks at the dedication of a state historical marker recently installed near where Carnegie Hero Mary Frances Housley lived. Housley died in 1951 as she directed passengers off a burning aircraft.
Roadway marker honors Carnegie hero
Tennessee State Historical Marker No. 1E 136 that honors Carnegie Hero Mary Frances Housley, who died saving the passengers of 1951 National Airlines Flight 83, which crashed and caught fire while landing in Philadelphia. The marker is located at the intersection of Forestal Drive and Tazewell Pike in the Fountain City community of Knoxville, Tennessee.

A Tennessee roadway received a state historical marker commemorating the heroic actions of Carnegie Hero Mary Frances Housley, who lived and is buried near to where the marker was erected.

Marker No. 1E 136 stands at the intersection of Forestal Drive and Tazewell Pike in the Fountain City community of Knoxville, Tennessee. It was unveiled in an
Oct. 9, 2020, dedication at the marker’s site.

“This story needs to be shared and told with future generations,” said Chris Hammond, who teaches science at Central High School, Housley’s alma mater.

Housley died Jan. 14, 1951, at the age of 24. She was the lone flight attendant on a National Airlines Flight 83 from Newark, New Jersey, to Philadelphia, when it skidded off the Philadelphia runway across a ditch. The fuselage and fuel tanks containing 1,550 gallons of gasoline, ruptured. The gasoline caught fire and flames, 10 feet high, enveloped a wing section adjacent to the cabin door. They spread toward the fuselage and into the ditch below the cabin door, lapping at the lower edge of the doorway.

Housley flung open the cabin door and beckoned passengers to come toward her and leap from the doorway to safety. Several people shrank away from the opening from fright, and she yelled at them to come forward, while refusing to leave the plane until all the passengers disembarked. Flames engulfed the doorway and broke through the cabin wall. Housley was found on the floor of the cabin holding a 4-month-old infant. Five others also perished in the fire.

Despite being trained to abandon the aircraft when in danger of losing her life, Housley allowed 19 people to exit and maintained her position when others hesitated to leave the plane. Housley was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal nine months after her death. The bronze Medal was given to her parents.

“Her story just touched me on a personal, professional, and spiritual level. Help her be remembered locally,” Hammond said at the presentation.

Housley’s nephew John H. Housley III and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon attended the dedication.

Hammond was also responsible for the renaming of a Knoxville bridge to the Mary Frances Housley Memorial Bridge three years ago.

“I hope that her sacrifice and her story will continue to inspire young men and women in future generations,” Hammond said.