Anoka County Historical Society: Crowdsourcing History

Audra Hilse's picture

Here at the Anoka County Historical Society, we do our best to capture the stories that go with the objects, documents and photographs in our collections, as well as the items themselves. In some cases, though, there is only so much information available, and we must make do with less of the story than we would prefer.

We are sometimes able to use the crowd-sourcing method of identification to get around this problem. When our resources here at ACHS prove insufficient to figure out more about a photograph, publishing it in the local paper or posting it online where many more people can see it is one of our next steps. Sometimes we don’t learn anything more about that particular image…but sometimes the right person sees it, and is able to really fill in the gaps in the story.

We have a photograph of a seaplane crash in Lino Lakes, which we sent to the Quad Community Press newspaper local to the Lino Lakes-Circle Pines part of Anoka County, with a request for more information. All that we knew about the crash was that it had happened in the Lino Lakes area on May 17, 1966; the picture is from the Nelson Photograph Collection, which captures various accident and crash scenes throughout southern Anoka County in the 1960s and 1970s.

Initially, we had only a brief response, with one man stopping in to confirm the information that we already had, and to say that the crash had happened at Rice Lake.

Several days later, we received a phone call from a man who had lived on Rice Lake at the time, and was involved in the clean-up of that particular plane crash. Lyle Tauer, now a resident of Oak Grove, was kind enough to pass the story of the crash onto us.

The plane was a four-seat Aeronca seaplane, with a 145HP engine (probably a Continental engine), and it was carrying three passengers. Their goal had been to fly north for a day-long fishing trip. The plane took off from the Surfside Seaplane Base on Rice Lake early the morning of May 17, 1966, which was a Tuesday, but struggled to gain altitude and eventually circled back towards the lake so that they could land. Unfortunately, as the plane approached the Apple Inn (which sat at the intersection of Highway 8 and MN-49), it needed to rise in order to clear some power lines. The plane went nose-up, stalled out, and immediately crashed nose-first into the backyard of a lakeside home.

Several people saw the crash, so the authorities were notified immediately. It was discovered that all three men in the plane had been killed instantly on impact. Lyle, being the owner of some construction equipment, was called to the scene just moments after the crash. After the coroner had removed the bodies, Lyle hauled the wreckage back to the Seaplane base until it was determined what should be done with it.

Lyle believes that the plane was underpowered for the amount of weight on board; he recalls that in addition to the three passengers, there was 150 feet of ½ inch rope, a full cooler of 7UP soda, and large boxes of regular fishing tackle. As he related the story, he said that when he flew north to go fishing in his own plane, he typically took “a shoebox’s worth” of stuff on board the plane, in order to make sure that it did not weigh too much.

A couple of short articles about the crash did run in the local papers at the time, one in the Anoka County Union on Friday, May 20, 1966 (an identical article ran in the Blaine Life), and another in the Blaine Record of May 18, the day after the crash. The three victims were identified as the pilot, Fred W. Reichert Jr. (29) of Columbia Heights, and the two passengers, Clement A. Kreger Sr. (46) and his son Clement C. Kreger (18), both of Minneapolis. The Blaine Record article added a few more details, including the fact that the crash happened at 6:30am, and that it was raining heavily at the time.

These two articles provide some details, but no follow-up articles appear to have been published in the following weeks, so we are grateful to have Lyle Tauer’s story to fill in the gaps between the photographs in our collection, and the brief newspaper reports.

ACHS ran a follow-up article in the Quad Community Press, so that readers who saw the original photograph would also know more about it. That second article eventually made its way to Mary, one of Clement Sr.’s other children. She explained in an email to ACHS that she was 15 years old at the time of the crash that killed her father and brother, and that very little information was ever given to her about what had happened. That the FAA had ruled the cause as “pilot error” was all she knew for many years. Our article provided her with some much-needed context and information about the accident. She also gave us a little bit more information about the individuals who lost their lives. Her father, Clement Kreger Sr., and the pilot,

Fred Reichert, both worked at Waldorf Paper Products in St. Paul. Kreger supervised a department that printed cereal boxes, and Reichert was a lithographer.

“As you can imagine,” Mary wrote in her email, “in a split second of time, our lives changed forever.” She told us that her mother and the two Kreger children still living at home (herself and her younger sister) struggled with their family members’ deaths for many, many years. Mary wondered how their lives would have been different, if the accident had not occurred, or if her father and brother had survived the crash. It is stories like this one that help to remind us that, down at its root, all history is about the lives and fortunes (or misfortunes) of individual human beings.

This was also an excellent example for us about why it is so important for individuals and communities to be involved in keeping their own history. We here at the Historical Society do everything that we can to capture and preserve Anoka County history, but sometimes there are stories that we aren’t even aware of, or that we don’t have access to, because the information lives in the minds of individuals, or as part of a local story that doesn’t really get shared. Thanks to Lyle and Mary’s generosity, we not only know the full story of this particular plane crash and the people who lost their lives in it, but we also have a great deal more information about the Surfside Seaplane Base on Rice Lake, which has been there since just after WWII, and has a great deal of interesting history in and of itself.