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Quintessential Barrington

Barrington’s Barnstormer

The Aeronautical Adventures of Bill Klingenberg, Jr. (1904-1989)

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story by Barbara L. Benson

Bill Klingenberg was a test pilot for Wilson-Herren, a Barrington-based airplane manufacturer. Airplane photo courtesy of Holly Madden.

A new block of apartments stands there now, on North Hough Street, which in the early 20th century had been Spunner’s Park, a gathering place for community events and national days of celebration from first light until darkness fell. In 1925, the Fourth of July had already featured a hot air balloon jump by a visitor, “Daredevil” Reynolds, but it was in 1927 that a young Barrington man became the star of the show.

Bill Klingenberg, Jr. was a son of Barrington’s countryside. His Mueller grandparents had settled in the 1850s on Spring Creek, where it runs now through Hill ‘N Dale Farm. But he was drawn to the skies, and by the time he made his famous jump, he had learned how to fly at a Chicago aviation school and owned a T.M. Pursuit plane which he kept on an airfield near Des Plaines, now O’Hare.

On a Wing and a Dare

Bill reportedly made the Barrington jump on a dare and $25 for the cost of his parachute. His parents knew nothing until their son was airborne. He later recalled that there were some difficulties before his ascension, but according to the Review, “His balloon ascension and parachute jump were as fine an exhibition of aeronautics as could be witnessed. Soaring aloft about 2,500 feet, he cut loose and dropped about 300 feet before the parachute opened. He guided his parachute perfectly almost directly west, flew over the C.&N.W. and the E.J.&E. tracks to a safe landing place in Hart’s cornfield west of the village. His return to the park was the signal for a demonstration and he received many congratulations.”

Bill was a mail pilot, a barnstormer, and, in the early 1930s, a test pilot for Wilson Herren (see feature in this issue). Ruth Munson, who with Bill was among the Historical Society’s co-founders, recalled taking her first airplane ride with him. “I guess I must have been about 12 years old. It was a small plane. A two-seater. He did some barnstorming then, offered rides for a penny a pound. I paid $1.05. Now there is no way I weighed 105lbs. At that age? I always should have teased him about putting his thumb on the scale.” But she remembered him as a reliable and thoughtful person.

In later life he welcomed hundreds of children a year to the Blacksmith Shop Museum on West Station Street to learn about farming and householding in early Barrington, amazed that so much was accomplished by turning a handle instead of pressing a button. Any time spent with him would bring forth vivid recollections of names, faces, places, events, work, play, and pranks. He held a dialogue with the past.

Perhaps he was an aviator in heart and memory. In 1985, his program for Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 790 drew a packed house. Professional pilots laughed till they almost cried at his stories of emergency landings and patching up aircraft with tape and string. And he would have done it all again, but for one person, his beloved wife Edna. They had been happily married for over 50 years when she died, and love won over the temptation of any more aerial exploits.

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Barbara L. Benson grew up in Kent, England, and later moved to New York. She settled in Barrington and has walked with our history ever since she first arrived here in 1980.