The Day the Music Died – February 3rd 1959
Historical clothing design of the day is The Day the Music Died. Each day a new design is chosen and an article is posted to highlight the historical significance of the design.
On February 3, 1959, a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, killed three American rock and roll pioneers: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as the pilot, Roger Peterson. The day was later called The Day the Music Died by Don McLean, in his song “American Pie”
Events leading to the crash
“The Winter Dance Party” was a tour that was set to cover twenty-four Midwestern cities in three weeks. A logistical problem with the tour was the amount of travel, as the distance between venues was not a consideration when scheduling each performance. Adding to the disarray, the tour bus used to carry the musicians was not equipped for the weather; its heating system broke shortly after the tour began.
The condition of the bus, and the grueling pace of the tour, are evidenced by the fact that Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, had been hospitalized in Ironwood, Michigan due to a severe case of frostbitten feet that developed when the bus broke down enroute to Appleton, Wisconsin during the overnight trip following the January 31, 1959, show in Duluth, Minnesota. As Holly’s group had been the backing band for all of the acts, Holly, Valens and Dion DiMucci (of Dion and the Belmonts) took turns playing drums for each other at the Green Bay, Wisconsin and Clear Lake, Iowa shows.
The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, was never intended to be a stop on the tour, but promoters, hoping to fill an open date, called Surf Ballroom manager Carroll Anderson and offered him the show. He accepted and the show was set for Monday, February 2.
By the time Buddy Holly arrived at the Surf Ballroom that Monday evening, he was frustrated with the tour bus. According to VH-1′s Behind the Music: The Day the Music Died, Holly was also upset that the laundromat in Clear Lake was closed that day, and he would need time before the next performance to finally clean some undershirts, socks, and underwear. Holly told his remaining band mates, Waylon Jennings and Tommy Allsup, that they should try to charter a plane to save time and to avoid the cold bus ride of 380 miles to the tour’s next stop aE" Moorhead, Minnesota.
Flight arrangements were made with Roger Peterson, a 21-year-old local pilot who worked for Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa. A fee of $36 per passenger was charged for the single-engined 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza B35 (V-tail), registration N3794N (later reassigned). The Bonanza could seat three in addition to the pilot.
Richardson had developed a case of flu during the tour and asked Waylon Jennings for his seat on the plane. When Holly learned that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, he said in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up” and Jennings responded, also in jest, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes”. This exchange of words would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.
Ritchie Valens had never flown in a small plane before, and asked Tommy Allsup for his seat on the plane. Tommy said “I’ll flip ya for the remaining seat”. Contrary to what is seen in La Bamba, the coin toss did not happen at the airport shortly before takeoff, nor did Buddy Holly toss it. Bob Hale, a DJ with KRIB-AM, was working the concert that night and flipped the coin at the ballroom shortly before the musicians departed for the airport. Valens won the coin toss, and with it a seat on the flight.
The plane took off at around 12:55 AM Central Time on Tuesday, February 3. Hubert Dwyer, owner of the plane and the flight service company, watched from a platform outside the tower and “saw the tail light of the aircraft gradually descend until out of sight”, just after 1:00 AM.
Peterson had told Dwyer he would file a flight plan with Air Traffic Control by radio after departure. When he did not call the Air Traffic Control communicator with his flight plan, Dwyer requested that Air Traffic Control continue to attempt to establish radio contact, but all attempts were unsuccessful.
By 3:30 AM, when Hector Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, had not heard from Peterson, Dwyer contacted authorities and reported the aircraft missing.
Around 9:15 AM, Dwyer took off in another small plane to fly Peterson’s intended route. He soon spotted the wreckage, less than 6 miles (9.7 km) northwest of the airport (43 °13aE˛12aEłN 93 °23aE˛0aEłWCoordinates: 43 °13aE˛12aEłN 93 °23aE˛0aEłW), in a cornfield belonging to Albert Juhl.
The Bonanza was at a slight downward angle and banked to the right when it struck the ground at around 170 miles per hour. The plane tumbled and skidded another 570 feet across the frozen landscape before the crumpled ball of wreckage piled against a wire fence at the edge of Juhl’s property. The bodies of Holly and Valens lay near the plane, Richardson was thrown over the fence and into the cornfield of Juhl’s neighbor Oscar Moffett, and the body of Peterson remained entangled inside the plane’s wreckage. With the other participants on “The Winter Dance Party” enroute to Moorhead, it fell to Surf Ballroom manager Carroll Anderson, who drove the musicians to the airport and witnessed the plane’s takeoff, to make positive identifications of the musicians.
All four had died instantly from “gross trauma” to the brain, the county coroner Ralph Smiley declared. Holly’s death certificate detailed the multiple injuries which show that he surely died on impact.
Investigators concluded that the crash was due to a combination of poor weather conditions and pilot error. Peterson, working on his Instrument Rating, was still taking flight instrumentation tests and was not yet rated for flight into weather that would have required operation of the aircraft solely by reference to his instruments rather than by means of his own vision. The final Civil Aeronautics Board report noted that Peterson had taken his instrument training on airplanes equipped with an artificial horizon attitude indicator and not the far-less-common Sperry Attitude Gyro on the Bonanza. Critically, the two instruments display the aircraft pitch attitude in the exact opposite manner; therefore, the board thought that this could have caused Peterson to think he was ascending when he was in fact descending. They also found that Peterson was not given adequate warnings about the weather conditions of his route, which, given his known limitations, might have caused him to postpone the flight.
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