April 1, 2011
A tragedy in the Flint Hills 80 years ago is still being remembered today as a defining moment in history. On March 31, 1931, a plane carrying Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne crashed in rural Chase County, killing everyone on board.
The crash was only the third recorded in American history, and the first involving a celebrity.
"People were killed there. And this just gives you a little different feeling when you go out to that ground and you know what happened there," said Chase County Historical Society President Ruth Childs.
But it's not just what happened at the crash site, it's also who was lost. Among eight victims was Rockne, the man known as American football's most renowned coach. It's his legacy that has Notre Dame alumni still returning to the spot.
"I know for sure that I would not be a Notre Dame alumnus had it not been for Knute Rockne. And that's why I come here today," said Notre Dame Alumna Pat Smith.
So this weekend, the same week as the anniversary of that infamous crash, the Flint Hills prairie will host people who gather to remember those lost. And this year, they'll honor the late Easter Heathman, the man who made it his life's work to keep the memorial at the site sacred, after witnessing the crash on March 31, 1931.
Heathman was one of the only ones to see firsthand what happened to the man who helped shape American football.
"As you come to know Knute Rockne today, as a family man, as a great, great motivator, as a speech maker and as an entrepreneur... he was all of those things. And yes, [he was] a role model," said Smith.
Tours of the crash site will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 2nd. There will be a service that begins at 10:30 a.m. Visitors should meet at the Bazaar Schoolhouse in Bazaar, just north of the site. Knute Rockne's grandson will be in attendance.