Friday, June 10, 2011

Soverel Field Jet Fighter

[East Orange] "was THE first in the nation to secure surplus military equipment for its playgrounds. The present director, Graham M. Skea, asked the Navy for a surplus fighter plane. It was granted, if he could  remove it from the depot in Philadelphia. He secured a truck and, with the aid of some of the department’s maintenance men, brought the plane to Soverel Field, where it became the cynosure of eyes all over the United States." (From 1964 Centennial History of East Orange)*

Caption above: "Flying their very own jet plane, East Orange, NJ youngsters swarm over the US Navy jet plane. Cargo net at cockpit helps 'pilots' get aboard."

Caption above: "Coveted spot is the plane's cockpit, where a boy sits working dummy controls. Astride fuselage, another 'pilot' awaits his turn."

Another person's childhood memory of the jet written on a website  about 2008: "Does anyone remember the Blue F9F-5 Panther Jet that was in a municipal park in East Orange, N.J. circa 1959....? I remember climbing on this jet as a young kid via cargo nets affixed to the ground and leading up to the cockpit. The engine had been removed and someone had poured a fixed concrete "seat" in what was left of the cockpit along with a metal pipe that was fixed to go forward and back representing a control stick. You could crawl from the tailpipe to the intakes without a problem. The canopy was there for a while until somebody stole it or it was removed. You could still read the maintenance instructions on the fuselage. It was there for many years and had been re-painted in silver for awhile. It eventually disappeared: scrapped I suppose. My first memories of a REAL jet fighter!"

Caption above: "Exhaust tube is a fine place to hide, even though it's a close squeeze. The engine housing was removed to permit play inside."

Even though we had almost everything we needed in the Stockton neighborhood where I lived, my best friend, Robert Cunliffe, and I made occasional bike trips to other areas including Soverel Field. Since Soverel had a Korean War era jet fighter ( a Panther** jet) on its grounds, it was well worth the mile bike ride to play on it in the late 1950's. We had no problems with the Soverel kids, but I'm told that the kids there started getting defensive about "their" jet in later years when non-neighborhood kids showed up.

Newspaper article above is on Google News and listed as from a 1958 edition of The Modesto Bee but the word Parade is also at the bottom of the page, so might be Parade magazine.

A short video of the jet by Tony Monica is here on Youtube.

Article below is from a 1959 Montreal newspaper article on Google news 

                                                Above: Graham M Skea from a 1963/64 photo

*This information had to appear as a quote to give me the opportunity to have the word "cynosure" in the blog (cynosure: something that is the center of attention; an object that serves as a focal point of attraction and admiration).

**Panther was that model's nickname; officially, it was a blue Grumman F9F-5 Panther. The Panther was the first jet used by the Blue Angels flight team (1949-1954) and was the most widely used jet of the Korean War.

Several former East Orange residents have said there was also a jet in Elmwood Park at some point. It's been described as a F9F Cougar with swept back wings which distinguish it from the straight wings of the Panther. I have not been able to find any photos of an Elmwood Park jet or any mention of what years it may have been there. 

Soverel Field was also referred to as Soverel Park and Soverel Playground and was also often misspelled as Soveral Field, Soveral Park, and Soveral Playground.

                                                  Below: Soverel park on a 1932 map


  1. I lived in East Orange until I was about 14 one block away from Soveral park. 1956-1971. I spent almost everyday at Soveral Park. There was something to do there every season. I remember the best games of “tag” were played on that fighter jet. I can still remember the feeling of awe sitting in the cockpit. I was a student at Franklin School on Dodd St (now named Whitney Houston)

  2. I remember it well. As a young boy I would go to Elmwood Park just about everyday, and it was a treat to clumb into a real jet fighter plane. At first, the jet had a full console with all the guages, but within the first week, they gutted it. Another interesting thing about Elmwood Park, for a brief time, Bob Dylan used to hang out there.

  3. I would ride my bicycle over from Duane St in Orange and not go home until the street lights came on. Would cut through the Harris Diner parking lot. Great time to grow up in mid sixties.

  4. There sure was a fighter jet in Elmwood Park. My grandparents lived on Eppirt Street between Elmwood Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue and my sister and I played regularly in that park whenever we were lucky enough to visit. This was in the late fifties/early sixties. There were dozens of other kids playing there — all jockeying for entry into the jet. What a fun time!