Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.

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U.S. Figure Skating Team

Feb. 15, 1961

Feb. 10, 2014 -- At the Winter Olympics, the most popular events are typically the figure skating competitions, which feature an amazing blend of athletics and artistry, power, beauty and skill by both men and women.

If asked to name a recent Winter Olympian, male or female, from any country, most people would probably name a figure skater -– Fleming, Hamill, Lynn, Witt, Thomas, Yamaguchi, Kerrigan, Baiul, Lipinski, Kwan, Hughes, Cohen, Boitano, Hamilton, Lysacek.

Figure skating has been an Olympic event for more than 100 years, although it was first introduced at the Summer Olympics in London in 1908. Since 1924, however, it's been a permanent part of the Winter Olympics.

European skaters won most of the early events, but U.S. skaters began to dominate after World War II, when Dick Button won the Gold Medal in 1948 in St. Moritz, and again in 1952 in Oslo. In 1956, in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, U.S. men swept the competition, winning the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, and U.S. women nearly did the same, winning the Gold and Silver medals.

In 1960, in Squaw Valley, Calif., U.S. skaters won Gold in the men's competition, and Gold and Bronze in the women's competition.

For more than a decade, the infrastructure was in place for the U.S. to continue its Olympic skating domination, with top-level training facilities, expert and experienced coaches, dedicated competitors, and young skaters from across the country continuously moving up the ranks to the top.

All of that ended suddenly and tragically on Feb. 15, 1961, when the entire U.S. Figure Skating Team, on its way to the World Championship competition in Europe, was wiped out in a plane crash, along with parents, coaches, judges and skating association officials.

A year earlier, at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, David Jenkins -– who won the Bronze Medal in the U.S. sweep in 1956 –- won the Gold. Carol Heiss, who won Silver in 1956, took the Gold in 1960, with Barbara Roles taking the Bronze. Laurence "Laurie" Owen, a 15-year-old skater from Winchester, Mass., finished sixth.

Squaw Valley was the first Winter Olympics to be televised live across the country, which created additional interest in winter sports among both spectators and hopeful future participants.

U.S. Gold Medalists Jenkins and Heiss both retired after the 1960 Olympics. Jenkins went to medical school, and also performed with the Ice Follies. Heiss went to Hollywood, where she starred in "Snow White and the Three Stooges," before returning to her home in Ohio.

Immediately following the 1960 Games, the American skating team started looking toward 1964, to the Winter Olympics in Innsbruk, Austria. With both U.S. Gold Medalists retired, it was time for a new group of skaters to step up, time for a new era of U.S. skating champions. At the top of the list was 1960 Olympian Laurie Owen, the daughter of Guy Owen, a Canadian figure skating champion, and Maribel Vinson-Owen, a nine-time U.S. national champion and winner of the Bronze Medal at the 1932 Olympics.

On Jan. 29, 1961, Laurie Owen won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Colorado Springs. Two weeks later, she won the North American Figure Skating Championships in Philadelphia, and she seemed destined to become the country's next Olympic champion. After her victory at the Nationals, Owen became something of a media sensation. She was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated's Feb. 13, 1961, issue, which described her as "America’s most exciting girl skater."

At the Colorado Springs competition, Diane Carol "Dee Dee" Sherbloom, 18, and Larry Pierce, 24, won the national ice dancing title, with Dona Lee Carrier, 20, and Roger Campbell, 18, finishing second, and Patricia and Robert Dineen, both 25, finishing third. In Philadelphia, Carrier and Campbell finished second, and Sherbloom and Pierce finished fourth, with teams from Canada finishing first and third.

Sherbloom, from the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, didn't have a regular ice dancing partner, and didn't plan to compete at the Nationals in 1961. In late 1960, she was working as a telephone operator and making plans to hang up her skates and go to medical school.

Pierce skated with Marilyn Meeker, and the pair won the junior title at the 1959 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and finished second at the Nationals and fifth in the World Figure Skating Championships in 1960. But Meeker broke her ankle and tore some tendons while training for the Nationals in December 1960, so Pierce called Sherbloom and asked her to become his partner, five weeks before the Nationals. Their victory in Colorado Springs was their first competition as a team.

Sherbloom, of West Los Angeles, the eldest of two daughters of Thomas and Ruth Sherbloom, started skating at the age of 10 at Jerry Page's Ice Studio in Los Angeles, along with her 7-year-old sister, Joan. She later joined the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, and trained at the Polar Palace ice rink in Hollywood, and the Iceland rink in Paramount, Calif.

She was the 1958 Pacific Coast bronze dance champion with Ray Chenson and, the following year, with new partner Campbell, she won the 1959 Pacific Coast silver dance title. At the 1959 U.S. Championships in Rochester, N.Y., they placed second in silver dance, behind Larry Pierce and Marilyn Meeker. After returning home to Southern California, Sherbloom and Campbell dissolved their partnership.

After placing seventh in gold dance with Howie Harrold at the 1960 Pacific Coast competition, Sherbloom retired -– until she got the call from Larry Pierce.

Carrier, of North Hollywood, the only child of the Rev. Floyd and Eleanor Carrier, had never competed at the national level before 1961. She was born in National City, Calif., and started skating at the age of 11 after the family moved to Seattle. She continued skating after the family moved to Troy, N.Y., then to Southern California in 1958, where Carrier joined the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club.

Carrier also trained at the Polar Palace in Hollywood, but she had difficulty finding a permanent ice dancing partner. In club and regional competitions, she competed in pairs and ice dancing, with partners including Campbell, Howie Harrold and Dr. Robert Wilkins. When U.S. World Team members Campbell and Yvonne Littlefield dissolved their ice dancing partnership, reportedly over a disagreement between their parents, Campbell and Carrier began skating together in September 1960, winning the 1961 Southwest Pacific Regional and 1961 Pacific Coast Sectional ice dancing titles -– Carrier’s first competition victories.

In the individual competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Colorado Springs, Bradley Lord finished in first place on the men's side, with Gregory Kelley in second, Tim Brown in third, and Douglas Ramsay in fourth. In the North American championships, Lord finished in second place, with Kelley in third. Brown did not compete in the North American championships due to an illness, so he was replaced on the team by Brown, who finished fourth.

On the women's side in Colorado Springs, Laurie Owen finished first, followed by Stephanie "Steffi" Westerfeld in second and Rhode Lee Michelson in third. Owen also finished first at the North American championships, with Westerfeld finishing fourth. Michelson did not compete at the North American championships due to a hip injury.

After Philadelphia, the 18 members of the U.S. Figure Skating Team, along with 16 coaches, judges, skating association officials and family members, were scheduled to fly to Prague, Czechoslovakia, for the World Championship competition, which was scheduled to begin on Feb. 22.

The team flew from Philadelphia to New York City, then departed from Idlewild Airport (now JFK), on Feb. 14 -– Valentine’s Day -– on Sabena Airlines' Flight 548 to Brussels, Belgium, on the way to Prague, with 72 passengers and crew. On board the flight were:

Laurence "Laurie" Owen, 16, U.S. and North American women's champion
Stephanie "Steffi" Westerfeld, 17, silver medalist, U.S. women's championship
Rhode Lee Michelson, 17, bronze medalist, U.S. woman's championship
Bradley Lord, 21, U.S. men's champion, North American silver medalist
Gregory Kelley, 16, U.S. men's silver medalist, North American bronze medalist
Douglas Ramsay, 16, fourth place in both the U.S. and North American men's championships (Ramsay was named to the team as an alternate for U.S. bronze medalist Tim Brown, who cancelled the trip due to an illness.)
Maribel Y. "Mara" Owen, 20, (sister of Laurence) and Dudley Richards, 29, U.S. pairs champions, North American silver medalists
Ila Ray Hadley, 18, and Ray Hadley Jr., 17 (brother and sister), U.S. pairs silver medalists
Laurie Jean Hickox, 15, and William Hickox, 18 (brother and sister), U.S. pairs bronze medalists
Diane "Dee Dee" Sherbloom, 18, and Larry Pierce, 24, U.S. ice dance champions
Dona Lee Carrier, 20, and Roger Campbell, 18, U.S. and North American ice dance silver medalists
Patricia, 25, and Robert Dineen Sr., 25 (husband and wife), bronze medalists, U.S. ice dance championship

Maribel Vinson-Owen, 49, coach to daughters Laurence and Maribel Y. Owen
Alvah Lynn "Linda" Hadley, 31, coach and mother to Ila Ray Hadley and Ray Hadley Jr.
Edward "Edi" Scholdan, 50
William "Bill" Kipp, 31
Daniel Ryan, 31
C. William Swallender, 52

Walter S. Powell, 81, international referee, member of the International Skating Union Executive Committee, and former president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association
Harold Hartshorne Sr., 69, former national dance champion and world judge
Deane E. McMinn, 44, team manager, international and Olympic judge
Edward LeMaire, 36, national judge and former skating champion

Ann Brownlee Campbell, 55, mother Roger Campbell
Louise Heyer Hartshorne, 58, wife of Harold Hartshorne Sr.
Nathalie Kelley, 29, sister of Gregory Kelley
Richard LeMaire, 13, son of Edward LeMaire
James Scholdan, 11, son of Edi Scholdan
Sharon Westerfeld, 25, sister of Stephanie Westerfeld

This was the next generation of U.S. skaters. With most of them still in their teens, they would likely represent their country at national and world competitions for years to come. Many of them would likely compete in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, perhaps even at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, when many of them would be in their mid-20s. (When David Jenkins won the Gold in 1960, he was 24.)

After their competitive careers, many of them would likely go into coaching, perhaps as judges or officials. They would help to train and guide the next generation.

After an uneventful overnight flight across the Atlantic, the Boeing 707 approached Zaventem Airport in Brussels in clear weather at about 10 a.m. on Feb. 15. The flight was forced to cancel its final approach because a small plane had not yet cleared the runway. The plane increased power and elevation, and attempted to circle back and land on another runway, but never made it back to the airport.

The plane made three complete circles, climbed from 900 to 1,500 feet, then lost speed and spiraled rapidly to the ground. It crashed in a marshy area next to cabbage and chicory fields at 10:05 a.m. and exploded on impact, less than two miles from the airport, near the village of Berg. Theo de Laet, a farmer working in one of the fields, was killed by flying debris, and another farmer, Marcel Lauwers, lost his leg. All 72 people aboard the plane -– 62 passengers and a crew of 10 -– were killed.

The exact cause of the crash was never determined, although investigators suspected that the aircraft may have been brought down by a failure of the stabilizer-adjusting mechanism. The flight crew didn't communicate with ground control during the flight's final minutes, and the crash occurred before airlines were required to have flight data recorders -- "the black box" -- so investigators were basically limited to descriptions from witnesses, and attempting to test equipment recovered from the crash scene. The U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board and the Federal Aviation Administration sent teams to Belgium to help with the investigation.

"Everything appeared normal until something happened which apparently affected the plane's control system," said William Deswarte, Sabena's general manager. "It was seen spinning around in an abnormal position before trying to regain height and then falling."

Belgium’s King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola visited the crash site while bodies were still being recovered from the smoldering wreckage. After visiting the crash site and the morgue, King Baudouin donated oak coffins with the royal seal on one end, to transport the bodies back to the United States.

After the crash, members of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club asked Carrier’s father, the Rev. Floyd Carrier, to go to Brussels and help identify the remains and escort them back home.

At the scene of the crash, investigators found a small suitcase, torn open by the impact, and blackened by the fire. Inside, stuffed in a corner of the suitcase, they found the plaid scarf Mara Owen had been wearing when she boarded the flight, and a copy of the current issue of Sports Illustrated -- the one with Laurie Owen on the cover.

The International Skating Union, organizers of the World Championship competition, initially planned to hold the skating competition as scheduled in Prague, but later voted to cancel the event "as a sign of mourning" for the members of the U.S. team, against the wishes of the Czech government and U.S. Figure Skating officials, which both wanted the competition to go on.

President John Kennedy -- in office for less than a month -- issued a statement, saying that he was "distressed and saddened" to learn of the crash. "This disaster has brought tragedy to many American families and is a painful loss to the international community of sport as well," Kennedy said. "Our country has sustained a great loss of talent and grace which has brought pleasure to the people all over the world." The loss was especially personal for Kennedy. One of those killed in the crash, Dudley Richards, was a longtime friend and Harvard roommate of Kennedy’s brother, Ted, and often visited the Kennedy family at their compound in Hyannis Port, Mass.

Eighteen U.S. skaters were killed in the crash, and three were brought back to be buried in the Los Angeles area. Diane "Dee Dee" Sherbloom, the U.S. ice dancing champion, was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, and was later joined there by her father, Thomas Sherbloom, who died in 1985, and her mother, Ruth Sherbloom, who died in 1991. Her parents' graves are unmarked.

Dona Lee Carrier, the U.S. and North American ice dancing silver medalist, was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale. Carrier is buried next to her father, the Rev. Floyd C. Carrier, who went to Belgium to help identify the victims and escort them back home, and who died in 1968, and her mother, Eleanor M. Carrier, who died in 1999.

Rhode Lee Michelson, who earned her spot on the U.S. Olympic team with a third-place finish in the U.S. Championships, was born March 9, 1943, in Long Beach, Calif., the daughter of Arthur and Martha "Marty" Michelson. Michelson started on the ice as a speed skater, joining her father and younger brother, Wayne, at the Iceland rink in Paramount, Calif. By the time she turned 11, she had switched to figure skating.

Michelson trained with coach Bill Kipp at Paramount, and for several summers with him in Lake Placid, N.Y. In 1958, at the age of 15, won first place in the U.S. ladies novice competition, then took third place in the juniors competition the following year. In 1960, she finished in second place in the juniors competition.

Michelson, a senior at Banning High School in Wilmington, Calif., was known as one of the fastest, most powerful and fearless of the women skaters, due to her training as a speed skater. Michelson was also known for competiting while injured, and she planned to skate in the North American championships after suffering a hip injury. But her doctors warned her that if she skated in Philadelphia, she might aggrevate the injury, and would be forced to miss the World Championships in Prague, so she sat out the North American competition.

Michelson's funeral service was held at the Dilday Mortuary in Long Beach, and she was buried at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. She was later joined there by her father, Arthur, who died in 1966, and her mother, Martha, who died in 1990. Her younger brother, Wayne "Mike" Michelson, died in 2006.

Because of the nature of the crash, the effects of the explosion and the intensity of the resulting fire, identification of the remains was difficult, and an FBI team was sent to Belgium to assist in the efforts. Because of this, the parents of one of the skaters could never truly accept that their daughter was dead, and her grave remained unmarked for nearly 50 years.

In addition to the tragic loss of life, the crash meant the loss of the country’s top skating talent, and devastated the U.S. figure skating program. After the crash, an American woman didn’t win an Olympic skating medal until 1968, when Peggy Fleming won the Gold in Grenoble. Before the crash, American men had won the Gold Medal at four consecutive Olympics. But it would be more than 20 years before an American man did it again, when Scott Hamilton won the Gold Medal in 1984, in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

U.S. Figure Skating President F. Ritter Shumway, who was in office less than two months at the time of the crash, quickly established the USFS Memorial Fund in honor of the victims. The fund, which is still in existence, is used to support the training of promising young figure skaters throughout the country, and has awarded more than $10 million to young skaters who are in need of financial aid with assistance to pursue their goals both inside and outside the competitive arena. Fleming and Hamilton both credit the fund with being instrumental to the advancement of their careers. Fleming, one of the first recipients of a Memorial Fund gift, used the money to buy a new pair of skates.

A memorial for the Southern Californians who were killed in the crash was held on March 5, 1961, at the Lafayette Hotel Ballroom in Long Beach.

The crash was the worst air disaster involving a U.S. sports team until November 1970, when 37 players on the Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in West Virginia.

In 2011, on the 50th anniversary of the crash, the 18 members of the 1961 figure skating team, along with the 16 people traveling with them to Prague, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.


Here's a lovely video of the skaters. I'm not sure when these scenes were filmed, but probably at the 1961 Nationals and the 1961 North American Championships. It's really difficult to watch this without thinking that, in a few short weeks, all of them would be gone.

Part of a documentary, which focuses on how the skaters and coaches who died in 1961 left a legacy that continues to influence and assist U.S. skaters today.

Laurence Owen's winning performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Colorado Springs on Jan. 29, 1961. She was 16 years old.

Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce in their performance at the 1961 Nationals, which won them the U.S. ice dancing championship.

Dona Lee Carrier and Roger Campbell skating at the 1961 Nationals, where they finished in second place in ice dancing.

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