You’re likely to walk right past them and some aren’t even accessible to the public, which makes it even more fun to bring them to your attention: monuments marking milestones in Dutch aviation history. I tracked down four at and around Schiphol. One of which seems to have disappeared.
Standing on a windy square in a somewhat chilly concrete corner of Schiphol is a modest monument, featuring a somewhat heroic figure who has seen quite a bit of the airport, picking up some dents and scratches along the way. For many years, the statue of Mercury, with wings on his feet and shoulders, stood at Schiphol-Oost. He is perched on a globe, upon which the old route from Amsterdam to the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, has been marked out. The monument was unveiled on 29 September 1931, to mark the start of scheduled service between Amsterdam and Batavia, which began in 1930.
The monument was badly damaged during the Second World War, when the base was blown up. Mercury was separated from his globe by the force of the explosion, but survived the war thanks to the swift intervention of two local farmers, who returned the statue to Schiphol’s director, Jan Dellaert, after the war. The statue was repaired and on 1 October 1949, 25 years after the first Amsterdam-Batavia flight, it was unveiled once more by Amsterdam’s mayor, Arnold Jan d’Ailly, near its original location at the entrance to Schiphol.
Many years later, the monument was moved a few hundred metres, to guard the entrance of the secure area where the maintenance hangars are located. It was here that Mercury was blown off his pedestal, globe and all, during a heavy storm. After spending some time in storage, the statue was restored and unveiled once more on 1 October 2014 at Schiphol Centre, 65 years after the previous unveiling and 90 years after KLM’s first intercontinental flight to Indonesia.
A wandering stone
On 24 May 1949, Prince Bernhard opened the then recently completed KLM Head Office in The Hague. He did so by laying the last stone, which was a truly unique item: a 17th-century brick originating from New Amsterdam, which is now New York. The stone had been brought there from the Netherlands in the 17th century, possibly as ballast aboard a cargo ship. These bricks where used to build houses in what was then a growing town.
President Roosevelt eventually gave the stone to Princess Juliana, requesting that she find a suitable location to display the stone. She donated the stone to KLM in 1946, to mark the opening of the Amsterdam-New York route. That is how the stone ended up at KLM’s former head office in The Hague. Here’s the accompanying plaque, giving an account of the stone’s history.
But the stone wandered on. When KLM moved its head office to Amstelveen in the late 1960s, the stone and plaque were taken along. It then disappeared into storage for a long time, reappearing in 1999 at the opening of KLM’s new Operations Control Centre, where the stone was given a prominent place in the lobby of the building, displayed in a case along with a new plaque. We tracked down the old plaque to the historical depot, where we dusted it off and took the above photo.
Back in the days when I had just joined KLM, one of the post-war buildings at Schiphol was still in existence. It formed part of the intercontinental departure hall and it was in a pretty deplorable state. There was a hole with a rather specific shape in the plaster on the façade. A rather eye-catching scar. The puzzle pieces all came together later in the hall of the Operations Control Centre, where I found the thing that had left the hole in the wall, which had been given a far more prominent place in its new surroundings: the monument to Jan Dellaert.
Jan Dellaert is the founding father of modern Schiphol. Dellaert was “station manager” of the original airport and designed the runway system that is now so characteristic of Schiphol. He presented his plans many years before they were ultimately realised, and they proved to be visionary. Sadly, he never saw his vision materialise, because he passed away in 1960, before the runway system was constructed.
To honour him after his death, KLM pilots presented the airport with a unique monument, which was unveiled by Prince Bernhard on 9 July 1962, in the presence of Dellaert’s widow and brother, among other guests. This glazed tableau by sculptor Dick Stins depicts the so-called “tangential runway system” at Schiphol, with the mythical winged horse Pegasus at its centre, symbolising the workhorses as well that ploughed the heavy clay ground of the Haarlemmermeer Polder to create fertile land. Their combined horsepower ultimately gave the land wings. This is echoed by the text at bottom right: “It is thrust that determines your speed.”
No blog without inspiration. This time round we were prompted by a question from a reader – a mystery, in fact. He was wondering what had happened to a certain plaque. I promised him I’d scout around and, on my quest, I ran into various other monuments. And so this blog was born. The plaque in question is still missing, but fortunately we have a picture of it, taken in 1953. It’s actually an enamelled sign commemorating KLM’s very first passenger flight.
The text reads: ‘On this site, before the Second World War, stood wooden aircraft hangar VI, Birthplace of Civil Aviation in the Netherlands.” It was here that KLM waved off its very first scheduled air service on 17 May 1920. The hangar to which this sign was attached has long since disappeared and the sign itself is not in our historical depot. In short, the mystery prevails and we welcome tips and suggestions from anyone who may have an answer.