Since May of 2005 StoryCorps’ Airstream MobileBooths have been roving the country creating a space for people to interview their loved ones. In the last three years we have been to nearly every state in the continental United States, except Wyoming. That all changed two weeks ago when we pulled into a public parking lot next to the Albany County Courthouse at 5th Street and Grand Avenue in Laramie, Wyoming to begin recording stories in the place affectionately dubbed “the least populated state in the Union.”
Among some of the ranchers, cowboys, and folks from as far away as Green River and Casper, Wyoming who have come to share their stories was Laramie resident Catherine Mealey. One of the memories Mrs. Mealey shared with her daughter, in the MobileBooth, was from her time as a student at Iowa State University in the early 1940s. Mrs. Mealey remembered being one of the only girls she knew to take pilot lessons with a flight instructor who looked like Spencer Tracy, which made her lessons all the more worthwhile. Her biggest obstacle while learning to fly was her sense of direction, which she admitted, wasn’t so great at the time. She remembered one day, during a solo flight, getting lost. In an attempt to get her bearings she began flying low to the ground so she could read the town names written on water towers. After circling several water towers she became increasingly unnerved because she didn’t recognize any of the towns. Fearing she would run out of gas, she decided to land in someone’s field. Mrs. Mealey and her daughter joked that the landing must have caused quite a commotion because the entire town came out to see her make her emergency landing. To this day Mrs. Mealey isn’t quite sure how it happened, but her Spencer Tracy look-a-like instructor appeared out of the sky, and came to her rescue. He and another instructor landed in that farmer’s field somewhere in Iowa and flew her back to school.
After Catherine Mealey retired as a founding Law Librarian at the University of Wyoming she opened a book shop in downtown Laramie called Second Story Bookstore. She likes to tell people that half of the store was once a brothel overlooking the Laramie train yard, that cuts through the heart of town. Her grandson now runs the store, but you can find Catherine there on most afternoons.