Over the weekend, a most unusual photo opp was staged at the Hearst Castle. Nineteen passengers, many dressed in period garb, climbed aboard a 1943 C-47 “Gooney bird” plane and touched down on the 4,400-foot landing strip at Hearst Ranch.
While a planned circling of the Hearst Castle for the attending media’s benefit had to be scrapped because of dense Saturday fog, the perfect landing was still a time warp of epic proportions, all part of the 12th annual Friends of the Hearst Castle fundraiser. One of the reporters in attendance was Kathy Tanner of the San Luis Obispo Tribune, who noted the historic connotations:
It had been almost 65 years earlier that a flight presumed to have been in a sister plane departed from that same Paso Robles field, carrying “the chief” away for the last time from the San Simeon “ranch” he loved so much.
Author David Nasaw wrote in his nearly 700-page book about Hearst, The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst, that on May 2, 1947, as Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, “were driven down the winding, five-mile roadway from San Simeon’s hilltop to the landing strip below for their flight to Los Angeles” and her house in Beverly Hills, “Marion noticed that tears were streaming down the Chief’s face.”
She leaned over to wipe away the tears. “ ‘We’ll come back, W.R., you’ll see,’ ” she said. “They never did,” Nasaw noted in the book. Hearst died in Beverly Hills at the age of 88 on Aug. 14, 1951.
Only one other plane is said to have landed in between the last Hearst take-off and this weekend’s fundraiser: a DC-3 in 1996 for a scene featured in the large-format movie packaged with Hearst Castle tours.