Who was Dot Lemon?
For EAA.org by Richard Kinsman, EAA 1074330
(Reprinted with permission from EAA Vintage Airplane, Nov. 2011)
Mystery woman, barnstormer, pylon racer, gold-mine owner, Whitney family orphan … take your pick.
The history and mystery of this compelling woman (1907-1986) will be the subject of an exhibit at the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, from Oct. 3 to Jan. 3, 2012, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Dot Lemon never publicly identified her birth parents as members of the wealthy and prominent Chicago Whitney family, although the Whitney name appears on her birth certificate and passport application, signed by her. While she often alluded to the fact that she was the adopted daughter of the parents who raised her, Pastor and Mrs. Albert Martin, she maintained that her biological father was a wealthy and prominent man from Chicago. Her response to further inquiries on the matter was that her past was “private.” In spite of her obscure and controversial birth origins, she lived a colorful and amazingly successful life.
As a teenager in Syracuse, New York, in the early 1920s, Dot was introduced to and became fascinated with flying. Under the tutelage of Merrill K. Riddick, known as the “Hobo of the Air,” she soloed in a Jenny/Canuck at the age of 16.
She went barnstorming in the late 1920s, becoming acquainted with Jackie Cochrane and Amelia Earhart. Dorothy said she had gone on the road with four other (male) pilots, and despite having their aircraft severely damaged during a tornado in Georgia that ended the tour, they all subsequently continued flying.
However, Dorothy was destitute and returned to Cicero, New York, where she became the sales manager for Hayes Aviation, with the American Eagle Agency, for all of New York State. During this period, Dorothy met and befriended the famous Irish aviator Lady Heath, aka Lady Icarus, who was touring the United States.
Another of the many mysteries surrounding Dorothy’s life involves the question of her children. Did they really exist? While at Hayes Aviation in New York State, she fell for and took the last name of a pilot working for Hayes Aviation, World War I veteran Leon Perl Brink, T 1032, with whom she allegedly had four boys, named William, Sherwood, Clinton, and Wellington. However, Brink had been previously married, and there is no record of his marriage to Dorothy Martin. As a result, there is as yet no known record establishing the existence of these boys, and their last name remains undiscovered. However, Dorothy publicly referred to one of her sons, “Little Red,” being killed in the Korean War. The other sons are only mentioned by name in private correspondence or conversations. Leon Brink later earned brief notoriety in 1933 for having survived 52 hours floating on an inner tube in the Gulf Stream after ditching his aircraft.
Dorothy’s next venture in life was as the wife of Richard (Dick) Lemon, also a pilot, whom she married in Florida in 1937. Together they managed an airfield, Belvedere Field, later Palm Beach International. While in Florida, Dorothy (now Dot Lemon) claimed to have been the first woman to intentionally fly into the eye of a hurricane. (This has not been documented.) Belvedere Field was taken over by the military for training purposes in the early 1940s.
Following the end of World War II, Dot took up racing, participating in Halle and Kendall trophy races while establishing her reputation at that time as one of the country’s foremost female pilots. She was active in the Southern California Aero Club in the early 1960s, while authoring an allegorical tale of a small airplane, a book entitled One-One.
Somewhere along the line in her adventurous and often obscure life, Dot became highly proficient in astronomy, astrology, and navigation. This led to her becoming the first female president of the prestigious and scientific Institute of Navigation (ION) in 1961. In the process she became a personal friend of the Weems family, founders of the company well-known for development of navigation aids.
Another most interesting and unexplained phase of her life began in the 1960s when she became interested in Venezuelan gold. In 1964, under very obscure circumstances, Dot Lemon was officially granted title, by the Venezuelan government, to 25-year gold-property concessions. These gold-mining concessions, named “Las Cristinas,” are reputed to be among the potentially most valuable gold-mining properties in the western hemisphere, and they have been the subject of worldwide ownership litigation since the expiration of Dot’s concessions in 1986. She died in Caracas, Venezuela, with no identified next of kin.
The mystery surrounding her involvement in Venezuelan gold has led to much speculation and controversy regarding her possible connections with pilot and adventurer Jimmie Angel, who discovered the highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, which was named after the famous and infamous Angel, who dedicated much of his life to searching for gold in Venezuela. How, from whom, and under what circumstances Dot acquired the “Las Cristinas” concessions from the Venezuelan government remains one more of the many enigmas in the life of Dot Lemon. It has been widely speculated that Dot was involved with Jimmie Angel, and as a result of Jimmie’s gold-seeking adventures in Venezuela, this somehow resulted in her having obtained the “Cristinas” concessions following Angel’s death in 1956. This has remained in the realm of romantic speculation, without confirmation.
In numerous interviews and articles in the 1950s and ’60s, Dot alluded to, but never detailed, a prominent family background. She one time hinted that she was related to the Wright brothers’ family. It seems probable, given her education and accomplishments in flying, navigation, business, and music (she was briefly a concert pianist), that despite being given up for adoption as an infant, she had received support and benefits from her birth parents, whomever they may have been.
So, who was Dot Lemon, really? Who and where are her four sons? The details of her possible family origins and life accomplishments remain one of history’s potentially most fascinating stories. She was an immensely talented woman who deserves to be listed among the outstanding women aviators of the 20th century.
Note: The author of this sketch is researching Dot’s life in order to write her biography. Please contact him directly with any possible information or sources. Richard Kinsman , 7155 W. Belmont Dr. , Littleton, CO 80123 , Tel/fax: 720-922-7487. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org