Frederick J Brittain was born on July 17, 1918 in Brooklyn NY. His roots trace back to England, Ireland and Germany.
His start in life was without a father. His father, Frederick Harley Merry Brittain, was killed in a theater scaffold accident just months before he was born. All of his father’s side of the family were involved in the theater. Perhaps my father would have also called the theater his life if his father had remained an influence. I believe though that his destiny with flight was in his blood and I bet his first word after “Mother” was “Aeroplane”.
Frederick’s great grandfather was Ebenezer Joseph Brittain. He was born August 29, 1841. His birth was registered in St. George Southwark, London. He was an aspiring actor and as I surmised from old articles, his preacher father did not want that for his son. On 16 May 1864, Ebenezer married Louisa Maria Raven Rowe at St. Mary-The-Virgin Church, Dover, Kent, England. She also was an actor to be.
Their first son, Everleigh Frederick Harley Brittain, Frederick’s grandfather, was born in Poplar, London in 1867, their second child, a daughter was born in Scotland in 1869 and then their third child John A Brittain was born in 1870 in Brooklyn, NY. All were involved in the theater. I can only surmise that Louisa and Ebenezer came to the United States in 1869 to expand their acting careers. Ebenezer became a naturalized citizen on July 3, 1879 and Louisa became a naturalized citizen on May 26, 1883. According to her obituary published in the Indianapolis Star, Adelaide Roselle (Louisa's stage name) was the first female to become a naturalized citizen.
Somewhere early in their acting lives, Ebenezer assumed the stage name of Harley Merry and as mentioned above, Louisa became Adelaide Roselle. Where these names originated, I do not know. My father Frederick J Brittain, was actually born, Frederick Merry Brittain. I do not think that he knew the significance of the “Merry” since he had lost touch with his Brittain side of the family or I think he may have used his middle name proudly. Thankfully, I have Ancestry.com to learn all of this.
Harley Merry was a prominent figure in the theater both in the U.S. and England. He was also a renowned scenic artist. He created massive scenes and mechanical props for Broadway plays. He was also active in creating the actors union. Adelaide Roselle was a well-known actress of her time and appeared alongside such noted actors as Edwin Booth, William H Crane, and John McCullough.
Everleigh Frederick Harley Brittain, or as he was known in the theater, Fred Merry, married a Brooklyn girl of Irish descent, Alice Whitney, on 30 Aug 1887. Interestingly, John A Brittain (or John Merry) married her sister Annie Whitney. Everleigh and Alice had 8 or 9 children, one of which was Frederick Harley Merry Brittain, Frederick J Brittain’s father.
Frederick Harley Merry Brittain lived in Brooklyn NY in the same apartment building as Bertha Gunkel and her family. Bertha was a young girl of German descent. They married on 20 Mar 1917. Frederick Harley Merry Brittain died on 22 March 1918 in a theater scaffold accident. A mere 4 months later, Frederick Merry Brittain was born or as he chose to be called later, Frederick John Brittain.
After Frederick’s father death, Bertha moved in with her father-in-law. She quickly learned that if she wanted to raise little Frederick as she wanted, she would have to live on her own. She moved out and in addition to raising Frederick she also raised her younger brother Charlie who was 16 years older than Frederick. Uncle Charlie became a father figure to Frederick.
As a young boy, Frederick loved airplanes. Frederick wrote in his own words:
“A day with Uncle Charlie changed or really focused my attention to flying. Up until that point and being 12 years of age, I built flying aircraft models such as the twin rubber band powered cunard called the ciel pilow [uncertain of the name]. It was fast and could fly several hundred feet. A wing span of 30” made the spruce and bamboo, covered with bamboo paper and fuselage sticks to carry the forward wing and the rubber bands that took a hundred or more turns for each flight. It flew great and I put it together- But the Ford Trimotor that was taxiing in for its next flight of passengers was Uncle Charlie’s special treat for me- my first aeroplane flight.
It was just a short flight but I’m sure that I didn’t miss any sensation of flight. It was as I thought it would be like.
Rockaway Beach-Coney Island-Borough of Brooklyn all drifting 2000’ below.
And before we knew it, power was reduced on the three engines and we slowly glided across Jamaica Bay toward Floyd Bennett Field for a gentle landing.
This ended my building of model aeroplanes- I turned toward getting to fly them.”