Of Bees And The Wright Brothers

Gleanings In Bee Culture.jpgWhat we have here, is an item at the Swann Galleries auction site offering what it calls the most unlikely scoop in journalistic aviation history.

What we have here is: Gleanings in Bee Culture, which, as far as anyone can determine, features the first eyewitness report of the Wright brothers in flight.

Featured within 14 unbound issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture, is the description of a flight taken by the Wright Brothers on September 24, 1904.

The Wright Brothers first flew an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S. on December 14, 1903. While no reporters were there that day, a telegraph operator spread word of the flight to a Virginia newspaper. Unfortunately, the details were a third-hand account and suffered from inaccuracies. Still… it did receive some global press.

In May of 1904, reporters were present for the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, but the Wright Flyer failed to perform as advertised.

But, on September 20, 1904, the boys were able to complete their first-ever circular flight—and this time there was a witness, one Amos Ives Root of Ohio, who was actually invited by the Wright’s to buzz around.

Amos Ives Root (1839–1923) was an Ohio entrepreneur who developed innovative techniques for beekeeping during the latter 19th century (how to harvest honey without destroying the hive).

This was around the 1860s, and Root’s technique helped him beecome (sp) (sorry) an internationally-renowned expert in apiary. At this point in time in American economics, beekeeping was a big part of local economies. A company formed by Root exists today as Root Candles.

Anyhow, Root back in 1904 was asked to write an article on the Wright Brother’s flight for Scientific American… but they rejected it.

So Root decided to write about it in a column he had called Our Homes in HIS company’s Gleanings In Bee Culture magazine.

You can see a page of it below:

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Expected auction price is between US1,500-$2,000.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #73 – Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont)

73gf 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont)

Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Green-back issue

  • Jean Louis Conneau (aka André Beaumont) on February 8, 1880 in Lodève, Hérault, France – August 5, 1937, Lodève, Hérault, France.

This is another Card No. 73 within the 75-card cigarette trading card set.

The other No. 73 was Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue (see HERE) … this blog is about the Capstan Navy Cut GREEN back issue.

While I applaud Wills’s for having the real name of the aviator on this cigarette card, we should note that Jean Louis Conneau (in the day) was best known by his pseudonym of André Beaumont… which is WHY there’s a bracketed name under his real name on the front of the card.

One hundred years removed, I had no idea just why “Beaumont” was bracketed, and assumed it was some sort of aeroplane.

So… why did Conneau have another name… a more famous name?

The card’s front provides the main clue.

Lieut. Jean Louis Conneau. Lieutenant. His was a military man…

Jean Louis Conneau.jpg

As an aeroplane pilot who enjoyed flying in various events and races of the day to earn a few extra dollars, because Conneau was a Lieutenant in the French navy.

I can’t find a lot (any) information about Conneau’s childhood—which I have found CAN explain why some people became interested in aviation or aerodynamics…


Google Translate says: The Blériot XI of the LV Jean-Louis Conneau (aka Beaumont) after its cowling on the ground of Reims-Betheny – Postcard of time. I assume it means: Lt. Jean-Louis Conneau (aka André Beaumont)’s upside-down Bleriot XI, after crashing at  Reims-Betheny… Image from: http://albindenis.free.fr/Site_escadrille/debut_aviation_militaire3.htm

Here’s what we know… on December 7, 1910, Conneau earned The Aéro-Club de France pilot’s license No. 322.

He earned his French military pilot’s license (No. 4) one year later on December 18, 1911.

Of course, in 1911, Conneau was entered in all sorts of aviation meets, and it is during this time that he utilized the pseudonym André Beaumont, as he was still in the Navy… even though he did not have a military pilot’s license at that time… no biggie… as you can see, being No. 4 for a French military license just meant that one wasn’t required within the military until late in 1911.

So… what is Conneau famous for?

Well… that would be his winning (or rather André Beaumont’s winning) of the Paris-Rome aeroplane race.

The race, which began on May 29, 1911, was originally supposed to have been a longer race, and was to be from Paris-Rome-Turin… but organizers cut the Rome to Turin leg, making it a separate race to be run one week after the Paris-Rome event.

During the Paris-Rome race, an aviator was allowed to stop, fix a plane, and even exchange an aircraft—though the pilot had to let race officials stationed throughout the race if this action was undertaken.

Beginning on May 28, 1911, Conneau (Beaumont) arrived at the race’s end-spot of the Parioli racetrack on May 31, 1911 in a time of 82 hours and five minutes

The quick pace set by Conneau surprised race organizers who had estimated the race would take about one week to complete.

In fact, second place winner Roland Garros (Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros) arrived in Rome in 106 hours and 15 minutes, having crashed two aircraft.

(Editor Note: Garros, by the way, was reported to have been involved in the first air-battle ever when his plane rammed a zeppelin, killing him. The only problem here is that Garros was still alive when that 1914 claim was circulated, and he denied being involved in the suicide run… especially since he was still alive.)

Third place was achieved in 156 hours and 52 minutes by André Frey in a Moranes; while the only other aviator to complete the journey was René Vidart in a Deperdussin at 195 hours and eight minutes.

Conneau landed like a rock star, as men knocked over women to have the honor of hoisting Conneau upon their shoulders, showing you just how different a world it was.

You can get a full-blown read on the Paris-Rome race at the www.earlyaviators.com website by clicking HERE.

Conneau also won the Circuit d’Europe (Tour of Europe), a route that took it from Paris-Liege-Spa-Utrecht-Brussels-Calais-London-Calais-Paris, winning on July 7, 1911.

Conneau/Beaumont also won the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Race (England and Scotland) on July 26, 1911, flying a Blériot XI.

He also participated in the 1911 Paris to Madrid race beginning May 21, 1911. The race is infamous only because of the injuries and deaths that occurred upon the race’s beginning. See Wikipedia HERE – for a brief outline on that.

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In 1913 he co-founded the Franco-British Aviation (FBA) to build flying boats known as a hydroplane (or in French as a Hydravions) 

The FBA was headquartered in London, England, Great Britain, maintained a factory in Paris, France, and thanks to its set-up, serviced both the French and British.

Conneau flew as a flying boat pilot during WWI, commanding squadrons at Nice, Bizerte, Dunkirk and Venice.

Between 1915-1919, Conneau was the guy in charge of perfecting the hydroplane on behalf of the French Navy.

After the war, Conneau continued to work in the hydroplane industry, taking up the position of technical director for the French firm Donnet-Lévèque.

Despite living until the age of 57, dying in France on August 5, 1937, the memory of Jean Louis Conneau aka André Beaumont has faded into the hangar with time.

Posted in Air Shows, Heavier-Than-Air, Pilots, Seaplanes, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #73 – “Willows II.” Dirigible.

73f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Willows II.” Dirigible.

Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • E.T. (Ernest Thompson) Willows, born in Cardiff, Wales, Great Britain on July 11, 1886 – August 23, 1926 at Kempston, Bedford, England, Great Britain.

Ernest Thompson Willows was the first person in Great Britain to earn a pilot certificate for an airship of any kind then Britain’s Royal Aero Club awarded him Airship Pilots Certificate No. 1. And yup… that’s the most exciting thing I could find on him.


E.T. Willows.

So what makes Willows and his Willows II dirigible worthy of their very own tobacco collector’s card?

Being British in the brand new flight of fancy known as aviation certainly earns one entry into a British tobacco manufacturer’s line-up on the subject.

After gaining entry in 1896 to Clifton College in Bristol, Great Britain, Willows left the school at the age of 15 in 1901 to further pursue a career as a dentist. Interesting… if this was a blog about dentistry… and no, that doesn’t make me an anti-dentite.

Willows was simply following in the footsteps of his father’s profession.

However… after reading the 1903 newspaper exploits of one Alberto Santos-Dumont, and perhaps of the South African (living in England) Captain William Beedle, our man Willows became fascinated with aviation and the dirigible.

He completed his first dirigible in 1905, and lacking imagination but not ego called it the Willows No. 1.

If you happened to glance at Willow’s birthdate, however, you will note that he built his first dirigible at the tender age of 19. I’m pretty sure I was sneaking beers and trying to get a woman – any woman – to look at me when I was his age.

All of the five dirigibles built by Willows were considered to be pioneering, as they were the first (or among the first) to not have a rigid frame… they were semi-rigid.

Willows No. 1


Willows No. 1 (1905) drawing from “D’orcy’s Airship Manual” from 1917

First flown on August 5, 1905 in a flight lasting 85 minutes over the East Moors of Cardiff, Wales, the Willows No. 1 was a small semi-rigid dirigible with a capacity of 12,600 cubic feet (354 cubic meters).

Its envelope (balloon) measured 74 feet (22.55 meters) long and 18 feet (5.5 meters) in  diameter, and was made of silk, holding a visible framework gondola for the crew suspended beneath it.

At the rear of the gondola framework was a twin-cylinder seven-horsepower Peugeot motorcycle engine fitted with a two-bladed 10 foot (three meter) pusher propeller. (Since the propeller is at the rear of the machine, it “pushes” the vehicle forward.

All in all, Willows took the Willows No. 1 on total of six flights, with the longest lasting two hours.

Willows No. 2

Willows No 2

Willows No. 2 1909 – Photo credit from Rosebud’s Early Aviation Archive, http://www.earlyaeroplanes.com/archive/airships01/1909.Willows.No.2.jpg, Public domain

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The Willows No. 2 was designed and piloted by Willows, first flying on November 26, 1909.

No. 2 was 86 feet (26.2 meters) long and 22 feet (6.7 meters) in diameter, with a envelope (balloon) volume of 29,000 cubic feet (820 cubic meters) volume.

The Willows No. 2 was powered by a JAP 30-horsepower, air-cooled V8 engine and had two swiveling propellers mounted either side of the suspended car. It was also fitted with a rudder for directional control.

On June 4, 1910 the Willows No.2 semi-rigid dirigible landed outside of Cardiff City Hall before it was flown back to the dirigible shed back on the East Moors.

On July 11, 1910 Willows No.2 was flown from Cheltenham in southwest England to Cardiff, with a return back to London on August 6.

That initial flight was the longest such flight of a Great Britain cross-country flight at 122-miles (196 kilometers).

Records being what they were Willows himself s considered to be the first aviator to cross the Bristol Channel in a powered aircraft.


Circa June 1910, Willows No.2 is about to land near Cardiff city hall.

Willows No. 3 – City of Cardiff

Willows No. 2 was re-built as Willows No. 3 and renamed by Willows as the City of Cardiff.No.3-postcard

The rebuild mean the new dirigible was now 120 feet (36.56 meters) long, 40 feet (12.2 meters) in diameter, with its envelope volume being 32,000 cubic feet (905 cubic meters).

Willows No. 3 utilized the same JAP engine to power its two 6 foot (1.83 meters) long propellers.

The airship first flew on October 29, 1910 over White City in London, England.

A few days later on November 4, 1910, Willows renamed Willows No. 3 the City of Cardiff, before flying that day from Wormwood Scrubs near London for France.

The successful flight gave Willows the glory of being the first person to cross the English Channel from England to France, as well as the first to cross at night in an airship.

The journey had its fair share of problem, what with the maps being accidentally dropped overboard during the night or the fact that there was leaking within the balloon’s envelope which meant a wee emergency landing at 2AM… but what the heck… French aviator Louis Breguet as around and helped repair the aircraft allowing it to continue its epic flight to land in Paris on December 28, 1910.

Willows then celebrated his achievement by flying around the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve.

Willows No. 4 – His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2
Willows moved to Birmingham to build his next airship, the Willows No. 4. First flown in 1912, it was sold to the Admiralty for £1,050 and it became His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2. His Majesty being Britain’s King George V.


His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2 on the ground in 1905, it is known by its builder as Willows No. 4.

Willows No.4 was smaller than the No. 3, and was completed in 1912. It had a balloon capacity of 24,000 cubic feet (680 cubic meters), and a length of 110 feet (33.5 meters). On its keel was a single 35 horsepower Anzani motor tat powered two four-bladed steerable propellers, enabling it to reach a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour). Below the keel hung a two-person gondola.

After the aircraft was purchased by the Navy and renamed as His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2, its balloon envelope was enlarged to 39,000 cubic feet (11,000 cubic meters).

A year later in 1914, the original gondola was replaced with an enlarged three-seater version with dual controls… however, it only made a single flight with its latest configuration.

The British Navy decided to make a bigger and better balloon, but decided to re-use components.

Taking the balloon/envelope of His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2, it was used to become part of the new SS class (submarine scout) of aircraft used to hunt German u-boats during WWI.

Willows No. 5


Willows No. 5 dirigible – Photo credit: from Rosebud’s Early Aviation Archive http://www.earlyaeroplanes.com/archive/airships01/1913.Willows.No.5 .Caudron.jpg

When No. 4 was sold to the British Navy, Willows created a spherical gas balloon school at Welsh Harp, Hendon near London.

He then began to build Willows No. 5 in 1913, a dirigible with a rubberized fabric and a volume of 50,000 cubic feet (1,415 cubic meters). It was 130 feet (40meters) long, and featured a gondola capable of carrying four people.

It achieved first flight on November 27, 1913.

Barrage Balloons
Barrage Balloons.jpg

During WWI, at Cardiff, Willows built barrage balloons.

These were actually kindda cool.

Used often around London, the idea was to have several of these barrage balloons strung together via a steel cable in place over the city lifting a giant net.

They were used to mess up German aircraft or dirigible pilots who could not easily avoid being snagged within the netting.

By 1918 the barrage defenses around London stretched for 50 miles (80 kilometers).

Willows continued to build balloons after WWI, but died on August 23, 1926 when  balloon accident occurred at Hoo Park in Bedford England, killing himself and two passengers.

As of 2017, on the very same spot where Willows had his airfield, Willows High School stands… with a nearby pub called The Ernest Willows reasonably close by.


Posted in Balloons, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leona Dare In The Air Up There

Leona Dare poster 001.jpg

There are a lot of “maybe’s” and “postulating” within this particular article.

I was glancing through the August 2017 magazine edition of Smithsonian, spying the cover story on “The New American Circus” but was more caught up in the “poster art” in the story for some of the world’s greatest human circus performers – not its sideshow attractions – I mean its performers.

One of the newly created poster art was for a woman named Leona Dare… an American trapeze artist who was once famous for hanging suspended from ascending hot-air balloons. Now we’re talking aviation!

Born in 1854 or 1855, Leona Dare was actually born as Susan Adeline Stuart (or Stewart) – in that classic “parts unknown” kind of way. We just know she was American… and in her later years she lived on Staten Island, NY, as well as Spokane, Washington – where she died.

The Smithsonian “poster” above states that Dare’s father was a Confederate General and that her mother had been killed by a stray bullet during the siege on the infamous Battle of the Alamo… but I have found no other article stating those two interesting facts.

I’m not calling the Smithsonian magazine into question… I’m just stating what I know and don’t know.

For one… didn’t the Battle of the Alamo occur between February 23, 1836 – March 6, 1836? I mean, I’m not American so maybe you guys use a different calendar system than Canada…. 

If Dare’s mother died at some point in time during the battle in 1836… how the heck did she give birth to Leona in 1854 or 1855? Forget the long pregnancy or thoughts of necrophilia. Oh… now I can’t. Dammit.

I won’t question the Confederate General stuff… except that it is possible he (her father) was involved in the U.S. civil war in the 1860s when Leona was 10, and when his wife had been dead for almost 30 years… Maybe a first wife died at the Alamo… and a second wife was actually the mother to Leona? That makes more sense…

Or… maybe Leona’s mother WAS killed at the Alamo… just not during the Battle of the Alamo. You or I could easily have been shot at the Alamo too, if someone pointed a gun at us during a 21st century tourist visit… and while I’m providing the Smithsonian with ample excuses to award me a No-Prize, I’m unconvinced that the information provided on that “poster” is 100 percent correct.

However… (another attempt at a Marvel Comics No-Prize), it is also possible that the Smithsonian created the data on the poster to mimic circus-era excitement and provide a laugh to the sharp-eyed Canadian visitor to the magazine – a mix that ensures a sucker is born every minute to those who didn’t notice it…

Still… one might assume that the magazine would have stated there was an “inside joke” at some point within the article.

leonaWhere did the Dare name come from, and why don’t we believe her surname to have been Stewart? Well, she learned acrobatics from brothers Tomas and Stewart Hall… who sometimes billed themselves as the Dare Brothers.

However… to be fair, there was a James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart who was originally a  United States Army officer from Virginia, who later became a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. History is cool, eh kiddies?

Stuart? Stewart? See – J.E.B. Stuart and or Stewart Hall, one half of the Dare Brothers…

See… Stewart is in there, as is Dare. It all sounds like an “acquired” name to me.

In 1871 Susan married Thomas Hall (one of the Dare boys)… in either New York City or New Orleans…  I love Circus folk… that whole “from parts unknown” stuff… of course, maybe people just never saw the need to brag about such things on Twitter back in 1871…

U.S. president Trump says his father was never arrested in the 1920s at a KKK demonstration. Maybe such things such as being a circus performer weren’t talked about much around the family dinner table. If my father had ever been arrested, I wouldn’t know – because such talk has never come up.

However… for anyone running and becoming president, you can bet every purported dark corner of their past has been rundown and checked out. It’s just not talked about.

My best guess as to Dare’s wedding location would be New York, simply because she appeared in a circus there later that year… but that’s neither here nor there, so to speak.

Leona Dare was an acrobat and trapeze artist who, wait for it, would utilize a trapeze that was hung down from a rising hot air balloon.

While I suppose many of the day considered her to be hot, she was indeed considered to be a beautiful woman who was a daredevil… and yet, in none of the photos I saw of here could you ever see any ankle. Her hair could also have used some conditioned to tame those wild locks.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Dare performed with many traveling circuses (is that the plural, or is it circusii?) (Kidding.)

Another one of her specialties was the “iron jaw” routine, where she would hang from a wire just by the strength of her teeth/jaw, and spin around… I’m sure you’ve all seen something similar from modern acrobats.

In August of 1872, Dare was in Indianapolis, Indiana, US of A performing for the first-time ever, a stunt where she was suspended under a hot air balloon, lifting her husband (and performance partner off the ground, holding him by his waistband with her teeth. If you look at the image at the very top of this blog, you can see just what it is I am talking about. As you can see, the person being held needs to be as stiff and straight as possible, which is not as appreciated as the iron jaw part, but in my mind just as difficult.

In another spectacular display, Dare was apparently some 5,000 feet above the ground and doing her personal suspension act with her teeth over Crystal Palace in London, Great Britain in June and July of 1877.


If you look at the poster above and compare it with what is written on the Smithsonian “poster” at the very top, we can see that the Smithsonian has rounded off the size of the crowd in a manner that could make a president flip his lid.

As well… the Smithsonian “poster”  mentions that Dare ascends to a height of 10,000 feet… which is double what other websites featuring Miss Dare have dared state.

The poster mentions balloon aeronaut Eduard Spelterini (born June 2, 1852 – June 16, 1931) who took Dare up to perform the stunts.

Spelterini was a Swiss pioneer of ballooning and of aerial photography.

Born Eduard Schweizer, he originally hoped to be an opera singer, but after a bout with pneumonia weakened his lungs at the age of 18, he looked around for other avenues, becoming licensed in 1877 by the Académie d’Aérostation météorologique de France as a balloon pilot.

During the 1880s, Spelterini took his balloon solo up in the air up there, and then comfortable enough he began selling rides to customers.

Though he had used balloons built by others, the first one he had a hand in “designing’ was in 1887, when the Parisian company Surcouf manufactured his “Urania” with a volume of 1,500 cubic meters. It first flew in Vienna, Austria on October 5, 1887.

After that, Spelterini moved to Great Britain, meeting Leona Dare in 1888. Their ascents in June and July 1888 at the Crystal Palace in London (see poster above) made them world-famous.

While Dare and “Urania” provided the vehicle for Dare, the balloon basket also provided a ride up for various local journalists, who were given a spectacular view of Dare’s acrobatic exploits which helped create her level of fame via the social media of the day (newspapers).

They toured together through Britain and then continental Europe including Moscow, Russia… with their very last performance together thus being in October of 1889 in Bucharest, Romania.

Spelterini took his Urania balloon from Bucharest to Saloniki (Thessaloniki) in Greece, and then Athens before moving to Cairo, Egypt.

After flying over the pyramids of Giza in early 1890, he traveled to Naples, Italy and then Istanbul, Turkey.


Eduardo Spelterini – August 12, 1912.

In 1891, Spelterini returned to Switzerland, considered then to be “famous” for his aeronaut efforts.On July 26, 1891, Spelterini flew in Switzerland, starting at the Heimplatz in Zurich… and thanks to the crowds that always appeared to see him soar, scientists also took notice, asking if he could take them up so they could conduct atmospheric tests and experiments. Physicians wanted to travel with him to study human blood cells at low atmospheric pressure, while geologists simply wanted to study what the Earth looked like from high above.

In 1893, Spelterini began to take aerial photography. According to one article I saw, the camera equipment weighed anywhere from 40 to 60 kilograms (~88 to 132 pounds), with each photograph requiring a minimum exposure of 1/30th of a second, which doesn’t seem like much despite our modern day ability to snap 100 photos in a couple of seconds via portable telephone of all things… but consider Spelterinin (and other such aerial photographers) were traveling in a balloon… being buffeted by winds…

Perhaps patience is key, but Spelterini became known as one of the premier aerial photographers of his day, winning numerous awards in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany.


Photo by Eduardo Spelterini circa 1903… exact location…. not sure, so I’m not guessing. Okay… Swiss alps?

Spelterini continued to balloon and photograph until The Great War (aka WWI) began in 1914—no one wants a balloon flying overhead when they are at war… as such, Spelterini stopped flying all together, retiring in Switzerland with his wife.

While his aviation exploits had made him comfortably rich, the war and a lack of new income ate into his savings… and the post-war inflation continued to beat at him and others across Europe.

To make matters worse, with the advent of the aeroplane, ballooning fell out of the public’s eye as something spectacular, and everything Spelterinin had accomplished in the past was simply that – the past.

While money is money, he dug out his Urania balloon in 1922 and worked at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, taking people up in the balloon and posing for photos… which you might understand was something he no longer found as much fun as when he was taking photos of the world.

Having enough of the sour limelight, Spelterni retired again – this time in Austria with his own 300 hen chicken farm, meaning to survive off the sale of their eggs.  I’m unsure how that is better than taking people up in a hot air balloon, but by 1926 he agreed with my sentiments at the beginning of this sentence…

Spelterini borrowed some money and rented a balloon in Zurich, Switzerland – hoping to have fun in the air by transporting paying customers for a view. The captive balloon was anchored to the ground with ropes.

Now in his 70s… and while not an ancient age for the 21st century, he was considered pretty old in 1926. His body agreed, as he passed out during a passenger jaunt, forcing his passengers to somehow bring the balloon down themselves in a crash-landing. At least no one was hurt.

That was the last time Speltirini flew… dying in 1931 as an old man with a chicken farm… poor and no longer recalled for his aviation exploits.

As for Leona Dare, who had parted ways with Speltrini in October of 1889… we should back up a week bit.

As mentioned earlier, in 1872 Dare was performing acrobatic feats alongside her husband and former teacher Thomas Hall.

Depending on who you can still find alive to ask (no one, except the Hall and Dare family might have a proper answer), Dare left Hall in 1875, or Hall left Dare… either way Dare was no longer living with Thomas Hall.

She appears to have suffered some sort of physical injury at around that time, and was unable to perform much through the rest of that decade (1870s).

In June of 1880, Dare married Ernest Theordore Grunebaum in London, England… whose family were rich toffs from Vienna, Austria.

Traveling back to Chicago later that year, Dare found out (or was conveniently reminded) that just because one’s husband leaves, or because she left him… a divorce that makes not.

So… since she was still legally married to Thomas Hall, her marriage to Grunebaum was not technically legal. So, after gaining a divorce from Hall in absentia on November 15, 1880, she then legally (this time) re-married Grunebaum in Chicago on November 17, 1880.


A set photo at a studio of Dare and a trapeze… not something taken from this hot babe’s boudoir. Look at that… you might not see an ankle, but you do see a whole lotta leg… no wonder the media and the public loved her. Uh… those boots look pretty tight on the leg…

So… after finally recovering from her accident in the 1870s, the early part of the 1880s was spent using a trapeze and iron jaw skills – but not using a balloon.

Despite the lack of a balloon at this time, in 1884 Dare dropped her partner during a show in Valencia, Spain… he died.

However… I found another reference to another similar occurrence, which has me wondering if it’s the same issue, but with different facts, or two different incidents.

The other story says that in 1884 while suspended by her feet from the roof of the Princess Theatre in London, she held a trapeze bar in her teeth. A male performer was holding on to the trapeze bar with his hands… apparently some newspapers (so the story says) say she had a nervous fit and her mouth released her tooth grip on the bar… and down went her partner. The story continues that it is unknown if the performer survived the fall, but the incident caused Dare to suffer a nervous breakdown of her own.

Which horrific incident is correct? The first, the latter – both? Spain or London?

The first story which declares the partner died is referenced in the Leona Dare Wikipedia entry citing the New York Times, November 23, 1884; and second story is in The (London & Provincial) Entr’acte, December 13, 1884.

Okay… if the accident occurred in London, England… why did the The (London & Provincial) Entr’acte newspaper only report on it some two weeks after it was reported on by the New York Times newspaper an ocean away?

Let’s just say that Dare dropped a partner… she felt like crap for a while… eventually got better and renewed her career.

Since the show must go on, Dare found and trained another partner and continued her act and all was status quo until she teamed up with a Swiss balloonist in 1888.

We’ve covered that aspect of their act and life up above…

In 1890, and with another balloonist, after a balloon she was attached to began to drift away, she apparently purposely lost her grip of the trapeze and fell a distance to the ground, breaking her leg.

Since details are sketchy at best, I’m going to hypothesize that the balloon Dare was attached to lost its pilot… perhaps he himself fell out of the balloon from a low height… and seeing that, Dare released her trapeze grip and fell to the ground rather than be swept up pilotless into the sky.

Does anyone else have any idea of why Dare would have dropped from a balloon drifting away?

By 1894 or 1895, Dare gave up her acrobatic craft and retired to Staten Island, New York, US, though it is reported she died after moving out west to live with her daughter in Spokane, Washington state on May 22/23, 1922.

Her death date is a perfect bookend for Leona Dare… was it the 22nd or the 23rd? It doesn’t matter in the long-run, I suppose…

When I saw that “poster” of Dare in the Smithsonian, I figured it would be a quick couple of paragraphs and done with an easy-peasy article.

Like Leona Dare and every single blog I have done here, nothing is as simple as it seems.

Posted in Air Shows, Aviation Art, Balloons, Lighter-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Stunt Flying | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intricate Airplane Model Built From Paper

I don’t know about you, but I now have clumsy hands.

I’ve had my run as a kid building model kits of spacecraft, cars and airplanes and even didn’t do too badly constructing ancient sailing vessels that needed intricate rigging.

Then, as I got older I gravitated towards painting Dungeons and Dragons figurines, doing some pretty good work. The way I was able to accomplish that was me picking up the 25mm high figuring in my left hand, which would then shake… I would pick up my paintbrush in my right hand, which would then shake… and the only way I could paint was because both hands shook at the same vibrational speed and distance.

Now… maybe because I got physically bigger from working out, and then getting older and fatter, I now lack that delicate touch I had as a kid. Hmm… maybe getting older is legit. It could explain why when my mother dusted my model kits such as my old Phoenician boat, she would wreck them worse than any Tyrian (Tyre) military force could, with rigging being undone by her kindness. I don’t even want to tell you what happened to my old Viking ship.

Which brings me to the following video of a young man, who when he was 16 years old, began building a very intricate model kit from scratch of an Air India Boeing 777 jet of all things.

He used manila folder paper cut to size, and… here’s the best part… he made the model functional… IE, landing gears go up and down, fan blades in the GE Aviation GE90-115B engines move… filled it with seats, cockpit materials… and again… all made from paper.

He still has to complete the wings, however.

Watch the YouTube video of the now 25-year-old Luca Iaconi-Stewart, as he shows off his amazing work of art – nine years (and counting) in the making.

My hands are shaking just watching him manipulate the airplane. This guy is amazing.

Posted in Aviation Art, People | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #72 – M. Hubert Latham

72f 001History Behind The Card: M. Hubert Latham.

Card #72 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • Arthur Charles Hubert Latham, born in Paris, France on January 10, 1883 – June 25, 1912 near Fort Archambault in what is now the Republic of Chad.

The name Hubert Latham has been very prominent within this Pioneers of Aviation blog, mostly as a keen competitor to many other famous aviators whose cards and aeroplanes I have reviewed.

By the way… the card says “M. Hubert Latham” – since he was French, the card politely uses “M” in reference to ‘monsieur/mister’.

Here at card #72, we finally get to the man, himself.

I had previously written about Latham HERE , but only briefly in relationship to another tobacco company’s 1910 The Aviator’s tobacco card put out by Tokio and Mezzin Cigarettes (owned by the United Cigar Stores Co.).

In that review, I noted how the initial pressing of the card called Hubert by the name of “Albert”… when in fact his first name was “Arthur”, but went by the name of Hubert. A later edition corrected the mistake.

What IS interesting, is that The Aviators card was released in 1910, a year ahead of the Wills’s card I am reviewing. Rare, indeed, is the time another company scooped Wills’s.

So… what did I find so very interesting about Mr. Latham? What about his aviation exploits captured my attention the most?

Actually… it was his death. A bit of a mystery, Latham was either murdered or gored during a buffalo attack.

Either way – pretty damn interesting…

Aviation-wise, Latham was initially famous because of failure.

  • He was the first person to attempt to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane – I said ATTEMPT;
  • Due to engine failure during his first of two attempts to cross the Channel, he became the first person to land an aeroplane on a body of water.

There’s actually some good news associated with Latham, however.

72r 001.jpgBorn in Paris, France to wealthy parents in the banking industry, Latham grew up in the lap of luxury. In fact, a great aunt on his mother’s side was the mother of German chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg (who took office in 1909).

Latham went to the University of Oxford for the school year of 1903/04, and then joined the French reservist military service for his military obligation.

On February 11-12, 1905, Latham flew in a hot-air balloon with his cousin, Jacques Faure, who was apparently a then-well-known balloonist. I suppose anyone who flew in anything at that time was considered well-known…

Latham and Faure completed a night crossing of the English Channel, traveling from London to Paris.

A couple of months later, Latham took part in a yacht race at the Monaco Regatta in April of 1905… a boat using an Antoinette motor.

Why is that mention of the Antoinette motor interesting?

Well, Latham entered the boat race because his cousin asked him too. His cousin was Jules Gastambide, who along with Léon Levavasseur invented the Antoinette engine, which became one of the mainstays of the early days of aviation.

Lots of namedropping so far.

In 1906 thru 1907, Latham led an expedition (with friends) to Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) to collect specimens for the Paris Natural History Museum.

In 1908, he traveled to the Far East before returning to France later that year.

Upon his return to Paris, Latham saw Wilbur Wright (of Wright Brothers fame) demonstrating his Wright Flyer in an effort to sell a fleet of the birds to the French Government.

Like damn near everyone on the planet, Latham thought these aeroplanes were cool, and decided he would find an aeroplane company to train him as their pilot.

D’uh… he selected the Antoinette company, a motor design and manufacture company started up in 1906 that provided an excellent power-to-weight ratio that made many an aircraft designer select their power plant.

In 1907, Antoinette decided it wanted to build its own aeroplanes… failing quite often in this regard until 1908 when the Antoinette aircraft was finally a successful flier and lander.

Latham joined the Antoinette company in February of 1909 (a good time, considering the planes were now adept at landing safely) tand learned to fly over several weeks from the company pilots’ Eugène Welféringer and René Demasnet.

Soon, with Antoinette joining forces with the French Army, they established the first military aircraft trials, a flight training school and workshop.

The school was run by Levavasseur’s brother-in-law Charles Wachter. The school’s training apparatus included the flight simulator, the Antoinette Trainer. It was built with a half-barrel mounted on a universal joint, with flight controls, pulleys, and stub-wings (poles) to allow the trainee to maintain balance while instructors applied external forces.


Years later, kids would plop a nickel into a machine for the same experience from the Antoinette Trainer.

As for Latham, once he got the hang of flying, he became the school’s principal instructor.

On August 17, 1909, Latham earned Aviator’s Certificate No. 9 by the Aéro-Club de France, because it’s always easier to earn respect from your students when it looks like you know what you are doing.

Latham pupils were:

  • Marie Marvingt (yes, spelled correctly), the first woman to fly combat missions as a bomber pilot and established air ambulance services throughout the world;
  • Infante Alfonso, Duke of Galliera, cousin of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and the first Spanish military pilot.

Success Through Failure
The thing is, we all fail sometimes, and so it was with Latham. As coach of a baseball team, I see failure with my young charges who are too inexperienced at this time, have dodgy advice given to them, and other things which suck the fun out of the game. While I am not responsible for that, because I’m in charge, I am ultimately responsible for things under me.

Latham didn’t have my troubles. His came from simply not having the best equipment available at that time – and not necessarily because of his skill… which may have been sparse, but he certainly had a lot of daring.

In May of 1909, Latham flew his Antoinette aircraft for 37-1/2 minutes… traveling at a speed of 72.4 kilometers per hour (45 miles per hour) and a height of 30 meters (98 feet).

Later that month Latham set the then-European non-stop flight record in an aeroplane flying for one-hours and seven minutes – which was close the what the Wright Brothers had achieved.

But it was what he did during the flight that gave him a first… something noteworthy – I suppose – he took his hands off the steering wheel, took a cigarette out, lit it and smoked it.

To me lighting the damn thing in the wind was the most impressive feat, but I suppose flying without his hands was also impressive… still… he was the first pilot to smoke a smoke while in the air.


While I would have preferred to have found the actual photo that inspired the art on the Wills’s tobacco card, here at least we get to see Latham in his outstanding tweed cap… and a cigarette between his lips.

However… what that did show everyone, was the stability of the Antoinette IV monoplane aircraft.

On June 6, 1909, Latham won the Prix Ambroise Goupy (Prize) for flying a straight-line course of six kilometers (3.73 miles) in four minutes and 13 seconds.

It was these achievements that convinced Antoinette’s Levavasseur that Latham was the company’s best pilot.

Also, because Latham could fly that Antoinette IV for over one hour, the company was convinced he could actually fly across the English Channel – something that had not yet been achieved in a heavier-than-air craft.

The British Daily Mail newspaper had put up a prize of £1,000 (US$5,000 1910) is someone could fly an aircraft across the English Channel.

So, on July 9, 1909 while in France, Latham wired the Daily Mail of his attempt o fly across the channel… except every time he was ready to fly, the weather was uncooperative.

While he waited for clear skies, a French-Russian pilot named Comte Charles de Lambert also told the Daily Mail that he would try and win the prize.

Camped a few miles away from where Latham had set up base near Calais, France, de Lambert prepped his two French-built Wright Flyer‘s (Nos. 2 and 18).

On July 19, Latham took off from Cap Blanc-Nez and flew over the waters of the English Channel… but suffered engine failure after only eight miles (12.88 kilometers).

Forced to ditch in the water, he became the first to land an aeroplane in the sea.

Again, because his undamaged aircraft remained afloat, Latham enjoyed a smoke while he waited for the French torpedo-destroyer Harpon that was following behind to pick him up.

But did the reliable Antoinette engine just conk out by itself? Later, Levavasseur says a bit of non-engine wire found inside had caused the failure…

Because the salvage operation of the Antoinette IV aeroplane caused more damage than the actual water-landing, Latham had another plane shipped from the Antoinette factory in Paris to his camp.

This new plane was the Antoinette VII – a plane so new it had never been officially tested in the air.

While Latham did get to test it once while waiting for more bad weather to relent, aviator Louis Blériot set up camp just under two miles (3.2 kilometers) away from Latham at Les Baraques and announced his intention to go for the prize in his Blériot XI monoplane.

Count de Lesseps,Glenn Hammond Curtiss,Hubert Latham on train platform circa 1910.jpg

(L-R) Count de Lesseps, Glenn Curtiss and Hubert Latham on a train platform,circa 1910.

What about de Lambert? He had damaged one of his Wright Flyers while testing them and decided to pull out of the competition.

Still… both Blériot and Latham had to wait a few more days until the crappy weather let up.

And this is where it sucks to be Latham.

At about 3AM on July 25, 1909, Blériot’s people saw a break in the weather and awoke him, prepped the plane and got him ready for a dawn take-off.

Latham and his team slept.

At dawn – 4:41AM on the dot because the Daily Mail prize rules said the flight had to begin and end during sun-up—Blériot took off…

Levavasseur woke up just in time to see Blériot’s aeroplane leaving the French coast and rushed to awaken Latham and crew, figuring there might be a chance they could catch him… or just in case Blériot himself had mechanical issues.

Ready to fly, the weather had changed to heavy winds and rain… stymieing Latham’s chase.

It didn’t matter… as Blériot was successful in his endeavor to cross the waters becoming the first to pilot a heavier-than-air craft over the English Channel… all while the competition was asleep at the proverbial switch.

Two days later, on July 27, 1909, Latham made a second attempt to cross the Channel… and mere minutes from his goal the Antoinette engine failed again.

Crashing on the waters, this time, he badly damaged the aeroplane and cut his forehead.


Latham atop his downed aeroplane in the English Channel on July 27, 1909.

While Latham wanted to make a third attempt, Antoinette said no… two aeroplanes lost, no chance of a prize or glory for the aeroplane factory… that was enough.

All The World’s A Stage
Besides, Levavasseur wanted to send the company’s aeroplanes and pilots to the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne on August 22–29, 1909 at Reims, France for the world’s first aeroplane (and balloon) competition.

During a speed competition, Latham in an Antoinette IV won second-place traveling the course at a speed of 68.9 kilometers per hour (42.8 miles per hour).

He then won and set a world record in the altitude contest – again in the Antoinette IV – achieving a height of 155 meters (509 feet).

In the Grand Prix event—which was flying the longest distance around a circuit in a single, uninterrupted flight—he flew two different planes, taking second-place in his Antoinette IV, and fifth-place in the Antoinette VII.


A French postcard of the day depicting Latham flying in his Antoinette IV at the Reims aviation meet in 1909.

Blackpool 1909
After becoming the first aviator to fly an aeroplane across the city of Berlin, Germany on September 27, 1909, Latham traveled to England.

At an aerial exhibition at Blackpool, England, on October 22, 1909, Latham set a speed mark… because he was flying in hurricane-like weather.

Although informed that it was too dangerous to fly when the wind was over 15 miles per hour (24.1 kilometers per hour), Latham took off and covered 13 kilometers (eight miles) in 11 minutes (in metric, it is also 11 minutes) in winds ranging between 37-64.4 kilometers per hour (23-40 miles per hour).

When he flew downwind he later estimated that his airspeed reached 160 kilometers (100 miles per hour) during the flight. I doubt he could have lit a cigarette in that wind.

Still, the most amusing thing that occurred during the flight was his backwards flying.

Flying directly into a headwind, a very strong burst of wind actually seemed to blow him backwards… and was reported as the first time people ever saw an aeroplane fly in reverse.

Why would Latham risk all in this manner? It turns out that the previous evening had him dining with a cousin of the Russian Tsar (in metric that’s written as Czar – LOL), and apparently he promised the royal and his wife that he would fly on the morrow.

This, apparently, is when the newspapers of the day first called Latham the “King of the Air“.

The Air Up There
Despite the ups and downs of Latham’s aviation career, he was much beloved by the people and the media.

Besides being a skilled and daring aviator—and coming from a well-to-do family, meaning that despite his youth, he could speak to royalty and talk not only about aviation, but of his global travels—Latham continued to fly and achieve greatness.

On January 7, 1910, in Mourmelon-le-Grand, France (if it appears that I know anything about France, I humbly state that I do not), Latham set another altitude record, flying to 1,100 meters (3,600 feet)… which broke his own world altitude record by more than 610 meters (2,000 feet)… in fact, his altitude achievement was so great that it bested any other CLAIMS of altitude records by others who did so without proper measuring devices.

Actually… does anyone know—recorded fact—of just HOW early aeroplane pilots of pre-1913 vintage measured altitude? People talk about world records, but how was it to be proven? Was it just an aneroid or mercury barometer?

In July of 1910, Latham was at it again… this time at the second Semaine de l’Aviation de la Champagne at Reims, France setting another altitude record of 1,384 meters (4,541 feet).

And, despite his guesstimate while flying downwards during gale-force winds achieving 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour), on April 23, 1910 at Nice, France, Latham set the world speed record of 77.548 kilometers per hour (48.186 miles per hour) in an Antoinette VII.

Later in November of 1910, Latham was at the Baltimore (Maryland, USA) Air Show where he also took part in a special demo just for the US government and military—showing off how aeroplanes could be war machines against land and sea targets.

To prove it, exercises were created whereby pilots would simulate bombing runs by dropping bags of flour onto targets… Latham dropped one right down a battleship funnel. Of course, this sort of thing wouldn’t come into vogue for another few years… and it involved pilots dropping one-handed, small bombs and darts down at things such as zeppelins and other military targets.

A month later in December 23 of 1910 in Los Angeles, U.S.A. at a meet, Latham was asked by a rich dude if he wanted to come to his estate and try and shoot some wild ducks from the air.

Not having done that before, Latham was game. That’s a joke there. Ha. Anyhow… Latham did, and was thus the very first person to shoot (two) birds from a moving (in the air) aircraft.

Latham's Duck Hunt.jpg

A clipping from the Los Angeles Herald newspaper of December 24, 1910, of Hubert Latham’s duck hunt from an aeroplane – photo via the U.S. Library of Congress.

Did you know, that if you are flying forwards at 30MPH, and you turn and fire backwards at a target, the bullet moves slower than if you had fired forwards? In fact, if the bullet from the gun shot BACKWARDS was shot at 30 MPH, the bullet would have 0 MPH relative speed…. and if you were able to stand on a cloud, you would see the bullet spin in place until it lost its energy, drop to the ground and kill a duck floating on a pond. You only think I’m joking…. but apparently the physics are correct.

One of the two ducks shot by Latham STILL resides at the Latham family home—still owned by members of the Latham family—a home called Château de Maillebois.

A day after the duck hunt, and still at the LA aeroplane meet, Latham crashed his plane when trying to land after a flight. Wind gusts were stronger than he anticipated, and blew him hard into a hillside. He was shook up, but otherwise unhurt.

But the same could not be said about his next crash in early 1911 when, back in England at the Brooklands field, he was flying and showing off his piloting skills and his plane’s acrobatic capabilities.

Here’s what author Harry Harper in his book Riders of the Sky (p. 56. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.) wrote:

“Latham threw his machine about in the air in a way that made fellow airmen gasp. They had never seen anything like it before. But in making one final manoeuvre he misjudged by a matter of inches his height above a shed. One of his wing-tips just touched the roof. Instantly there came a devastating crash. A huge cloud of dust arose. And then the monoplane could be seen hanging – a mass of wreckage – on the top of the roof. It seemed almost certain that Latham must have been killed. The impact had appeared so tremendous – the crash so complete. But suddenly, amid the drifting dust clouds, a slight, dapper figure could be seen disengaging itself from the battered fuselage, and lowering itself deftly to an undamaged part of the roof. Then out came that inevitable cigarette case, and Latham sat there smoking till someone arrived with a ladder.”

Why had some tobacco company NOT signed this guy up?! “Remaining cool under pressure – Hubert Latham loves his XXX cigarettes.”

Apparently The Sky Has A Limit
Antoinette’s aeroplanes were fine machines—just not as popular as say anything built by Curtiss or Bleriot.

The Antoinette motor was also a fine power plant… but challenges from Gnome and automobile manufacturers were hitting the company hard.

In the Autumn of 1911, Antoinette built the Military monoplane known as the Monobloc or Antoinette blindé  – which translates to the Antoinette ‘armored‘.


Apparently even in the infancy of aviation, the future was now.

Apparently it was designed and built according to what the Ministry of War of France wanted. Very much ahead of its time, by the looks of the image above.

With Latham as the pilot, they entered it in the military trials staged at Reims in October of 1911—competing against 10 other companies and their 10 machines.

Problem #1: Antoinette was running late… finishing the plane just in time for the trials, but without enough time for a test flight.

Problem #2: It had cantilever wings, without any bracing wires, and the aircraft featured spats to enclose the landing gear struts. Metal covered the entire aircraft.

Problem #3: It was powered by a standard Antoinette V-8 water-cooled piston engine pushing out 50 horsepower.

In two attempts at flight during the military trials, the aircraft failed to leave the ground owing to its under-performing 50 horsepower motor…

It would seem as though the Antoinette company spent too much time developing and manufacturing aircraft but not enough time in expanding on the capabilities of what it was first and best known for—its motors.

Failing to garner a military contract was the last straw for Antoinette… it closed its doors for good one month later.

Latham, was out of work, but not for long—only this time it was not as an aviator.

Loyal Order Of The Water Buffaloes
At the end of December 1911, Latham left France to undertake an expedition to travel into the French Congo.

Ahhh colonialism. North, Central and South America are certainly branded by its mark… and the same can be said for the colonialists of Holland, England, Spain, Portugal et al—though I’m quite sure it’s better if you were the ones doing the colonizing.

No one is sure just what Latham’s official role was to be there in the French Congo, but it has been suggested that France wanted several airfields built, and that he was sent to gauge the conditions of the various sites chosen and report on such to the French Colonial Office.

At some point—perhaps June 25, 1912, Latham died.

He was, as mentioned earlier either mauled by a wounded water buffalo (I shall call him henceforth call the murdering cattle, Gord. LOL. What? Too soon?)… which was/is the official cause of death… which is only weird because Latham was an experienced hunter (bagged two ducks while flying an aeroplane, right?

Failing that, Latham was also considered and expert wild game hunter… so… trampled by a wounded water buffalo… it’s possible. Very possible, because a wounded animal is highly unpredictable… but likely? Conspiracy power – activate!


This is a Lake Chad Buffaloa, aka a water buffalo from Chad… it certainly looks like if you didn’t kill it the first time, there would be no second chance. Could Latham’s rifle have jammed? Could he have missed? Could he have hit it and merely wounded it? Or, was there some other nefarious plot afoot.

In 1914, two years after his passing, an anonymously-written newspaper article stated that the adjutant-commandant of a French Colonial Army fort located just outside Fort Archambault—the man who found and brought back Latham’s body—saw a head wound about Latham… and definitely NO corresponding water buffalo marks on him, or signs on the ground that there ever was a charging buffalo.

As well, the article cites without citing that there were conflicting reports from the porters accompanying Latham who were questioned at the time of Latham’s reported death.

The anonymous article writer suggests that maybe Latham wasn’t run down by a buffalo, but was instead murdered by a porter—the article of the day suggest that he was murdered for his rifles…

But where was the proof?

This is always tricky stuff. Who wrote this? Did anyone other then Mr. Anonymous ever ask the adjutant-commandant of A (not THE) French Colonial Army fort if his statement was indeed correct.

Still… there are also the written records left by Latham himself of his final days in Africa.

In his notes, Latham expressed concern over the way his own team of bearers/porters was acting, also mentioning that the whole area was rife with violence.

So… how come the inquiry into Latham’s death did not allow for his own words to play a role in the death dilemma?


  1. we have Latham wondering aloud about the natives getting restless (could also be colonial racism on his part);
  2. a newspaper account mentioning that the guy who found the body saw no evidence of a buffalo bashing (who wrote this account – and did anyone fact-check with him to confirm its validity?)
  3. Murdered for his rifles? Apparently guns don’t kill people, buffalo do.

There’s a way to have checked the veracity of that statement, of course – just dig up the body… and see if there’s any evidence of crushed bones from being run over by a buffalo.

I would assume that a buffalo trampling would leave evidence on the bones (even if the flesh had been eaten away). I’m assuming skin showing a wound would be decomposed, but what do I know of the preservation of human bodies in the hot clime of Chad? It depends, right? That’s why I just feel it would have been more prudent to  examine the skeletal remains… which could still be done today, if they still exist and were not cremated…

The problem is, that someone already dug up the bones.

Originally buried in Fort Lamy (now N’djamena, capital city of Chad), Latham was NOT transported home to France. At least not immediately.

French colonial law of the day, did not allow the remains of the deceased (Latham) to be returned home for ONE full year after the death.

And so, only on January of 1914, nearly one-and-a-half years after his untimely death, Latham’s mom had her son disinterred from Fort Lamy and shipped back to France and into the family plot.

Never having been married, Latham left no direct descendants.

Hubert Latham monument.jpg

Not his grave, but a monument honoring Hubert Latham – seen here in a circa 1940 photo with German troops posing beneath it at its near-Calais, France location… showing that 28 years after his death, even the enemy respected his aviation skills and daring-do.

But… again, if his skeletal remains were simply re-interred in the family crypt or buried in a coffin in the family plot… if the skeleton still exists… might not 2017 forensic examiners be able to determine if Latham was murdered or simply died by misadventure?

I know what I would do…

Posted in Aeroplane Factories, Air Shows, Firsts, Flying Schools, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Myth, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Airplane Chair

L'Aviation bergère chair.jpgMy friend Vincent sent me this photo with a line or two accompanying it, practically daring me not to go ahead and write 2,000 words on the subject because he feels I am OCD-like.

To clarify, I write a lot because I feel—when I search for information on the Internet—it should provide enough information so that any question I can come up with on the subject matter should be found there.

Nothing irks me more than to read four inches of copy on-line or in a magazine or newspaper, and realize that basic information was left out.

Having worked in the newspaper industry and currently work in the magazine industry, I understand that sometimes there really is not enough room for every factoid.

But on-line? That’s just lazy reporting or lazy writing.

So I try and find out as much about a topic as I can, knowing that if I can ask a question and find the answer wanting, then so can you. Why would I do that to anyone else? That would just be hypocritical.

So… what we have here is something called L’Aviation bergere.

We can all figure out that it’s the Aviation – something…

But what the heck is a bergere?

It is, according to Wikipedia, a bergere is an enclosed, upholstered French armchair,  featuring an upholstered back and armrests on upholstered frames—but the framing is exposed (wood is showing).

L’Aviation bergère was designed in 1923 by Paul Follot, after a similar design by Robert Bonfils (1886-1972).

It was manufactured Tapisserie des Gobelins in Paris, with a wood frame constructed by L’École Boulle of Paris.

The chair is made of gilt wood, wool and silk upholstery.

On loan from the Mobilier National (Paris), the chair is on loan to the Cooper Hewitt Museum, in Room 206, as part of its The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s.

Photo credit: {{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/907218809/ |title=Bergere, L’Aviation, 1922–25 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=11 August 2017 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>

But since the link is messy, let me just directly link you back Cooper Hewitt and the Smithsonian Design Musiem: https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/907218809/images/

What does this have to do with pioneers of aviation? Not much…

I can’t even say that people everywhere were interested in the industry – some were, but most weren’t.

While I wouldn’t find it very comfortable, and am sure I would have thought it garish in 1923, too… I find myself liking it for its upholstery and aviation themed design.

Nyahh. Short. Thanks, though.

Posted in Aviation Art, Heavier-Than-Air | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #71 – The late Mr. John B. Moisant.

71f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: The late Mr. John B. Moisant.

Card #71 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • John Bevins Moisant, in Kankakee, Illinois, United States of America on April 25, 1868 – December 31, 1910 in Harahan, Louisiana, United States of America.

When I purchased this card of John B. Moisant, and realized I wanted to do a blog of some sort on these Wills’s Aviation cards (honestly, originally, I was just going to scan the front and back of each card, post the title and leave it at that), I was extremely curious.

Why would this guy—a guy I’ve never heard of—be granted a posthumous card in the set?

He was obviously famous enough at the time some 105 years ago… but is nowadays a mere footnote in the Wikipedia of time.

71r 001.jpgFull disclosure… of the eight websites at the top of Google with Moisant as the focus, the one thing they could all be sure of, is that not one presented the data in such a way as to there being a consensus on just what John B. Moisant was all about.

While disappointing for myself and you the reader, I wonder how the late John B. Moisant would have thought of it all… probably as such: “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Or maybe not exaggerated enough.

Points to consider:

For a guy who died when anyone who flew an aeroplane was a hero, Moisant was given such grandiose titles as “King of Aviators”. I don’t know who gave him that title… Maybe himself? How did he earn it, and if he was all that, why does no one still consider him to be all that and a bag of chips?

Born in Kankakee, Illinois… I’ve been to Kankakee, Illinois… many times in fact… staying at my buddy’s apartment so we could both attend (as comic book creators) the Wizard World Chicago comic book convention.

Yes… before I entered the legitimate world of blogging about history—always a money maker—I wrote comic books in my spare time—always a money maker.

Let’s face it… if I ever became a writer because I saw it as an opportunity to make money, I have long since changed my mind.

Let’s see… what’s cool about John Moisant?

  • He was the first pilot to fly passengers over a city (Paris)… yawn…
  • First to carry passengers across the English Channel from Paris to London… yeah, yeah…
  • Founded a flying circus… It’s… a big whoop. Monty Python reference in there.
  • Created the world’s first aluminum body airplane – interesting – but it wasn much of a flyer… awwww.
  • Taught his sister Matilde Moisant how to fly, making her the second ever American woman to earn her pilot’s license. Second… even for woman’s rights… meh. That may be 2017-male thinking there. Still… second… and second-American. Not even in the top 10 globally… meh. But there is a bit more to this story.

Matilde Moisant – the second American woman to fly. More below…

Almost all the stories surrounding him seem to end with he and his plane crashing… interesting…

  • Sometimes flew with his pet cat, Mademoiselle Fifi… getting warmer, doc… he seems to be a bit of a character, right? And the cat’s cute. Awwwwwww.

I tawt I taw a puddy tat. John Moisant with Madamoiselle Fifi perched on his shoulder like a pirate’s parrot.

  • He has an international airport essentially named after him? Winner-winner-chicken dinner. That’s cool.
  • Hmm… led two revolutions and a coup in El Salvador… even though his family are transplanted French Canadians to Kankakee, Illinois… Ding-Ding-Ding!!!! We have a superstar winner! French Canadian Americans trying to overthrow the government of El Salvador! Even if you don’t know where El Salvador is on a map, you know you want to know more.

Ha! … an American interfering in international politics? That never happens! LOL! And wanting to use the new fangled invention called the aeroplane to exact revenge on a foreign power – that’s like something out of a spy-thriller.

Let’s see if we can uncover just who this international man of mystery is… no promises.

Wanna know just how confusing things are about Moisant’s life?

The Wikipedia entry says he was born in L’Erable, Illinois, but on the same page and in the little boxes section on the Top Right, it says he was born in Kankakee, Illinois.

So… which is it… Kankakee or L’Erable?

What got me, were the various websites decreeing Moisant was born in Chicago, such as the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum… but that’s a heck of a distance away in 2017… more so in 1868, considering Chicago didn’t have as much urban sprawl as it does now in 2017, and the only way to get there was by horse, horse and buggy, and ox cart.

Since I’ve never heard of L’Erable, and have been to Kankakee, I’m going with the latter.

Hmm… now Wikipedia also states that by 1880, the Mosiant family was living in Manteno, Illionois, which is nowadays a part of Kankakee County, Illinois.

That made me actually look up L’Erable… and lo and behold it is south of Kankakee, and is actually within Kankakee County.

As well, it is documented that a whole lot of French Canadians came to live in the Kankakee Valley area back in 1853.

And lo, the blog is off to an incredible limp.

As mentioned, Moisant’s folks appear to have been French-Canadian immigrants… which is interesting in itself…

But as one of eight Moisant children, John was also the youngest of four brothers.

Wikipedia only notes seven kids (including Moisant)… so… seven kids (Wikipedia) or eight kids (Smithsonian)?

Considering the Smithsonian site says Chicago as Moisant’s birthplace… do we still want to put too much stock in anything else they have to say here about Moisant?

I know… it’s the bloody Smithsonian! But if they were lax on one bit of information… do I trust the rest of the information on the same topic?

No… no I don’t.

While the Smithsonian website has a wonderful photo of Moisant and his cat, NOT ONCE does it make reference to the cat in the accompanying article… in other words there is no context for that photo in the entire article. I’ll leave that alone… except that I’m going to write about that darn cat (©Disney).

So… let’s get on with it.

After Moisant’s parents passed away, the kids got together and in 1896 bought a coffee plantation in El Salvador…. because sure, that’s what I would do… except maybe it would be a cheese-making business in England.

BUT… Wikipedia shows that the Moisant mother passed away in 1901… so… they didn’t wait until the parents died… but may have waited until their father died and left their mother behind, OR, Wikipedia is wrong and the mother may have died at some time of 1896 or earlier.

In Wikipedia’s favor, however is the fact that it cites where it got its information:
“United States Census, 1880,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MXVS-G6M : accessed 29 May 2013), John Moisant in entry for Medore Moisant, 1880. Medore Moisant is the name of the Moisant’s father … born 1839, died who the heck knows when.

You would think that with John Moisant having once been a well-known public aviation figure, someone in the media might actually have sat down with him and interviewed him good and proper.

So…  some confusion as to when the Moisant siblings bought the farm after one or both of the parents bought the farm (died) – we do know that they had a farm in El Salvador.

It was in 1907, however, that John Moisant’s two oldest brothers were arrested in El Salvador on charges that they were plotting to overthrow the country’s new president Fernando Figueroa.


General Fernando Figueroa was president of El Salvador from March 1, 1907 to March 1, 1911.

While I can’t claim to know if that’s true or not, the Smithsonian article says that the charges were “cooked up after the Moisant brothers refused to give bribes to the corrupt regime.”

That article says that while the US government didn’t want to get involved on their behalf, John Moisant got ticked off enough to free them himself.

A rich man, Moisant went to neighboring Nicaragua—apparently always at odds with El Salvador—and hired 300 fighters and a gunboat… and in his first invasion attempt on June 11, 1907, were turned back by El Salvador fighters.

Apparently, the initial attack was going so well that some of the hired hands began to argue amongst themselves about who would run El Salvador next…

Apparently the argument was so fierce that the tide began to change, with Figueroa’s forces gaining the upper hand forcing Moisant to flee on a boat.

Victory in hand, but still incensed, because some dumb American tried to take out Figueroa, El Salvador el presidente put a bounty out on John Moisant, and then scheduled an actual execution date for his two captive brothers.

Executing Americans? Never, suh.

U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt got involved and warned the El Salvador president that there would be trouble if the Moisant brothers were executed. Real trouble.

Not wanting a fight with the U.S., El Salvador released the brothers and stopped harassing the family—except for John, who was told he was not welcome in the country for his part in organizing the failed coup.

While Moisant set up shop in the banking industry in neighboring Guatemala, he was still angry with Figueroa.

After learning about the new invention called an aeroplane, Moisant concocted the brilliant idea that he would get an aeroplane, learn to fly the aeroplane, and then use the aeroplane to kill Figueroa.

That sounds sane.

I have no idea if that means merely using the aeroplane to get to Figueroa, or to drop darts down onto him, or to fire a gun from the flying craft? Whatever… he apparently had a plan.

In a completely different vein, Wikipedia says that Nicaragua president José Santos Zelaya López asked Moisant to go to France to find out all he could about aeroplanes.

Which one is real? I would think that the former is more correct… why would the Nicaraguan president be in communique with Moisant who was living in Guatemala? If there was such an admiration, why would Moisant be living in Nicaragua – he’d be living in Guatemala.

Okay… what we do know is that John Moisant traveled to France and attended the the Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne air show in Reims, France in August 1909.

After seeing this grand aviation event—the world’s first aviation meet—Moisant drew up his own aircraft design and had a manufacturer build it for him. Really. Apparently it was just that easy.

Wikipedia says it was built in August of 1909, but really… the Reims aviation event only ended on August 29, 1909. Did someone really build him an aircraft in two days? No.

Can’t I just get a simple history to present?

Whenever it was completed, the first aeroplane was/is known as the Moisant Biplane aka L’Ecrevisse… and built by workers from Clement-Bayard.

Moisant actually didn’t call his aircraft an aeroplane… he called it an aluminoplane.


The L’Ecrevisse—in English it means The Crayfish—was built entirely from aluminum and steel… which makes it the first-ever all-metal aircraft… but can we really call it that considering it didn’t actually fly?

The aircraft used a new (and powerful) 50 horsepower Gnome motor – and still the entire aircraft weighed only 176 pounds (80 kilograms).

Finished in February of 1910, on its inaugural flight Moisant took it up for some 90 feet in altitude…

I want to point out at this time, that Moisant had never taken a flying lesson before.

So, are any of us surprised that he crashed?

Even though the plane flew—80 miles an hour (128.8 kilometers per hour), since he did not make a safe landing, I feel it’s not an official flight.

That speed – that height – Moisant panicked when he was airborne, and cut the motor – which was why it crashed. Moisant was able to walk away from the crash.

Even before that flight, Moisant began construction on the Moisant Monoplane, known as Le Corbeau, which translates in English as The Crow… which is a hell of lot better than the crayfish, which I’m sure has only ever seen air time when people like me fly a forkful of its meat into our mouth.


The Moisant Monoplane – in this instance flown by Harriet Quimby – the first American woman to earn her pilot’s license. After her certification, she joined the Moisant International Aviators, an exhibition team. With the Moisant group she traveled to Mexico and became the first woman to fly over Mexico City.

Le Corbeau monoplane was completed using some of the parts from the wrecked Moisant Biplane, but even still… perhaps channeling its aerodynamics from a real crayfish, The Crow was unable to fly for any length of time.

While Moisant never designed another aircraft himself, he did decide to finally get some professional flying lessons. in the Spring of 1910 from the Blériot School, headed by famed pilot Louis Blériot in France.

Moisant gained his Aéro-Club de France pilot’s license, and then essentially transferring it to the Aero Club of America, gaining the distinction of being the US’s lucky 13th licensed pilot.

After purchasing a Blériot XI aeroplane, on just his third ever flight, on August 9, 1910, Moisant flew from Étampes to Issy-les-Moulineaux over Paris, landing the aircraft at the starting line of the Le Circuit de l’Est aerial time trial circuit.

On the plane with him was his mechanic, which was actually the very first passenger flight over a city—any city—that’s cool! I’m thinking cool for 1910.

However, because it was still only his third ever flight, the Aéro-Club de France stated that he was too inexperienced to be taking part in the Le Circuit de l’Est competition it was holding.

No big deal, to underscore his inexperience, Moisant took off again and flew over the city with Roland Garros as his passenger, making him the second person to ever fly over a city with a passenger in an aeroplane. Yeah – take that Aéro-Club de France.

Continuing to thumb his nose at the Aéro-Club de France, a week later on August 17, 1910—his sixth flight as a pilot—Moisant flew across the English Channel…as the first to do so with a passenger, namely his mechanic Albert Fileux, and with Mademoiselle Fifi… his cat.

But was this actually Madamoiselle Fifi? Yes… Just before his flight with Fileux across the English Channel (do the French call it the French Channel?), an engineer presented Moisant with a cat… a cat that Moisant called Paree-Londres in honor of his attempt.

I’m unsure when it happened, but upopn arrival in France and chatting with the media, Moisant revealed the flight’s furry companion as Mademoiselle Fifi… a much better cat name than Paree-Londres. Perhaps if Moisant had deigned to call the cat Puree-Londres, I would have told him to keep that name.

Here’s a video from YouTube showing Moisant’s Paris to London flight in 1910:

How can you not love a guy who decides to bring his cat on a flight across waters where no one has ever flown an aeroplane successfully before with a passenger?

Now that he’s flown with a cat, how can Moisant top himself?

Tough really…

As an American, the media there picked up on his exploits and mere days after the English Channel crossing begged him to attend an aviation event in Belmont, New York, USA… wanting him to lead the charge of American fliers against the leading French.

So… he agreed to represent America… hmm… do you think that Moisant (pronounced as the French would as Moy-zahn – originally of French Canadian stock, right?) was now being pronounced as Moy-zint in a more American format? I doubt it, but it’s fun to think.

Upon arrival back in the U.S. on October 8, Moisant happily chatted up the media about all things aeronautical, but refused to discuss his role as revenge seeker or usurper in El Salvador.

He discussed that aeroplanes would one day be a key point of war, and that people would one day use aeroplanes the way they currently used automobiles.

While eventually correct on both counts, this ability to engage the press had them following him around waiting for him to say something exciting.

Being excited was not just limited to social media, it also extended to his flying habit… his desire to constantly perform and push the envelope to be at the forefront of the media… well… it may have led to more than a few rash decisions.

For example, on October 22, 1910 at the Belmont Aviation Meet in Belmont, NY, while other aviators feared the wet and windy conditions that plagued the event’s first few days, Moisant braved the elements and earned the media and crowd’s respect by heading up to perform stunts for the gathered faithful.

For most in the crowd, this was their first time to see an aeroiplane fly–and rain or shine, Moisant wasn’t going to disappoint.

This “bravado” rung hollow amongst his more experienced flying compatriots who thought him foolhardy.

Heck, one of the Wright Brother’s top pilots—Walter Brookins—called Moisant’s flight across the English Channel foolish: “He’s lucky he didn’t break his neck… an aviator must acquire a fine judgment of direction, of speed and of distance.”

I have no doubt that Brookins was correct, but to say so after the fact just smacks of jealousy. Moisant was brave enough mostly because he didn’t know what he could and shouldn’t do in an aeroplane. Dumb luck sometimes is enough.

At the Belmont Park aviation meet, when it came to the speed events, Moisant knew that his under-powered 50 horsepower Blériot XI aeroplane couldn’t compete against the 100 horsepower motors on the other French and British aeroplanes in the competition…

Instead… he went for the glory… a $10,000 Statue of Liberty Race—a round-trip flight from Belmont Park to the Statue of Liberty…

While the safe route was to fly over the land and the coastline—a distance of 66 miles, the more direct route was 33 miles, but would take an aviator across the heavily populated area of Brooklyn.

Wilbur Wright would not let any of the Wright Brothers’ pilots to compete in this type of a race over a populated city, saying: “While it is an aviator’s own business whether he decides or not to risk his own neck, he has no right to endanger the lives of others.”

As the first to create a heavier-than-air flying machine, when either of the Wright Brother’s spoke, it carried a lot of weight.

Only three aviators decided to enter the Statue of Liberty challenge: British pilot Claude Graham-White; French rich guy Count Jacques de Lesseps; and our man Moisant.

The popular Graham-White had won the International Aviation Cup the day earlier on October 29, 1910.

I’m unsure if the numbers are higher than a presidential inauguration, but newspapers offer up an approximate one million spectators on hand in the streets to watch the racers pass overhead.

Pilots de Lesseps, Graham-White and Moisant took off in that staggered order, with de Lesseps finishing the route in 41 minutes; Graham-White in 35 minutes; and Moisant in 34 minutes 38 seconds.

U-S-A! U-S-A!

Of those one million spectators in attendance, Moisant’s sister, Matilde, was… er… spectating.

Perhaps because she was hanging around her brother John, another female spectator felt comfortable in coming over to chat—that woman was Harriet Quimby.

The experience must have been fantastic for Quimby, because she and Matilde Moisant decided they wanted to learn how to fly – and were perhaps even encouraged by John Moisant to try.

Women, of that era, were not seen as equals to men, so the notion of a female pilot was, I am sure, more than amusing to other aviators and even pilot training schools who probably would not want the social stigma of being known as the “school that trains female pilots.”

Ridiculous thinking, in my opinion, even for the time… just what is it about flying an airplane is it that a woman could not do as well as a man? If your answer is anything other than “nothing” please do not feel the need to “inform me.”

Taking part in John Moisant’s flying school Quimby learned the ropes of aviation, achieving on August 1, 1911 her Aero Club of America aviator’s certificate.


Harriet Quimby in 1911. That’s a lot of leather…

Not to be outdone—though she was—Matilde Moisant quickly got hers next to become the second certified female pilot.

Anyhow, after the stellar win at the Belmont, NY event, John Moisant and his brother Alfred formed the Moisant International Aviators flying circus and toured across the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. As part of a flying circus – just know its less about silly walks and more about daredevil flying.

That’s all there is to say about the Belmont event… except there was this problem…

It was (much) later ruled that Moisant had started the race after the official time, and so he was disqualified and stripped of the winning.

That meant that the second-fasted pilot and plane Graham-White won the prize. Yay.

But wait. It was then discovered that Graham-White had also committed some egregious foul during the race, and was himself disqualified.

And the ultimate winner of the $10,000 prize… the slowest aviator… French rich guy Count Jacques de Lesseps.

I’m sure the information is out there, but I can not tell you IF Moisant was asked to return the prize money… because I’m assuming it was already invested in the Moisant International Aviators flying circus

On December 30, 1910, in New Orleans, he raced his Blériot XI five miles (eight kilometers) against a Packard automobile, but lost.

I don’t suppose that’s anything like a boxer fighting a bear or a swimmer racing a virtual shark…

On December 31, 1910, Moisant got up early to try and claim the $4,000 prize for the longest flight of the year—the longest flight without landing—and soon took off and performed a few aerial stunts for the crowd… and then… while flying to the Michelin Cup endurance race at City Park in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S…. as he approached the race’s starting point at Harahan, Louisiana… well…

Preparing to land at the Harahan landing site, a gust of wind caught his aeroplane throwing him from his Blériot XI as people watched.

Although he only fell about 25 feet, he landed on his head and broke his neck.

Because he was still alive, he was moved to a nearby railway car to be taken in to the city… where he was pronounced dead. Having watched a beloved cat of mine break her neck, I can only tell you that—without moving her—she lasted about 45 seconds before expiring. It was a long 45 seconds. I can only imagine in Moisant’s case, that if he wasn’t already going to die, moving him without a modern-day stretcher board would probably have killed him.

The official explanation for Moisant’s accident was that the aircraft’s equilibrium was lost in the wind’s gust thanks to an extra load of gasoline placed on the aircraft in anticipation of the long-distance flight attempt.

John Moisant was buried at the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. His body was later moved to the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation, also in Los Angeles.

You’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you?

Tell you what… the next time you fly into Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, hoist a glass to the late John Moisant.

You are, after all, in the airport originally named after him.

Yup… they named an airport after a guy who died in an aeroplane crash. It sounds wrong, to be frank…

The area where the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport sits, well, it was originally named Moisant Field in honor of Moisant whose plane crashed in that area of land. Creepy.

What’s really cool, however, is that Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport still has the original airport identifier: MSY… which is supposed to stand for Moisant Stock Yards… also named in honor of Moisant… but located where Moisant’s plane crash actually took place.

I’m guessing that it was Moisant Field, then Moisant Stock Yards and then Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. I’ve read a Wikipedia page on this, and it confuses me.

Anyhow… Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport’s call sign is in honor of a dead aviator who crashed in the area, but is actually in honor of a stock yard where they killed thousands of cattle. MSY.

(By the way) Toronto’s Pearson International Airport… it’s call sign is YYZ… a famous song by Canadian rock group Rush. The frenetic bass line in the song is Morse Code for Y-Y-Z.

I only mention this because ONE of the few international destinations handled by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport IS Toronto… where I live… even though the airport isn’t IN Toronto. Neither is Tokyo International – that’s in Chiba.

Anyone know any others?

Posted in Air Shows, Airfields, Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airplane Industry Going To The Dogs

pilot-dog_15004882932729.jpgI found the image above… thought it was funny and cute and all that “awwww” stuff.

Back to the hardcore research in the next blog.

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Hobey Baker: Hockey’s Most Famous “Flyer”

  • Hobey Baker HOF card 1985Hobart Amory Hare “Hobey” Baker: January 15, 1892 in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, United States of America – December 21, 1918 Toul, France.

This one isn’t a tobacco card, but it is about someone I found while surfing down rabbit hole after rabbit hole on the internet.

With apologies to Bob (Bobby) Clarke, Dave The Hammer Shultz, and Kate Smith, the most famous hockey-playing flyer isn’t a Flyer from Philadelphia.

He’s a gentleman from the same State of Pennsylvania, U.S., but one who lived and died long before Philadelphia ever got a National Hockey League franchise… and I’m not even talking about the Flyers in 1967-68 to present, or the Quakers of 1930-31.

Because I’m sure you have already read the headline, and the birth date information, there’s no need for me to build up the introduction… let’s talk about Hobey Baker.

That card above comes from the 1985 Hockey Hall Of Fame series… I once showed Montreal Canadiens great Henri Richard his card from the set, asking him to sign it… and he said he had never seen it before. It’s not rare, but I just thought it an amusing story I could tell here.

Considered to be one of the top American ice hockey players during the early part of the 20th century, Baker was also a very good American football player… and a heroic inspiration for one of America’s most beloved authors—F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote among many things The Great Gatsby.

Because I am a huge hockey fan, I certainly have heard of the Hobey Baker Award as an annual distinction given out to the best university hockey player in an American university (the hockey version of football’s Heisman Trophy)… and despite my love of hockey and its history, I admit to not knowing much about Baker, or his role in the early days of aviation.

Not considered a big man by today’s standards, Baker stood 5’-9” (1.75m) and 161 lbs (73 kg) soaking wet.

While his size would still be considered more than acceptable in the National Hockey League up until the mid-1970s, I have no idea how he survived playing football – even though it was more than 100 years ago.

Baker’s family was fairly rich and important within the Philadelphia area. His dad was wealthy upholsterer Alfred Thornton Baker (you can get rich doing that??!!), and his mom a socialite by the name Mary Augusta Pemberton.

One of Baker’s ancestors was Francis Rawle, a Quaker who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1688 and became one of its wealthiest citizens. Quakers… and Philadelphia… that ties in nicely with the NHL team.

Baker was named after his uncle, Dr. Hobart Amory Hare, who was the obstetrician at his birth and president of the Jefferson Medical Hospital in Philadelphia. And yet, the folks could have just given Hobey the names Hobart Amory… but Hare, as well?

When Baker was 11, he and his 12-year-old brother Thornton attended St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, U.SA.

It was at this school that Baker first saw and tried hockey. The coach there was
Malcolm Gordon, one of the first people to help develop hockey in the U.S.

Not hard to miss, Baker was applauded by Gordon and teammates for his lightning quick skating and ability to move with the puck – both of which he honed with extra skating on local frozen ponds late at night.

By the time he was 14, Baker was playing on the school’s varsity (essentially top high school team for older kids)… and his play helped St. Paul’s beat some of the best prep schools and universities in the United States.

Yes… universities.

The kid was on fire. Every sport he touched, he excelled in… whether it was the school’s annual cross-country race which he entered for a lark and ended up winning, playing his first ever round of golf on the school’s nine-hole cross and shooting a low 40s… by the time he was 15, Baker was NAMED the school’s best athlete – playing hockey, football, baseball, tennis, swimming, and track.

Because Baker’s dad lost a lot of money during the so-called Panic of 1907, only one of the Baker boys could be afforded the opportunity to go on to university in 1909.

Older brother Thornton (who could have gone in 1908) told his father that Hobey should be the one to go to university—a sacrifice worthy of a tear-jerker movie.

Still… Baker, an above-average student, stayed an extra year at St. Paul so that his dad could save up more money for his son’s university, graduating from high school in the summer of 1910.

Attending the New Jersey, U.S.-based ivy league Princeton University (I’m sure that Baker COULD have gone to a less prestigious and thus less expensive university… ), he joined the school’s hockey, football, and baseball teams in his freshman year.

The university’s rules stated that students could only play two varsity sports, so Baker played outfield for the freshman baseball team before he gave up that sport to focus on hockey and football.

Baker’s father was a halfback for the Princeton football team in the 1880s… and while I can’t say what Baker’s grandfather did, it is known that he attended Princeton as well. I guess that was why it was important for Baker to also attend.

While football helmets were beginning to come into vogue in the 1910s, it was still a macho sport where most did not use one… and Baker and his flowing blond locks were no exception earning him the moniker of the “the blond Adonis of the gridiron” by Philadelphia sportswriters. See photo below to see why.



Hobey Baker on the Princeton football team.

  • November 18, 1911 – Baker had 13 punt returns (for 63 yards), a total that is still a Princeton record;
  • 1911 season, Baker scored 92 points, a school record that lasted until 1974 – which will tell you that Princeton wasn’t giving out scholarships to draw out the best football players;
  • 1913, he was named captain of the team in his senior year;
  • Three-year football career total of 180 points scored – a school record until 1964.
  • Caught over 900 punts in his career;
  • Averaged 300 yards per season just via punt returns.

Still, he earned five letters for varsity football… which I admit I have no idea how that is done if he’s only in school for three years.

While football is cool, hockey is cooler, with Baker making his mark on ice.

Because Princeton University in New Jersey didn’t have its own hockey rink, the team played its home games at the St. Nicholas Arena in New York City – one of those few places to make artificial ice at that time.



Hobey Baker on the 1911-12 Princeton ice hockey team.

During a game on January 24, 1914 against Harvard University Crimson (of Cambridge, Massachusetts) at the Boston Arena, one of his line mates was hurt and the other suspended. Because the replacements weren’t able to keep up, Baker was called offside time after time again… which… as a hockey fan means not only that Baker was too fast a skater for his line mates, but also he wasn’t quick enough to adjust to the speed of his new line mates. I will state that this was an era when most players did play the entire game of 60 minutes.

Now, unlike football, the hockey keeping statistics were less than stellar. Analytics? Screw that.

Much-later-Baker-biographer Emil Salvini estimates Baker scored 120 goals and 100 assists over his three year collegiate career that also earned him three more varsity letters for a total of eight – the most one could earn at Princeton at the time.

Salvini, based on talking with people and looking at newspaper reports estimates that Baker averaged three goals and three assists a game throughout the hockey career at Princeton.

Okay… school’s over… and Baker graduated from Princeton in early 1914 with majors in history, politics, and economics. Three majors in three years? I know that schools in the US are different from their counterparts in Canada, but no way can that happen nowadays. Double-major sure… but that takes a lot of studying… with Baker having to travel all over the place for hockey and football games, let along HOME hockey games in New York, when the hell did he have time for a triple major?

Well… maybe there was simply less history to study back then… some 100 years less history to study.

Now What?
Like many people who graduate from university nowadays with anything less than a specialization in a field (like medical school, engineering or business school) or earn a PhD, what the heck do you do with your piece of paper?

Maybe because he was Princeton’s most famous athlete, or maybe he was simply a good writer, but Baker toured Europe as a celebrity correspondent for The New York Times, where he wrote about events like the Henley Royal Regatta.

Celebrity correspondent… that’s all you need to know.

Returning home after his tour of Europe, his Princeton buddies helped Baker find a job with Wall Street insurance firm Johnson & Higgins.

Another Princeton graduate gave him a job at J.P. Morgan Bank where on the two-year trainee program he earned $20 a week.

Needless to say, it should be of no surprise to anyone that he soon befriended rich New York socialite Percy R. Pyne II, who had also attended St. Paul’s and Princeton.

Pyne was 10-years older than Baker, but they were friends, with Pyne letting Baker stay at his place.

I’m guessing that was also because of Baker’s Princeton Tigers fame, but who knows?

Pyne introduced him in 1918 to socialite Jeanne Marie Scott known as Mimi (not Shawna? -you have to think Ferris Beuller’s Day Off here). Mimi and Baker were briefly engaged.

At the J.P. Morgan Bank, other executives would bring their rich clients to Baker’s office just so they could see the famous athlete… events that embarrassed Baker to no end.

Work a bore, Baker joined various sports teams and activities, with Pyne introducing him to auto racing and polo—both sports Baker mastered.

Baker then joined the St. Nicholas Club team to play amateur hockey in New York.

How famous was Baker? The marquee banner out front of the arena was often lit up to read: “Hobey Baker Plays Tonight“.

And while that might seem like it was cool, Baker would ask the arena managers to take down such signage.

Baker was named to the post-season all-star team in both years he played for St. Nicholas and was recognized as one of the best players in the American Amateur Hockey League.

How good a player was he? Hobey Baker caught the eye of the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association, the forerunner of the National Hockey League.

They offered him a three year deal for $20,000, but he turned them down citing that social conventions prohibited a person of his standing from playing sports for money.

Baker grew tired of hockey, playing his final game on March 24, 1917… citing that the growing professionalism of the sport went against his belief that sports should be played for the love of the game.

So… which is it? Sports should never be played for money, or a person of his standing shouldn’t play sports for money? There’s a bit of a snob in there… and it does rear its head later on in this story.

Thank God It’s War
Okay, I don’t think Baker ever uttered a line similar to the sub-hed above, but I’m sure it was something in the back of his mind.

In 1916 Baker joined a civilian aviation corps led by New York City attorney Phillip A. Carroll that was located on Governors Island, off the coast of Manhattan in New York.

It was a privately-funded program designed to train civilians to help them pass the Reserve Military Aviator flying test and receive commissions in the Signal Officers Reserve Corps.

Flying, though more serious in nature, was just as much fun for Baker as sports had been in his youth.

On November 18, 1916… just before the annual Yale-Princeton football game, Baker in a Curtiss Jenny (JN-4) aeroplane that was piloted by fellow Governors Island student Cord Meyer (of Yale), joined a squadron of New York National Guard Jennies led by Captain Raynal Bolling.

This squadron flew towards Princeton’s Palmer Stadium and performed several aerial maneuvers for the crowd.

When Baker and Meyer landed the plane on the field, and Baker first out onto the ground, he became the first person to reach a football game by air. It’s not an earth-shattering record, but for 1916 this was pretty darn cool.

Despite what the average Joe might believe, the U.S. did not enter the Great War (now known as WWI) until April 6, 1917. For the record, WWI began officially on July 28, 1914.

It ended on November 11, 1918, meaning America was only officially involved in WWI for about one and a half years. But, just like WWII, when the the Americans finally entered the war, they kicked butt. Major butt.

So… when the U.S. joined the battles of WWI, Baker finally found his purpose in life—no, not killing, rather the freedom of flying and not having to do a 9-to-5 job. It also allowed him to make real use of his pilot’s training, so there was that, too.

Among the first Americans to join the war, he arrived in Europe in the summer of 1917… and like everyone who volunteered to join the war, Baker was in a rush to get to the frontlines.

The French, however, said that even though ‘we know you have your American flying skills, you need to be French-certified’… and yeah, the American Wright Brothers may have been the first to fly an aeroplane, but it was the French who took things to a new level.

Of course… how quickly one passed was determined by how quickly the would-be pilots learned the French language… because that was how the instruction was being taught. Sacre Bleu!

Oh those wacky French… even though Baker did all of his courses quickly enough, there weren’t enough actual qualified pilot instructors, so Baker (and others) were sent to a training school in England for more training… and then were sent back to France to teach the new American pilot wanna-be’s what they had learned in England.

Now that’s a flying circus.

Baker didn’t want to teach – he wanted to do… and do it on the frontlines. Then again, there was also a shortage of aircraft on the frontlines, so Baker really was stuck in Paris.

This bummed out Baker to no ends.

While it afforded him time to visit his girlfriend Mimi who had volunteered as a nurse, and was working in a nearby hospital  and worked at a hospital in France, it really drove home the point that he was bored, bored, bored.

In April of 1916, Baker was assigned to the 103rd Aero Squadron, formed from the former members of the Lafayette Escadrille and Lafayette Flying Corps.

As part of the Squadron, Baker helped to bring down an enemy plane for the first time in his career on May 21, 1918….

BUT… thanks to the complicated means of scoring confirmed kills, Baker received zero credit.

In a letter home describing the aerial battle, Baker wrote that it was the “biggest thrill I ever had in my life”, comparing it to the same thrill he used to get from playing sports.

Throughout the spring of 1918, Baker lead planes over the frontlines, saw his girlfriend Mimi Scott when off… but came to the realization that he and she couldn’t work out because of their financial disparity. Snob. Come on… it’s not like she went to Yale.  Sorry Yale… this is a story about Princeton.

Baker had his first confirmed kill on May 21, 1918, and was awarded the Croix de Guerre medal from France.

I looked it up… lots of people rec’d this WWI only medal… some 2,065,0000, so it’s a big deal, but… well, you know what I mean.

(Per Wikipedia) the Croix de Guerre medal of 1914-1918 was attributed to:

  • French and allied soldiers individually cited for a wartime act of gallantry;
  • Civilians and militarized personnel individually cited for a wartime act of gallantry;
  • Automatically to soldiers and civilians not specifically cited for a Croix de Guerre but awarded the Légion d’honneur or Médaille militaire for the highest acts of wartime valor and gazetted in the Official Journal of the French Republic;
  • Collectively, to army units, ships or air squadrons;
  • To cities and villages, martyrs of war, destroyed, ravaged or bombed by the enemy (2952 towns received the Croix de Guerre 1914-1918, in this case, always awarded with palm).

During the summer, Baker was transferred to the 13th Aero Squadron after its commander, Captain Charles Biddle, requested that he join the squadron as a flight commander.

Though reluctant to leave the 103rd, Baker felt that Biddle would not have requested him without confidence in his abilities.

On July 20, the 13th Squadron recorded its first confirmed kill during a flight led by Baker when he and two other men shot down a German plane.

In August, Baker and another pilot were promoted and given command of their own squadron – Baker was given charge of the 141st Aero Squadron, composed of 26 pilots and 180 enlisted men stationed behind the frontline, where they had to wait for equipment to arrive before leaving for the front.

Various delays in the arrival of planes and equipment meant that Baker’s squadron was unable to participate in the final major offensives of the war.

Perhaps bored, in September, Baker became engaged to Scott, asking his buddy Pyne to sell a bond to pay for an engagement ring.

Being the famous Hobey Baker, news of his engagement to Scott was all over the newspapers back home in the U.S.

In early October of 1918, Baker was promoted again and given the rank of captain.

The long-awaited aeroplanes and sundry equipment arrived.

Forever a Princeton Tiger, Baker had his aeroplane painted in the school’s orange and black colors, and even made a tiger the mascot of the 141 Squadron.

He got two more kills on October 28 and November 5, 1918 – for a total of three… so he wasn’t an ace, as one needs five confirmed kills. However, at the time of his death, the media claimed he was a WWI ace.

By the time WWI ended on November 11, 1918, Baker had already broken off his engagement with Scott, and had begun a relationship Philander Cabler who was working as a diplomat in Paris. It may have been romantic, but no one seems to believe it was serious.

With the excitement of the war over, no fiance, he did not want to have to back to work and do the 9-5.

Scheduled to return to the U.S. in December, Baker tried a last-ditch effort to stay in France, but was refused.

Time to go home, Hobey…

Someone Fire That Mechanic
On December 21, 1918, the order to return home came in… but he decided to take one last flight at his squadron’s field in Toul, France.

He was about to take his own plane – but a mechanic brought one he had just repaired, saying it needed a test flight.

Baker gladly volunteered, much to the consternation of his fellow pilots who didn’t want him to take the unnecessary risk.

But – until he walked away from the field, he was still their commanding officer and got into the aircraft.

There was a heavy rain at that time, but Baker took off anyway… rising up to 600 feet before leveling off.

A mere 1/4 mile into the flight, the motor cut out.

While these old planes weren’t cut out for gliding, it was possible to crash land the sucker… in fact, Baker had done it once before and just broke a few ribs.

Just not this time.

A few hundred yards from the airfield, the plane nosedived into the ground.

Horrified grounds crew got him out of the aircraft quickly and into a nearby ambulance… but he died en route to the hospital, his orders to return home inside his coat’s pocket.

Hobey Baker crashed plane.jpg

Baker was buried in a small military cemetery near Toul; in 1921, his mother had his remains moved to her family plot in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.

Eyewitness report:

“Instead of running straight away to land he started to turn back toward the field. The wing slipped, the machine crashed and he was killed.”
—Eyewitness account of Baker’s death by Cpt. Edwin H. Cooper, 26th Division Photographic Officer, United States Signal Corps via:
George, Albert E.; Cooper, Edwin H. (1920), Pictorial History of the 26th Division United States Army, Boston: Ball Publishing


Hobey Baker’s tombstone. Image from www.hhof.com.

The inscription on Baker’s tombstone (difficult to read on this image), states:
You who seemed winged, even as a lad,

With that swift look of those who know the sky, 

It was no blundering fate that stooped and bade

You break your wings, and fall to earth and die,

I think some day you may have flown too high,

So that immortals saw you and were glad,

Watching the beauty of your spirits flame,

Until they loved and called you, and you came.

I’m not one to start rumors, but Baker’s death and his desire NOT to return home to face the boring world of 9-5… and I know you are wondering it too… but could it be possible he killed himself?

Could he have shut off his engine and purposely plummeted nose first into the ground?

The eyewitness seems confused that Baker wouldn’t have tried to land immediately, and the feeling I got from his words, was that it wasn’t a smart thing to try and turn a dead engine aircraft around to try and make the airfield.

Did he really want to try and crashland as close to the field as possible or did he want to die on his airfield?

It seems possible that Baker might have thought such thoughts – given what we know about how the “thrill” was gone from excelling at athletics and from hunting down enemy aircraft.

He wasn’t cut out for a desk job… he needed excitement. He sure as heck wasn’t interested in having a family, 2.5 kids and a house with a picket fence…

Could he handle never having excitement?

IF it was a suicide run, did he plan it? No… I don’t think that was Baker… then again, I’m sure his family and friends would have said the same about suicide.

But I don’t think anyone really knew him and just how much he dreaded being “normal”.

Would I like to have the excitement of my life from 20 years ago? You bet I would. Good times… Who wouldn’t?

Anyhow… there is no evidence Baker wanted to die or that he did made it happen…

There’s also the fact that the great Hobey Baker had a reputation – even in death. I could see how a report of suicide would destroy his fans…

I’ll just leave it there. Like the report says… engine failure, plane went down, Baker died.

At the least, he died doing what he enjoyed doing.

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