Author Archives: carljohnson

Pigeon Louis

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Aged Cripple Drinks PoisonFrom a far less sensitive time, the Times-Union ran with this headline in 1903: “Aged Cripple Drinks Poison and Dies.” They were speaking of Louis Slyer, reported as 75, 79 or 80 years old depending on the edition of the paper you read. Slyer was “formerly a well-known resident and property owner of the West End,” who committed suicide in the hallway of a building he had previously owned and lived in for many years on Lexington Avenue. Police speculated that he came to his old home to die; he was living at Cedar Hill in Bethlehem at the time when he took a vaseline jar filled with strychnine back to the old homestead. The details reported were fairly grisly, but the next day, Sept. 24, 1903, the Times-Union provided a little more about Slyer, who was known as Pigeon Louis:

“Pigeon Louis’” Death.

In the death of Louis Slyer, who committed suicide, the West End loses one of its best known characters. For years he has been known as “Pigeon Louis” because of his fondness for pigeons. At one time he had no less than a thousand pigeons, while his ambition was for even a larger number. He was eccentric in many ways, and it is said that he lost his leg in an effort to drive rheumatism out of the limb. Somebody told him to “bake the leg” and he put it in an oven, baking it so badly that it had to be amputated. Despondency is given as the cause of his suicide.

A character, indeed. In 1874, he was fined $3 for assault and battery. In 1876, Slyer got into a fight with his son-in-law Conrad Emsler, who had been separated from his wife for two years. Emsler showed up unbidden at Slyer’s home on Second Street, near Perry, but was sent on his way. He tried to come back in through a window, whereupon Slyer (and daughter) attacked Emsler in the head with an axe. Somehow an axe didn’t give Slyer the upper hand, and he got stabbed eight times for his troubles. “Considerable blood was drawn.” Both survived, and both faced charges. We wouldn’t be surprised to find more, similar stories about him. We’d be delighted to learn more of his pigeon obsession, but, alas, that didn’t make the papers.

Inventor of Gas Meters, and Possibly Soap

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1903-mulhall-meter-articleWe ran across this article from 1903 about the invention of Mr. James J. Mulhall, “the well-known resident of Catherine street.”

“The invention is an improvement on gas meters now in use and Mr. Mulhall’s ideas have been approved by the patent department of the United States government. His meter is much smaller and composed of a greatly reduced number of pieces than those in use, and an evidence of its excellence is the fact that he has already been urged to circulate his invention through all of the foreign countries. Prominent mechanics of Albany who have seen Mr. Mulhall’s new meter heartily approve it and he intends to put it on exhibition in the near future that Albanians generally may inspect it and inquire carefully into its workings.”

So we were interested in Mr. Mulhall. If he was a well-known resident of Catherine Street, we might presume he was well-known for his inventions. And did file a patent for a gas meter in 1903 (patent no. 740,301). A few years later, in 1911, he filed another patent (No. 995,278), for improvements to water and gas meters, “so arranged that no sediment will locate in the meter and affect in anyway the operation of the apparatus.”

1903-mulhall-meter-diagramHow he came to be an inventor of gas (and other) meters, and what else he may have done, is not entirely clear. James was the son of Thomas and Mary Mulhall, born around 1844. Thomas was listed in 1870 as a gas-fitter, and it seems that James must have followed him into the gas business. In 1862, at 18, James was listed as a clerk for the gas company, boarding at 3 Clinton. Thomas’s listing for that same year said “gas regulators,” and that his home was at 89 Broad Street.

In 1867, the Albany Morning Express noted very briefly that there had been a petition to Alderman Sullivan, by James Mulhall, “relative to a new apparatus of which he has the patent, for preventing the freezing of gas.” The petition was referred, and we found no more about it. If James was a jeweler, gas was on his mind already; we haven’t found that particular patent, and we haven’t figured out if he went on inventing or if there was a hiatus between 1867 and 1903.

Oddly, perhaps temporarily, James was listed as a jeweler in the 1870 census. There was also a James Mulhall who ran a soap factory at 7 and 9 Exchange Street. We know of it because it burned in a “stubborn” fire in December 1892. It was in a four-story building belonging to the “Miller and Morris estate.” It was noted that the firm of Bacon & Stickney suffered damage to stock from smoke and was fully insured, as was Mulhall. “The building is the same in which Samuel Spencer, an eccentric old man, was found one morning about three years ago with his throat cut.” (The fire, by the way, was also reported in the American Soap Journal and Perfume Gazette, the kind of trade journal you just don’t find anymore, but which carried scads of historically interesting information.) Was this the same James Mulhall? Think so. Oddly the directory for 1892 lists him at 17 Catherine, but does not list his job. Same in 1893. In fact, in quite a number of years, James is listed as boarding at 17 Catherine, and yet, unlike almost everyone else in the directory, his occupation is not given, which is strange. Was he a soapmaker? An unemployed gas meter inventor? Both? Can’t tell. In 1881, a James Mulhall was appointed as an inspector of meters in New York City. Was he the same James?

In the 1905 New York State census, we find James on Catherine Street, with his profession listed as “inventor.” He was still there in 1910, listed as retired.

Amelia Earhart Flies for Beech-Nut Gum

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Earhart Will Make Series of Tests for Beech-NutHer lecture tour in 1935 wasn’t the only connection between Amelia Earhart and the Capital District, as evidenced by this May 29, 1931 edition of the Gloversville/Johnstown Morning Herald, which proclaimed “Miss Amelia Earhart Will Make Series of Tests for Beech-Nut Packing Company.” The sub-head said that the only woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean would be in Canajoharie on June 14.

“Miss Amelia Earhart, only woman to fly across the Atlantic, received delivery Tuesday of her new auto-gyro, the “Beech-Nut,” which she announced she would fly in a series of tests for the Beech-Nut Packing company. The plane was delivered to Miss Earhart at the Newark airport. It is one of about a dozen that has been manufactured in America and the only one owned by a woman. She is the only woman who has soloed an auto-gyro and recently established a ‘ceiling’ for this type of ship by making a climb of 18,500 feet. . . The ‘Beech-Nut’ is the first of two planes which will be flown under the auspices of the Beech-Nut Packing company. The second, which will be delivered within the next two weeks, will be piloted by Captain Frank T. Coffyn, one of the first six men to fly in 1910 for the Wright brothers.”

The auto-gyro was (and is) an odd hybrid craft that uses an unpowered rotor to develop lift, and an engine-powered propeller to develop thrust; it was invented to create an aircraft that could fly safely at low speeds (sez Wikipedia). The craft that Earhart flew was made by Pitcairn-Cierva of Willow Grove, PA.

It’s worth noting that in 1931, Earhart hadn’t actually piloted a plane across the Atlantic – her trans-Atlantic journey in 1928 had been as part of a three-person crew, and she acknowledged (and was bothered by) the fact that she wasn’t able to pilot the trip because it required instrument flying. Still, she was the first woman to cross the Atlantic, that much was true.

Amelia Earhart with husband G.P. Putnam and the Beech-Nut auto-gyro.

Amelia Earhart with husband G.P. Putnam and the Beech-Nut auto-gyro.

So why was Beech-Nut involved in this odd bit of pioneering aviation? Simple: Advertising for Beech-Nut gum. Earhart embarked on a transcontinental tour in the Pitcairn, from Newark to Oakland and back , sometimes making three or more stops a day. She would be the first flyer to cross the country by auto-gyro. At each one, she was greeted by press, and her picture was taken with the odd little craft, on which the name “Beech-Nut” was painted in large letters. Oddly, perhaps because of logistics, the Morning Herald’s prediction that she would be in Canajoharie on June 14 turned out to be wrong. She was in Tucson, AZ, Lordsberg, NM and El Paso, TX that day, a long way from the pot that washes itself. In fact, she didn’t come to New York state at all on this tour (all the stops are listed here).

However, Earhart’s attempt to be the first to cross the continent in an auto-gyro was beaten by a competing flyer, John Miller, by just a few days. (If you can’t get enough auto-gyro talk, the whole story is here.)



Adam Gander Sells Nothing But Legitimate Merchandise

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Adam GanderA 1935 ad for Adam Gander’s wine and liquor store at 435 Central Avenue. Really only notable for the interesting claims in what we take to be a cocktail glass behind the bottle:

“Adam Sells Nothing But Legitimate Merchandise”

“What Adam Recommends Must Be Good”

Raises the question – did someone intimate that he sold anything other than legitimate merchandise? Perhaps he protested too much. But that would be unfair to Mr. Gander, for in fact we learn from a 1937 State Supreme Court case that Adam Gander was involved in an early scheme called Gifts By Wire, something similar to Florists’ Telegraph Delivery (as it was then known) that allowed delivery of gift items like wine and liquor that would otherwise be barred by state borders and alcohol control laws. Someone in California could call up (or telegraph) a Gifts By Wire provider in New York and have a bottle of wine delivered to their friends in New York. An affidavit in the lawsuit stated “It was quite clear from the outset that the persons who demanded this service from the stores located in the finer residential parts of New York City and other cities, and who wished to send gifts of fine liquors, wines and champagnes to friends and relatives in distant parts of the country, were the highest type of the consuming public.” Adam’s Wines and Liquors was listed as one of the founding high-class retailers involved in Gifts by Wire in 1936. (Of course, the State Liquor Authority, a literal buzz-kill, ruled that the business was illegal.)

There was also an Adam Gander dealing alcohol and holding a concert saloon license in New York City in the 1880s; could be some relation.

Ganders LiquorAn eagle-eyed reader (or one who can work Google) tells us that Gander’s liquor store is still there, at the same location.

Well, What Else Could They Talk About?

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1935-tu-cleanlinessA snippet from 1935: The women’s auxiliary to the Master Plumbers’ Association was having its annual Christmas social and donation party at the Master Plumbers headquarters, and the topic of the evening would be “Cleanliness Makes for Good Citizenship.”

That is all.

Well, except that it’s worth remembering that in 1935, indoor plumbing was not a universal situation, and the average worker got much dirtier working than is likely the case today. Health care was still pretty rudimentary, communicable disease still pretty prevalent, and any number of ills could still be cured through some simple sanitation. So their statement had something to it.

This also gives us occasion to share this wonderful image from a time when people took real pride in their trades. A quarter century ago, we lived off Delaware Avenue, and each day on the way to work walked past Farrell Brothers plumbing, just beyond the Spectrum. In the window was a sun-faded poster from the past that proclaimed, “The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation.”


Amelia Earhart in Albany

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Earhart in AlbanyWhile we’re talking aviation and Albany:

In 1935, Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous people in the world, a pioneer in aviation and women’s causes. She was well-known even before her 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic, but that act propelled her into the stratosphere, so to speak. She wrote a book, went on exhaustive lecture tours, endorsed consumer products like luggage and cigarettes, and promoted a line of clothes sold by Macy’s and inspired by her own sensibilities. So wherever she went, it was a big deal. And at the end of 1935, she came to Albany.

We’ve found a dozen or more articles announcing her impending visit, which was to be sponsored by the City Club of Albany and would take place in the Philip Livingston Junior High School on December 19, 1935. The club publicized the heck out of this.

“The entire membership of the City club is lined up back of the activities committee in their efforts to make the visit of Amelia Earhart at Albany on Thursday, December 19, one of the outstanding events in this city. ‘Adventures of the Skyways’ is the topic Miss Earhart has chosen for her talk … Hailed everywhere as a speaker of exceptional freshness and charm, Miss Earhart will, in her talk, share with her audience the experiences and thrills of the preparation, the hours in the air and the aftermath of her record-breaking flights. In spite of the many honors that have been heaped upon Miss Earhart due to her distinguished air service, she still retains a naturalness and modesty that endears her to her public.”

The article then goes on to name 39 women working on the event (most of them as ushers) in four groups. It wasn’t the only time every committee member would be named, either. Mayor John Boyd Thacher would be on hand to greet Miss Earhart, and Dr. Paul Hemke, head of the department of aeronautical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was invited to sit on the platform. The Exchange Club’s aeronautical committee, “which sponsors the building and study of airplanes among boys ranging from 15 to 20 years of age,” would be on hand to present her with a model of the plan in which she flew the Atlantic, and would have a display of other model planes at the school.

On the day of the event, the Times-Union printed an article headlined “Earhart Would End Wars By Making Women Go,” saying that in the afternoon Earhart talked equal rights and equal responsibilities for women, especially in warfare, a “thesis with which she shocked a national congress of Daughters of the American Revolution months ago.” She argued that putting women in uniform would “take all the fun out of war,” and that militaristic women should be psychoanalyzed. It appears that this was just lunchtime conversation with a reporter wherever she was prior to her speaking engagement that evening.

“There was nothing of the traditional suffragist mein about this young woman whose pacifist convictions are as well known as her airway exploits. Often described as ‘boyish,’ there is nothing of the ‘mannish’ about her. Her manner is quiet, friendly, earnest, or amused, by turns, wholly feminine and gentle … Earhart’s major interest is women. She wants to know why women are not news photographers, why they do not invade every field monopolized by men.”

Just a few days before that, the Times-Union had run an article headlined “Girls of Today Intent on Jobs, Says Earhart.” She was then acting as a consultant lecturer at Purdue University, and said “Ninety-two per cent of the Purdue girls who came to me while I was lecturing there wished to occupy themselves gainfully. This shows a tremendous advance, in that, that women are interested industrially, economically. And I don’t think it means that the material, the domestic instinct is erased in their attitude. The home is still predominant, but modern appliances – the machine age, have corrected things so that women have more leisure to adapt themselves to an outside sphere.” She said the girls at Purdue had inquired about every field from radio to running a hotel. “‘There were some,’ she says, ‘who were interested in becoming hostesses on planes.'” By the way, this is the only article that also mentioned that Earhart would speak in Schenectady on Dec. 20, twice – once in the afternoon for children, and in the evening for the general public.

In her Albany speech, Earhart disclaimed any scientific contribution to flying, in spite of her intense interest in science, and said the lure of flying is the lure of beauty. “Her response to the beauty of scattered clouds, billowing mountainous clouds, endless expanses of black water with starlit highlights, thousands of brilliant white stars blazing in the blue-black of a midnight sky – this has been her dominant experience during her trail-blazing flights that have arrested a world.” The newspaper said she sketched the highlights of her career, and tried to clear the record on a famous communication she made on her then-recent trans-Pacific flight from Honolulu to Oakland, CA, where it was reported that she had said “I am getting tired.” “‘I had been flying for some time over fog, creamy white and piled high, like the beaten whites of eggs,’ she said. ‘What I actually said was: “I am getting tired of this fog.” The land stations missed the last words, because I spoke carelessly.'”

Already faced with the kinds of rumors about her personal life that are nowadays considered news, she addressed that she had taken on the flight because she was bored with her husband, publisher George Palmer Putnam, saying that without him, there could be no flights, and that she was reassured by the sound of his voice on the other end of the radio

“A determined but very feminine feminist, Miss Earhart is eager for the acceptance of aviation by women – and their participation in aviation. ‘Women should try to get outside their platitudinous sphere,’ she said.”

Albany to New York by Dirigible!

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Ho! For the AirshipsGlenn Curtiss and Beryl Kendrick helped put Albany on the map for motorized aviation with their record-setting (or attempted, anyway) flights from Van Rensselaer Island and the Hudson River. But just a little before that, there was another kind of aviation planned for Albany, and it was meant to be more than a novelty. An inventor by the name of George E. Tinker of East New York incorporated the New York Aerial Manufacturing and Navigation Company in 1909, with the intent to manufacture airships – dirigibles – and use them for transportation.

“The first transit route through the clouds will be between New York and Albany. If the airships do not display a disposition to seek the earth and the business pays, as Mr. Tinker’s friends are all sure it will, by and by, other lines will probably be run between [New York] city and Boston and Philadelphia.”

Tinker was backed by $25,000 in capital contributed by East New York businessmen, including a plumber, a lawyer, a druggist, and a bicycle dealer. “They all seem to have perfect confidence that Mr. Tinker’s machines will do all that is promised for them, and that the aerial navigation business will make millionaires of them all.” The focus was to have an airship of Tinker’s design ready for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration that would range up and down the Hudson River that autumn.

“For the proposed transportation line he will use dirigible balloons. His air craft of this class differs from most dirigibles in that it will not depend on a gas-filled bag to keep it in the air. The tinker ship will have a silk gas bag within an aluminum shell, but will rely upon fast-revolving propellers to lift it and keep it moving in the air. The bag will be filled with gas merely to guard against the machine dropping to earth in the event of the machinery getting out of order. There will be only sufficient gas to allow the machine to come gently to the ground. The ship will be equipped with three motors. One, of fifty horse power, will operate the lifting propellers, and the others, of ten horse power each, will run the driving propellers. The craft which Mr. Tinker is now building will be 38 feet long and 12 feet beam. He intends to enter the machine in the New York to Albany airship competition at the time of the Hudson-Fulton celebration.”

Tinker's airship 1911Little more can be found about George Tinker, so we’re not sure if he made his airship in time for the celebration. An article from August 1910 says his airship was almost ready. A year later still, in 1911, a model of his airship was shown in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, but talk of passenger service to Albany was forgotten.


The Arthur-Albany Connection

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The things you run across when you’re looking for something else … it’s a wonder Hoxsie ever completes a thought. In this case, it started with a simple question on Facebook – the question of why Chester A. Arthur, the President who is probably the most famous burial in Albany Rural Cemetery, is buried there. He wasn’t from Albany, he didn’t live in Albany … so why was he buried in Albany?

Born in Vermont (though there were some pioneering birthers who challenged that, showing that ridiculous political charges are, tragically, nothing new), Arthur spent parts of his childhood in Greenwich, Lansingburgh, and Schenectady, among others. His father William Arthur, a Free Will Baptist minister and teacher, was, for 10 years, the pastor of the State Street Baptist Church, at State and High streets, until 1864; he died in 1875. Chester enrolled at Union College, and taught in Schaghticoke. In 1852, he was a school principal in Cohoes. He studied law in Ballston Spa, of all places, and then went off to New York City to seek his fortune as a lawyer. Somewhere along the line he not only became a Brigadier General in the State Militia, he was named State Engineer-in-Chief. Meanwhile, his sisters married and settled in Albany (Mrs. McElroy, a graduate of Emma Willard) and Cohoes (Mrs. Masten, wife of the postmaster).

His wife, Ellen Herndon, was a southerner to whom he proposed in Saratoga Springs. She died in 1880 at their home in New York City, while Chester was in Albany, and she was buried in the Arthur family plot in Albany Rural Cemetery, where Chester’s parents were buried. When Arthur took the presidency in 1881, as a widower he asked his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy of Albany, to fulfill some of the duties of the first lady, although she never formally held the title, if indeed there is such a title. She presided over social events at the White House during the winter social season, and returned to her life as wife of an insurance salesman and mother of four in Albany the rest of the year.

So here’s the interesting thing we ran across: other than her limited duties as a first lady, Mrs. Mary Arthur McElroy is mostly noted for her membership in the Albany Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, a group dedicated to preventing women from being granted the vote. It wasn’t the only such organization – there were similarly named organizations in other cities and a national version as well. The national association, and the Albany association as well, put out things like pamphlets of household hints, with “Vote NO on Woman Suffrage” on the back, and hints on spot removal on the inside. The cover said, “Votes of Women can accomplish no more than votes of Men. Why waste time, energy and money, without result?” The hints read like this:

  • “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout. A handful of potash and some boiling water is quicker and cheaper.”
  • “Control of the temper makes a happier home than control of elections.”
  • “Common sense and common salt applications stop hemorrhage quicker than ballots.”
  • “Why vote for pure food law, when your husband does that, while you can purify your ice-box with saleratus water?”

The organization continued even after New York had ratified the suffrage amendment.

By the way, the family’s Albany connection continued. After Chester Arthur died, he was, of course, buried in Albany Rural. When his daughter, Ellen Herndon Arthur, married in 1903, the ceremony was in Albany’s St. Peter’s Church.

Another Attempt at Aviation History Takes Off from Albany

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Turns out Glenn Curtiss wasn’t the only early aviator to take off from Albany for points, well, not unknown, but a long way away, and it was Curtiss himself who inspired it. He had branched into both building airplanes and teaching pilots how to fly. He built on his ideas for enabling water landings (and takeoffs), developing marine airplanes, and to promote their use, he sponsored an annual competition for distance covered by a hydro-aeroplane. In 1915, a flyer named Beryl Kendrick drew national attention for his attempt to win the Curtiss marine flying trophy with a journey from Albany to Cape Hatteras, a trip he didn’t quite make.

Curtiss Marine TrophyThe competition was for the longest flight (which still allowed stops for refueling and mechanicals) in a flying boat in a single day between June 1 and Oct. 31, 1915, and would award a trophy. The trophy, by the way, sounds fabulous: “a flying boat of the transatlantic type which is shown in flight over the globe. The globe is supported on a base representing the sea. A figure of Neptune rises from the sea in an attempt to drag the boat down to its level and on the other side stands Boreas, ruler of the winds, who is blowing upon the boat in an effort to upset it. The trophy is done in silver and cost $5000.”

Kendrick was a wealthy young man from Atlantic City, who took an early interest in flying. He attended Curtiss’s flying school in San Diego in 1914-15, and bought a Curtiss flying boat and was licensed to fly it back in Atlantic City. His first attempt at the Curtiss trophy was a set of circuits from Atlantic City to Bay Head, NJ, but he was forced to land with engine trouble after 300 miles. Despite this, later in the year he redoubled his efforts and determined to make the trip from Albany to Cape Hatteras, NC. A typewritten biography of Kendrick, found on Flickr of all places, says:

“On October 28th Kendrick and [co-pilot Frank] Mills started again on a flight for the trophy from Albany, New York to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, a distance of 750 miles. Their course was to be down the Hudson River and along the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. They planned to stop twice for refueling, at Bay Head, New Jersey, and Ocean City, Maryland, and expected to make the flight within ten hours.  They left Albany at 8:30 A.M. and all went well until about 11:00 A.M. when they landed at Edwin Gould’s Yacht Pier near New York City to tighten some wires. While there they refueled and as a result did not stop at Bay Head, which they passed at 1:00 P.M.

Flying conditions remained satisfactory until they reached the Delaware Capes where they began to encounter fog banks and serious trouble started. They pressed on and for two hours tried to extricate themselves from the intense fog by turning both seaward and to shore, and also by climbing to higher altitudes, to no avail. With their gas running low they were finally forced to land on the sea and await rescue. After fearing they might have to spend the night adrift the fog began to lift about 4:00 P.M. and a bit later they were able to see a fishing boat some two miles away. Using the last of their gas Kendrick taxied to the boat where he obtained some fuel. Leaving there they landed at Ocean City, Maryland at 5:30 P.M. after a total of 360 miles, thoughly [sic] soaked and quite exhausted from their misty exposure. Before they could make another try a bad hole was torn in the bottom of the hull forcing them to abandon the trophy event for the season. In spite of their misfortune Kendrick made a splendid flight and undoubtedly would have won the event if they had not encountered such extremely bad flying conditions.”

Kendrick’s flight was pretty widely reported.  News reports datelined from Ocean City said Kendrick made stops at Poughkeepsie, Dobbs Ferry, and Atlantic Highland before he lost his way in a dense fog and “when overtaken by darkness was obliged to land in Assawoman Bay.”

Glenn Curtiss was unusual among aviation pioneers; while he did die relatively young, at 52, he died of appendicitis. That’s not how aviation pioneers usually went. Kendrick, who continued to fly passengers around the Atlantic coast of New Jersey as a sort of charter service, was more consistent with the normal trend of the time. He was killed in a crash in Atlantic City in 1919, at age 27. “Kendrick evidently lost control while engaged in some flying antics at a low altitude and crashed in the surf while reportedly vainly trying to make a landing, in plain view of crowds of boardwalk sight-seers.”

When Glenn Curtiss Needs Gasoline, Servants are Dispatched

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Curtiss Flies Albany to New YorkOn May 29, 1910, the day finally came when Glenn Curtiss found the weather favorable, got into his aeroplane, took off from Van Rensselaer Island (now part of the Port of Albany) and flew on (with two stops) to Governors Island in New York City, meeting the challenge set by the New York World and receiving its $10,000 prize (something north of $230,000 in modern money). Although the prize was offered by the World, the New York Times covered and covered and covered the event, going so far as to engage a special New York Central train with priority rights to follow the plane down the Hudson, carrying reporters, photographers and Curtiss’s wife.

He placed a phone call to a newspaper office in New York City to check the weather there, and when assured there wasn’t “breeze enough to flap the flag against the Court House pole,” he replied, “That’s good enough. I’m Glenn Curtiss, and you can say that I have decided to make a start. I am going to leave Albany right away.” And so he did, garbed in canvas fishing waders (for warmth) , a leather jacket, and with cork life preservers strapped to his body.

“Glenn H. Curtiss, until yesterday known as the aviator who had captured the international speed trophy at Rheims, arose from the tide flats of Van Rensselaer Island, at Albany, at 7:03 o’clock yesterday morning in the smallest biplane that has figured seriously in the world’s great flights. He sped upward to a height of 1,000 feet, maintained it for over forty miles, swung then over the Catskills at a far greater height, once attaining a maximum of almost 5,000 feet, dropped down above the Hudson waters for another forty miles, and landed finally at Governors island at noon. He had covered 150 miles in an actual flying time of 2 hours and 46 minutes, and had won for himself enduring fame, in addition to a prize of $10,000 offered for the feat by The New York World.

The flight, which sets a new mark in the conquest of the air, was made through a territory presenting a great variety of perils, far greater than any other stretch that aviators have tried. Side canons, high cliffs, eddying currents, and reverse currents shooting out of gulches into the Hudson Valley all played their part. One stretch made Curtiss fight every inch of his way, while his tiny craft tossed and pitched like a yacht in a hurricane. Through the difficult places, which include the treacherous Storm King pass, Curtiss pumped oil into his craft so plentifully that a long blue haze hung out behind him, fanning itself into shape behind, like a comet’s tail.”

Curtiss Flight from Albany to New York, from the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress, the Curtiss flight from Albany to New York.

A stop near Poughkeepsie was always planned, at the Gill farm in a place that was then called Camelot. The stop was supposed to take 15 minutes so he could refuel. Why there was no fuel when he got there seems to be a mystery. Curtiss brought the plane down at 8:25, “running twenty-five feet through the dewy grass before coming to a stop,” where about 20 people were waiting and cheered his arrival. He asked where the gasoline and oil he was expecting were, and Farmer Gill answered that he hadn’t seen it.

“Curtiss, who had been moving around looking over his machine, exclaimed: ‘Well, that’s too bad. I’m rather sorry I stopped. I could have gone on to West Point if I’d known that, or perhaps made New York.’”

Give the Times points for creative writing there. We’re going to assume that someone risking life and limb to make aviation history, doing something never done before, and chasing a $10,000 prize as well, probably said something stronger than “Well, that’s too bad.” His 15-minute stop turned into more than an hour, but more crowds were gathering and many of them came in automobiles. Curtiss asked the crowd if he could have some of their gasoline, which at least three of them were glad to give. His 50 horsepower V-8 engine had consumed all of five gallons getting from Albany to Poughkeepsie. After further inspections and minor adjustments to the aeroplane, he took off again at 9:25.

It was by no means an entirely smooth flight. The Times, watching from the accompanying special train, reported on the course:

“…Storm King, with all its terrors, was at hand. What the water navigators have said of it was none too strong to express the view of the aeronaut. The zigzagging motion of the earlier troubles now gave place to pitching and lurching, and made Mrs. Curtiss blanch with fear and hold tight to the window ledge from which she looked, while asking to know how quickly it would all be over. The castled parapets of West Point loomed across the river, fronting the higher backland hills. Curtiss seemed to like the going there, for he kept close to the trees and just sped along the top … Iona Island was immediately ahead and he was lurching, mostly in jerks straight up and down, worse than in any previous flurry. Every one on the train almost forgot to breathe, while Curtiss bobbed and jostled with the air to the island’s edge. There he seemed to be blown back by a head wind that held him in spite of his propeller’s thrust. His forward elevators suddenly bent down and the craft began to settle. His cause seemed lost and all thought he was surely going to land … Curtiss dropped maybe to within fifteen feet of the ground. Then he skimmed along, rose to avoid the roofs, passed just to the left of the powder plant tower and half way up its height, and was out into the broad bend at Peekskill.”

Times of Curtiss's FlightApparently all that maneuvering took up more fuel than had been expected, because once past the Spuyten Duyvil, Curtiss set down again on the back lawn of the Isham mansion at Broadway and 214th street, where he was welcomed by one Minturn Post Collins, son-in-law of the late William B. Isham, who happened to be seated upon the veranda as the plane approached (as one so often is). The Times, whose reporters had to follow by automobile after the train veered off toward Grand Central Station at the Spuyten Duyvil, reported that Mr. Collins said “I am certainly delighted to be the first to congratulate you on arriving in the city limits, and I am glad you picked out our back yard as the place to land. You are great, there’s no doubt of that.” To which Curtiss was said to have replied, “Thank you, but what’s worrying me now is gasoline. Have you any that you can spare to replenish my tanks?” Collins did. A servant was dispatched. As one so often is.

While waiting for the gasoline, “automobiles by the score came chugging up, the occupants, men, women and children, leaping out and running across the open field to get a chance to congratulate the aviator.” As a reminder of what era we’re talking about, the police department sent a horse-drawn patrol wagon up to the hilltop estate to help keep the crowd in check. It wasn’t entirely clear that Curtiss would proceed – he had reached NYC, after all, and could claim the prize, but he thought he could take off again from this location. The machine was refueled, and Curtiss enlisted the help of a few bystanders to give the machine a push, and he was off again. “All along Riverside Drive people had assembled to witness the flight, and in the upper parts of the drive small boys climbed trees. Warning of Curtiss’s approach was signaled by every vessel, yacht, launch, or steam barge over which he flew, and by the time the machine was off 150th Street the drive was crowded with admiring thousands, while from windows and roofs other thousands watched.” And so the scene continued, on down to the Battery, with onlookers leaning over the rails of ferries and steamships, gathering on the piers, watching the bulletins in Times Square. Today, you need to win a football game or have a sex tape to get this kind of public attention. Then, it was for a feat of daring science.

Curtiss landed safely at Governors Island, then still a military installation, greeted by officers and their wives. With a suspicious bit of poetry, one of the first officers to reach Curtiss was the Surgeon General of the Department of the East, Col. John Van Rensselaer Hoff. That his middle name was identical to the name of the island Curtiss had taken off from some hours before was not commented on, but neither could it have been missed. Col. Hoff was said to have panted hospitably (having run up to the plane), “We had almost given you up.” Curtiss responded, “I had to make two stops, one at Poughkeepsie and one at Inwood, you know.”

His wife arrived to greet him, and they kissed in front of the crowd. Curtiss removed his flying gear, including the canvas waders, full-length waders with boots built in.

“Dearie, I forgot my shoes, and left them up in Albany,” he said to his wife, and then a World representative arrived to announce that a check was being prepared in the office, and Mr. Curtiss had better come along to enjoy it.

From here on out, Hoxsie shall refer to him as Shoeless Glenn Curtiss.