by Bob Noyer
The year Nineteen Hundred Twelve found the world, and Winchester, literally awash in what the Press called New Fangled
Inventions: the automobile, farm tractors, telephones and radio, the electric light, and the aeroplane. All of these were familiar to
readers of the newspapers and magazines of the day, however only a very few had actually seen an aeroplane.
Soon this was about to change for Winchesterians. An aeroplane was coming!
While the Wright brothers had been perhaps the first to accomplish powered flight a bit more than eight years prior, there were earlier forms of flying, notably lighter-than-air (balloons). The Winchester Evening Star advertises Balloon Ascensions during the county fair, Sept. 11, 1911. But this was not the "first’ I was seeking: powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine--an aeroplane-- soaring over the skies of Winchester. When? What machine? Who was the Pilot? And where was the Landing Field?
As an engineer and pilot in a former life I had not really cared for the study of history, but now I was thoroughly hooked on chronicling "The Day The First Aeroplane Came To Winchester."
Let me take you back to the weeks prior to Aviation Day through the pages of The Evening Star. First we see an advance picture in the March 14th issue, captioned: "Flying machine which will fly from the Fairgrounds on April 25th next. This is one of the most modern and complete aeroplanes, and a satisfactory flight is guaranteed."
Other news that day: Six Reel Show Tonight, and School Teacher Slashes Throat.
April 6th, page 1, has a double-column wide picture of Aviator Charles F. Walsh, with the caption "One of the most daring and expert aviators in the world, who will fly in one of the famous Curtiss aeroplanes at the fair grounds on Thursday, April 18." Page three has a blurred picture with caption "Airship Flights at Fair Grounds on Thursday, April 18. Money refunded if flights are not made." The hype begins. April 8 has same picture, not so blurred.
April 10th, page 3, has a large ad, 6 by 9 inches, touting "The Great Airship Exhibition At Winchester Fair Grounds..." with a close- up of an intrepid aviator at the controls of "Famous Curtiss Aeroplane...Three flights are guaranteed or money refunded." And "Special Rates on All Railroads." The ad was courtesy of "Shen.Valley Agrl. Society, Logan R. Fay, President"
April 12th reports "C.F.Walsh,The Aviator, A Star of the First Class" has previously "captivated crowds at Nacogdoches, Texas," and left them "breathless in Albuerquerque New Mexico." Press reports from Santa Fe find him "subscribing his name in the sky.'
Other local news: Whiskey Case Still Unsettled, Mrs. Potts to Sell Her Horses, and Miss Lucille Morgan, a student at Fort Loudoun Seminary, is home., much to the delight of the younger set.
April 13th blares: "Walsh Sails Through The Air Like A Bird," dateline Rome, Ga.. He stayed in the air five to ten minutes, and later gained about $2500 (sic) in altitude, making one spiral glide to repeated applause as he passed over the field. He will make three flights at the Winchester Fair Grounds on Thursday, April 18 at 12:30, 3:30, and 4 o’clock in the afternoon."
Other news: Vodvil (sic) at Empire Mon., Despondent Girl Takes Strychnine, Minstrel Show much Enjoyed.
On April 15th, quoting from the Raton (N.M.) Dailey Range: "Crowds Wonder And Marvel At C.F. Walsh, The Aviator. For the first time in the history of Raton and this part of the new state, the canvas wings of an aeroplane have cleft the atmosphere above us..." Climbing into the sky he ascended over 1,300 feet above terra firma. The terrific speed with which the Curtiss biplane traveled, made alighting particularly hazardous and thrilling. The city of Raton is at an elevation of 6,667 feet . Aviator Walsh is the first birdman to risk the treacherous air currents a this high altitude..."
Other news:Star Receives a Wireless Message. Mr. H.D. Fuller, cashier of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, and Mr. I.N. Good, the well-known real estate broker sent a wireless message from the steamship Somerset at sea, received in Norfolk and transmitted direct to Winchester by Postal Telegraph. Also: High-grade second-hand rubber- tired runabout for sale for just half value--Joseph Wright.
By April 16th, Winchester was getting caught up in the Aeroplane frenzy–the T.M. Barr store advertises: On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday We Will Hold A Special Aeroplane Sale, With Submarine Prices. Soda crackers, 5˘ lb, canned corn 4 for 25˘.
The Albuerquerque Morning Journal reports Mr. Charles F. Walsh "Traveling over sixty miles an hour, reaching an altitude of nearly one thousand feet, traversing a distance of a total of about twenty- seven miles..."
And a humorous cartoon in The Evening Star, featuring Ma Winchester watching an aeroplane with her binoculars.
Other news: Brucetown, Va.., Mr. Geo. Wright and wife narrowly escape fatal accident en route Sunday evening church services when a bolt dropped out of the wagon tongue and caused the carriage to slide down hill. The occupants were not injured and hurried to the church , being only a little late for evening services.
The Star reports that "Special rates will be given by the Cumberland Valley railroad, stopping at the fairgrounds." Rates of admission: Admission to the grounds-50˘, School children-25˘, Admission to Grandstand-25˘, No charge for vehicles or automobiles, Admission of vehicles and automobiles to parking space in race track-35˘, and All children under 10 years of age free if accompanied by parents.
Grounds open all day, from early in the morning until after the last flight. After which Mr. Walsh will deliver a lecture, giving a brief but comprehensive history of aerial navigation."
A large number of wholesale and retail merchants and other establishments signed a petition to close their places of business during the exhibition. The John Kerr Public school is closed for the day. The public is admonished to keep their hands off the aeroplane.
Mayor Baker’s Proclamation
"To the Merchants of Winchester: It is undoubtedly the desire of everyone to have a chance to see the aeroplane flights next Thursday. I earnestly request , therefore, that you close your stores and allow your employees leave of absence between the hours of 2 to 4 on Thursday afternoon. Respectfully, H.H. Baker. Mayor."
Other news: The Unsinkable Titanic was lost after striking an iceberg, going down with some 1500 passengers, only 700 saved.
Thursday the 17th, The Day an Aeroplane Came to Winchester, found The Evening Star still filled with reports about the Titanic, complete with a map of the voyage, and a crude drawing of a 200’ high iceberg. But the show must go on.
Mr. Charles F. Walsh, the Curtiss aviator, had arrived the previous evening and was supervising the employees of The Curtiss Aeroplane Co. who had brought the biplane to Winchester’s fairgrounds for assembly. "It is one of the most modern of all the Curtiss machines, and has been tested frequently and found in perfect working order."
The Star’s "special weather bulletin" indicates clearing weather, and if there should be inclement weather, the company is under contract to keep the machine in Winchester for three days.
Winchester, Va.. April 18, 1912. MR. WALSH WENT HIGH
"While the inclement weather kept hundreds of people away from town today, large crowds came in from the country on trains to see Charles F. Walsh, the noted Curtiss aviator, make his flights in a Curtiss biplane at the Winchester fair grounds.
For several hours it was feared that there would be no flight at all, and even at three o’clock rain was falling in a drizzle. Mr. Walsh, who had arrived from Washington at noon, told a reporter from The Star he would positively go up provided there was no terrific storm. Notwithstanding the bad weather and the unrest upon the part of the crowd, the first flight was made at 3:45, and the daring aviator was cheered to the echo as he glided from the earth.
His machine went in an easterly direction. He had it under perfect control. The exhibition was graceful and speedy. He remained in the air about 5 minutes. He gave several other exhibitions later this afternoon"
Special advertisement: Six Reel Show and Airship Flight-Auditorium Tonight.
Special Notice: Don’t go home without seeing Special Pictures and High-Priced vaudeville at the Empire.
By April 19th The Star’s headline: WALSH IS A CAPTIVATOR. Further: Airship Flights On Fairgrounds Were Wonderful, A MASTER OF MACHINE, He Circled Winchester and the Surrounding Country Three Times Easily.
"He went several miles towards Martinsburg, turning east to the Baltimore and Ohio railroad tracks, then coming back, re-entered the grounds.from the direction of Winchester. On an other flight he hovered over the town, as far as Payton street , and circled the old fort, then spiraling down near the center of the landing field. In an other flight , in a playful mood, he dipped suddenly down to within fifty feet of the heads of the frightened and scattering crowd, then rose again to height of several hundred feet.
By one-thirty the Cumberland Valley yards and nearby buildings were black with people hoping to see and not to pay.
"...the machine was trundled out on its automobile wheels...the eight- cylinder gasoline engine was set in motion while four men held back the machine that strained to fly until the signal was given by Aviator Walsh. At the signal the machine jumped forward, rolling rapidly along the grass on its triangle and pneumatic tired wheels.
"As it reached the crest of the slight rise in the ground above the center of the field, Walsh lifted his forward planes and sailed gracefully from the ground."
Local news: Mr. John W. Reynolds and Miss Minnie Ellsworth of Cumberland came to Winchester today (April 19th) to be married. They were married by Rev. W.H. Carter.
Thus ended a happy and memorable week in the Spring of 1912. But sad to recount, our hero Charles F. Walsh later died in an accident with his Curtiss aeroplane.
Trenton N.J., Oct. 4th, 1912: WALSH, TRICK AVIATOR, DASHED TO HIS DEATH
Crowd of 60,000 People Witness Plunge At Fair. NOTED FOR DARING. Made on April 25 (sic) the First Flight Ever Witnessed Winchester and Vicinity.
"Sixty thousand people gasped, groaned and burst into tears at Trenton N.J. late yesterday afternoon as Charles F. Walsh, greatest trick aviator in the world, dashed from a height of 2,000 feet to instant death at the Interstate fairgrounds. Every bone in Aviator Walsh’s body was apparently broken. He had climbed to 5,000 feet before he began his spiral descent, which has caused the death of all the world’s greatest aviators. The first three turns were perfect, then the biplane collapsed like so much pasteboard, and came whirling through the air.
He was making the spiral descent with the front of the machine pointed almost downward, when the upper plane seemed to become loose. Walsh could be plainly seen struggling to regain his balance, but without avail. His condition was terrible. Walsh was caught under the motor with only his head protruding.
Previous to entering the machine he rode before thousands of people in an automobile with Mrs. Lincoln Beachy, wife of the famous aviator. Walsh was Beachy’s pupil in the trick-flying.It was Beachy who first taught him the spiral glide, which was to make him famous, and then caused Beachy’s own death."
"His wife and small children were staying in Hammondsport, the home of Curtiss Aeroplane Co."
I am indebted to Ben Ritter, local historian, and to the Archives of Handley Library.
Robert O. Noyer
1316 Darlington Dr.
Winchester, VA 22603