l Claude Berlin
Claude Berlin
First Airplanes Arrive in Lewis County
by Vic Kucera and Karen L. Johnson
     The county's first successful aviator was a young gentleman by the name of Claude Berlin. Berlin came to Centralia from Raymond where he owned a grocry store. He bought a grocery store in Centralia, too, but after sefveral years decided on a new career as a pilot. Centralia's Evening News-Examiner of March 16, 1912, stated that Berlin had gone on a trip to California, informing folks that he was "taking a course." His friends assumed he was taking a business course, but instead he was getting instructions in the art of flying. "The first week Mr. Berlin took lessons he was put into a thirty-horse machine and allowed to travel up and down the field without leaving the ground and practicing the steering part of the machine. After a week of this excercise Mr. Berlin was allowed to go ten feet in the air and practice the art of making a correct landing. Mr. Berlin stated that this is the hardest part of the game and is the cause of more accidents, as a bad landing is where most of the aviators come to grief. Mr. Berlin was next given a forty-horse power machine and was allowed to go up 100 feet for the first week and after that as far as 700 feet. At an elevation of 350 feet he had to stop his engine and practice gliding to the earth with the engine stopped. In gliding to the earth a mark was set to aim at and the aviator was to cut figure eights on the way down"
  These felt pennants, featuring Berlin's biplane, were created for the 1912 Hub City celebration.
From the Museum's collection.
       After Berlin acquired his pilot's license, he returned to Lewis County with a new Curtiss biplane purchased from Hammondsport, New York. An eight-cylinder 60-horsepower engine powered the 1400-pound biplane. Berlin made several flights over the area, but saved his first official flight for the morning of May 30, 1912, as a part of the annual Hub City Festival. Several thousand people gathered to witness his flight. According to the News-Examiner of that day, Berlin first "{went over the edge of Chehalis and then proceeded north to make his flight over Centralia. The arrangements included a landing east of the depot but Mr. Berlin stated that the air conditions wre not favorable for a successful landing and he also stated that from his altitude it appeared that the spectators were crowded in too close."
     Part of Berlin's exhibition that day included a champagne christening of several new buildings in town: the high school, post office. Carnegie library, and railroad depot. Berlin carried champagne bottles aloft, with the idea of dropping them over the buildings in question. Apparently, Berlin's flying skills were better than his marksmanship--he missed the post office and library, but finally namaged to score a direct hit on the roof of the depot, breaking several roofing tiles in the process.
Genette Salick
  Genette Salick christens Berlin's plane "Centralia" aat the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds in May, 1912
From the Museum's collection.
       On the following day, a local girl, Genette Salick, christened Berlin's flying machine with another bottle of champagne. The biplane was named "Centralia." Berlin later toured the country giving flying exhibitions, but gave up flying after a short time. In fact, by the end of 1912, he was the only member of his Curtiss school graduating class left alive.
     In January 1913, a prominent aviator came to Centralia to buy Berlin's airplane. Centralia's Daily Chronicle-Examiner reported that on a test flight in Berlin's machine, Walter Edwards hit a power or telegraph line over Waunch's Prairie, and plummeted 60 feet to the ground. Edwards sustained a sprained ankle and numerous bruises, while the plane wa badly wrecked. No news on whether Edwards bought the plane. Berlin went on to work at the newly formed Boeing Company as a factory superintendent.
from The Lewis County Historian
599 N.W. Front Way, Chelais, Washington
Volume 26 - No. 4           December 2004

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