Miami's First Plane

Howard W. Gill
Everest G, Sewell (HAIF collection)

In the summer of 1911 President Taft celebrated his twentv-fifih wedding anniversary England had a new king. George V; economic optimism had replaced the 1907 panic; and the University of Florida had just graduated its largest class- thirty-one.
     Miami was fifteen that summer; population five thousand. paved streets twenty-five mi1es. The First National Bank had a capital stock of S100,000, the local chapter of the W.C.T.U. met regularly to fight Demon Rum, a room at the San Carlos cost $2.50 a day, E. B. Douglas sale-priced "elegantly trimmed ladies' drawers" for 99c, and a kid with fifteen cents could swim in ihe pool of the Royal Palm Hotel.

Dr. Thelma Peters wrote this article for Update ten years ago and this is the time to reprint it.
     It was a good summer.
     With exuberant civic pride the city fathers proclaimed a three-day celebration of their
Magic' City's birthday. Everest G. Sewell, pioneer Miami booster, was named chairman of the celebralion committee.
     The top event during three days of parades. baseball games. excursions, boat races, and banquets was to be the actual flight of an actual aeroplane. Most of lhe people in Dade County had never ieen one. Mr. Sewell contracted with the Wright Brothers of Dayton, Ohio, to send down a Wright biplane by train along with a "birdman" who would make six demonstration fliqhts. three on July 20, three on July 21. The cost was 5$7,500, money eagerly donated by merchants and other individuals.
     An aeroplane in Miami? The ex- citement was almost too much to bear. A few weeks before the plane arrived the Daily Metropolis commmented that a new disease of epidemic proportions had hit Miami - a disease diagnosed as "aero-planitis", one symptom of which was a rubber neck. People with the disease kept tilting their heads back and scanning the sky.
     The city namedJune 22 as Clean-UP Day Store fronts got fresh paint. back yards were raked, streets repaired and swept, and housewives aired Ihe guest bedroom.
     Preparations intensified as July 20 approached. Sheriff Dan Hardie and a jail trusty climbed all over the two-story, native-stone courthouse, draping it with red.
white and blue bunting. Palm fronds, flowers, flags, bunting and even a large model aeroplane decorated the store windows and the buildings along Twelfth Street (present Flagler), the route of the parades. Guests poured in, filling all the hotels and private "spare rooms." The delegation from Key West. numbering almost five hundred. came partly on business, to advertise their own upcoming celebration of ihe completion of the Overseas Railroad scheduled for the following January.
     Seminole Indians moved into tents in the rear of Girtman Brothers store, Cypress, Frank, Coffee and Teeth Pull Tiger, Phillip Bi11ie, Johnny ]umper, Harry Doctor and others, including squaws and children. Some were to ride on a float in a parade. Some were to do a war dance on Twelfth Street. A1l were curious to see what the white man was up to.
     At Miami Golf Links, as Miami's only golf club was known at that time, a grandstand was built near The fairway which was to serve as runway. The Golf Links were out in the country and up the Miami River in the location of the present Civic Center The local militia, the Miami Rifles, commanded by Captain G. D. Brossier. patrolled the field to keep spectators safeiy away from the plane.
     Almost everybody in South Florida, guest or resident, was at the Golf Links on the afternoon of Iulv 20 They came by foot, on wagons, on horseback, by bicycle, and in the high-wheeled, snub-nosed autos of that
Howard W. Gill Wright Brothers bi-plane in which Aviator Howard Gill took off at the Miami Golf Links as part of Miami's three-day
celebration of its 15th birthday. HASF collection, Dean Miller gift

day. The crowd which the Press called "monstrous" insize was probably the largest assemblage of people in South Florida up to that time. There might have been five thousand there - scarcely a splash in today's Orange Bowl.
     With the band Playing, two attendants wheeled the light wooden plane, its two wings cloth-covered, bnto the fairway and within sight of the spectators. Wild applause. Aviator Howard Gi1l appeared. He took his seat at the controls, visible to all in the open frame. More applause. The prop was spun, the thirty-five- horsepower motor roared, and he was off down the fairway. Almost before a soul could breathe he was airborne, "exactly like a partridge taking wing," one spectator remarked.
     of the field not much above lhe tree tops. In the other two flights of the dav the pilot went higher. performed stunts described as "spiraIs" and
"rocking the boat." But it was on the second day, July 21, that he outdid himself. He climbed to 7,500 feer, a mere speck to ihe viewers be1ow. Then the motor died. Had he cut it off.? Was he out of control? The plane seemed to be plummeting to earth. Was he doomed? No, he was leveling off. the motor was on again. Five thousand people breathed again.
     The pilot landed to wild applause. He invited Mr. Sewe11, the celebtation chairman, to take a ride with him, The crowd roared its approval. Would Sewe11 dare? He would. He calmly took a seat beside Gi11, exposed, as Gil1 was, to the full force of the wind. Vicariously, five thousand people were about to have their first plane flight.
     For his passenger's sake Gill kept this flight low and easy. They stayed under a thousand feet. Sewell, enjoying every moment, had his first bird's eye view of the city he so ardentlv promoted.
     Later Gi1I said Sewell was the coolest passenger he ever had. Sewell said flying was "a delightful sensation indescribably pleasant." Sewell became an aviation enthusiast for life that day.
     After the last flight Gi1l, the hero of the day, asked if he could please have a glass of milk. He said flying made him thirsty.
     The first flight set ln motion a series of steps which were to make Miami a leader in aviation. Sewell was so convinced that flying would soon become commercially practical that he got the city to offer the Wright Brothers $1,000 to bring a flying school to Miami. They declined but Sewel1 persisted and did bring the Curtiss flying School to Miami. Until his deaih in I940 Sewell worked tirelessly to improve Miami airports, to expand air traffic, and to better trade relalions particularly with the Latin Amerlcan countries. Historical1y he is lhe father of Interama,
Article from 1985 which appeared in the Historical Association of Florida update Magazine
Contributed by Alan Magluta, 7-23-11

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