Chapter 3
     While aviation inundated the European countryside in a ground swell of popular activity, flying in the United States was all but confined to a few hardy demonstration performers, who carried it to the people at county fairs or carnivals. The first serious attempt to promote such local exhibitions was a direct outgrowth of the Belmont Park tournament. A group of contestants at loose ends after the meet were recruited by John B. Moisant---that restless and indefatigible soldier of fortune---for a tour of indefinite duration. This enterprise was to signal the birth of barnstorming. In a country where "Barnum and Bailey" was a household term, the flying circus was a typically American phenomenom. Traveling by special train with built-in repair shop, the entourage included a tent and a dozen roustabouts, a dozen ticket sellers and press agents, a dozen aeroplanes and their mechanics, and eight death-defying aviators.
     Under the name Moisant's International Aviators, Ltd., the itinerant troupe started out from New York, opening in Richmond. It then went on to Chattanooga and Memphis, Tupelo (Mississippi), New Orleans, Dallas and Fort Worth, and Oklahoma City; back to Texas, with shows at Waco, Temple, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso; across the border to Monterrey, Mexico City, and Vera Cruz in Mexico; and finally to Havana, Cuba. As might be expected, the odyssey was fraught with countless adventures and accidents---including a crash that killed the leader of the expedition hismself.
     With his usual flair for the dramatic, Moisant chose the last day of the year---in other words, the last possible moment---to try for the Michelin nonstop distance prize. He would have to beat a French mark of 362.7 miles in 7 hours 48 minutes 31 seconds, set by Maurice Tabuteau only the day before with a Maurice Farman biplane. But Moisant was counting on the luck that had ridden with his so far---as well as on the one Bleriot in the stable considered in good enough condition to make the attempt. Flying a short hop from the nearby racetrack, where the circus had pitched its tent, to territory more favorable for the long grind, he was coming down with the wind when a gust upended the tail of his machine. Moisant was pitched forward and out from a height of fifteen feet, breaking his neck. (By coincidence, at approximately the same hour, Arch Hoxsey---twin star with Ralph Johnstone in the altitude events at the Belmont meet---was killed at Los Angeles when he lost control of his Wright and turned over during a "spiral Glide" from a great height.) Actually, the winner of the 1910 Michelin trophy was in doubt until late that December 31; for the Alsatian flyer Pierre Marie Bournique, setting record after record for speed with his R.E.P. at Buc, threatened to beat Tabuteau. Bournique covered 330 miles in 6 hours 30 minutes before having to give up.
     True to tradition, the show went on after the death of Moisant. John B.'s older brother Alfred took charge; and in the pleasant weather of Mexico and Cuba proficiency rapidly increased, exhibitions were more successful, and gate receipts prospered. When the tour was over and the troupers disbanded early in 1911, Alfred Moisant returned to New York and opened an aviation school at Hempstead Plains, near Garden City, Long Island, where a vast acreage was admirably adaptable to practice flying. Alfred had the assistance of Harold Kantner, and early exhibition flyer, as well as of George H. Arnold, Mortimer F. Bates, J Hector Worden,and Chief Pilot S. S. Jerwan---"all licensed aviators," as the prospectus put it. A sister, Matilde Moisant, lent glamor to the school by becoming an expert aviatrix, winning a respected place for herself among here male colleagues.
From CONTACT: The Story of the Early Birds

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