Sixty-nine Air Heroes Got Medals, Twenty-Nine Deaths
Greatest Amount of Money
Won by Any One Up to December, 1910
Went to Paulham,
Knoxville, Tennessee, April 7, 1911
Transcribed by Bob Davis, 4-3-06
They have pulled the aviation balance sheet for the season just ended. One side is bordered with gold, the other piped with black,
said the New York World in an article reviewing the year 1910 and published just before Hoxsey
and Moissant met death on the closing day of the year.
From the wide-stretched wings of motor-pushed, man-built birds intrepid flyers have hung the gay emblem of achievement 10,000 feet up in cloudland. Others, reaching but for the stars, have ridden aloft to the music of waving kerchiefs and to fate which has for its finality the funeral wreath on the sodded mound. For every prize there's a price in the hero business. Twenty-nine have paid the price.
Chavez, the Peruvian, lies in the aviator's graveyard, his bones like so many broken sticks, his brave heart torn from its place. He had touched the high spots in his rides overhead and picked up a prize here and there until his purse had fattened to nearly $50,000. British eyes at Blackpool saw him soar on an even keel 6,000 feet up, and gave him acclaim when he again touched earth and stepped forward to the money window. At Issy, France, he put more than 8,000 feet between the bamboo frame on which he rode and the head-tilted throng below. Then he tried successfully for something even more spectacular. He mapped out a path for himself, such as the crow might take over the Alps, and from his perch looked down upon the snowcapped apexes and the narrow defiles through which Napoleon pushed his advancing army after the fleeing forces of Archduke Charles of Austria.
And with this accomplishment writ in the records of what a mere unfeathered biped may do in striving to be a bird he was about to alight on the plains of Lombardy - he paid the price. When the grave diggers in drab smocks had pulled the straps from under the lowered coffin peasant children bestrewed the mountain peaks over which Chavez had flown. He more commercial florist, alert to the delicate demands of his interesting calling, had added the airship to his stock of frames hung in his show window. The broken column has a new neighbor.
Chavez was one of the 29. Captain Matiewitch was another. He wore the czar's colors on his proud breast. He was not of the foot or horse guards, but of the battalion of the air. He had served his time in the basket swinging by many cords from the gas-filled dirigible and had advanced to the flying line. He, too, paid the price. It was field day when he paid it. Russia's greatest generals, standing on a hillock, trained their field glasses on him as his frail machine pushed upward. As they measure birdmen in the sky, he had reached 3,930 feet. He swung wide, circled and started back. At 1,640 feet something happened. The bird folded its wings. Then it dropped. They found the soldier in a wire-bound bundle a hundred times dead. Of marching troops, dirges and volleys he got the honors of an admiral on funeral day. Also, they paid him the compliment, new until that occasion, of ordering an airship to be thrice circled over the grave as the body was lowered therein. Proper funeral for a member of the battalion of the air. Jackies and the floral coffin on a rumbling gun caisson for an artillerist; riderless charger led by a stable groom for a calvaryman; circling biplane over the man-length grave for an aviator! How soon will it be a part of the blue-bound regulation in the adjutant's desk?
The list - the 29 - fits in here as well as further on. It is 15 months long, in time, for flying and dying as double attractions had their formal introduction in August a year back, at Rheims, the ancient city of the plains, where the kings of France were wont to fit themselves with crowns. The affair at Rheims was called a meet, a word taken from the vocabulary of the foxhunt and bicycle riding. In territory the list is both broad and long. Meets, with their cash prizes, became popular. Germany sent a stoic aloft to outdo the daredevil Parisian. Italy set its air motor a-chugging against the contentant from the Tyrol. England drew its best line in the sky above the fog and asked us to beat it. Everywhere there has been striving and dying, until the side of the aviation balance sheet that is piped with black bears these names: Lefebere [9/7/1909]; Ferber [Captain 9/22/1909]; Bossi [really Rossi 9/7/1909]; Hauvetti-Michlin (5/13/1910); Robi, (Ithaddeus 6/18/1910); Speyer [6/17/1910 in glider]; Haas, (really Henrich Hans 9/28/1910); Rolls, (Hon. Charles Stewart 7/12/1910); Daniel Kinet (7/10/1910); Nichola Kinets (8/3/1910); Maasdyck, (A. Van 8/27/1910); Poillot, (Edmond 9/25/1910); Madi(c)ot, (Captain 10/23/1910); Saghitti, (Lieutenant 10/27/1910); Johnstone, (Ralph 11/17/1910); Fernandez, [12/6/1909]; Delagrange, (Leon 1/4/1910); Le Blon, (Herbert 4/2/1910); Josley [or Zosely 6/2/1910]; Wachter, (Charles 7/3/1910); Plochman, (9/28/1910); Matiewitch, (Captain 10/7/1910); Waldern, Pasca Vivadi, (Lieutenant Marquis 8/20/1910); Von Pitter, Hamilton, Chavez, (George 9/27/1910); Blanchard, (Fernando 10/27/1910); Mente, (Lieutenant 10/24/1910); Hoxsey, (Arch 12/31/1910); Moisant (John B. 12/31/1910).
Every country has offered its man - some two or three; you may tell it by the names. Some have died leaving a word or two and maybe a figure in the record by which they may be remembered when the list has grown larger. Some have died as from a tumble from a housetop - a mean taking off when you consider that the setting is bounded only by trackless space. Chavez died thus - near the earth, after he had marched over mountain summit. And some have died with department orders signed and countersigned thrust in their belts as men who serve the guns or skirmish fathoms deep under the sea in steel bottles called submarines have done before now.
Johnstone was the last one on the American list. Johnstone, of Kansas City, and afraid of nothing. He knew the skies so well that they called him a guide. A million pair of eyes at one time or another had seen him go laughing into the skies, his skeleton machine wired arms to trunk like an anatomatical specimen, trembling along its length. He, too, had plucked some of its prizes. And he had traveled as far above the heads of plodding humans footed to earth and taken so many dips and dives and turns and whirls that he began to feel that the phrase “conquest of the air” applied to him. On two occasions Johnstone had expressed the belief that he would be the first to do real fancy work in the sky as to become, in a word, the aviating symnast and loop an imaginary loop.
Johnstone paid the price. The story of how he came down out of 200 feet with a tear and a thud has not begun to fade on the pages of the daily newspaper. His season ended in the grave. His name on the balance sheet is opposite the figures $19,108.
Now that men are dropping from new and hitherto unapproached heights - height far beyond the aforetime dizzy line - wandering minds are asking if it be possible for the quick to know that he soon is to be dead. It has a passing interest, but its importance is magnified.
“All my life seemed to pass before me,” said a man who plunged from a high building and cushioned happily at the abrupt stopping point.
If this be strictly authentic, what may be said of the operation of the brain of one already started on a downward journey of a full mile - the length of Brooklyn bridge - with speed multiplying every second? Not much time for a situation lending itself to coherent thought.
Leon Morane, who rode in from the clouds on a buckled aeroplane and astonished himself as well as others by living to refer to it, recalled that he felt faint. He probably did. But he didn't romp through the daisy fields of his boyhood, hear the soft drone of voices in the little hillside schoolhouse or sit with arm encircling his sweetheart amid the apple blossoms. The machine knotted itself, catapulted and scrunched - all in a jiffy.
When they reached the fatal thirteen in the list of 29 Glenn Curtiss suggested that flyers should be more careful. Then flights were resumed and the name of the fourteenth man dropped into its place in the growing list.
When Ehrmann rose over Barcelona he sailed into a thunderstorm. Lightning played in his rigging and the wire in flame. The canvas shriveled. Naturally he came back to the starting point by the direct route. He lived. The chapter which those who gathered round expected to hear was one word long - “horrible.”
F.S. Cody, the American, who was hired to give the American idea of flying to the troops at Aldershot, outrode a squall one day and then, swinging into another, came down in his wrecked machine. He had a short story to tell. It too, was one long word - “lucky.”
Twenty-nine have paid the final price of being air heroes. Who have been the prize winners? In the two lists, to which a name may be added, for the stars still will beckon, the average is a dead man for every three or thereabouts that are still alive. The greatest amount of money any aviator has won, the figure being taken from the published accounts is $32,000. Paulham got it. Only 25 had won $10,000 or more. Here is the list:
V. von Born
C. de Lambert
Baroness de Laroche
( ) dates and first names from second article "Thirty Aviators Killed during 1910..." in this newspaper, same date.
[ ] dates and first names from third article "Problems that Confront the Builders of Aeroplanes, ..." in this newspaper, same date.
Unable to verify the deaths of Waldern, Von Pitter and Hamilton right now.
Dave Lam recognizes only a Charles Walden of the USA who died on 8/4/1910 at Mineola, L.I.