Hoopla on the Hudson - Purple Mountain Press


by Lincoln Diamant

From "Monday, October 4, 1909"

UNDOUBTEDLY, the most important event of the day was Wilbur Wright’s fourth and most spectacular flight from Governers Island to a point about 1,000 feet north of Grant’s Tomb, and return. The previous day, Glenn Curtiss had made an unofficial flight of 45 seconds. Heading for the Statue of Liberty, Curtiss momentarily lost control of his aeroplane and immediately returned to the ground, and today began packing up his flying machine for shipment to his next demonstration, in St. Louis. For Wilbur Wright weather conditions were again almost ideal. Two American flags were affixed to the front rudder of the Flyer, and a life preserver was placed near his feet. The aeronaut left the ground at 9:33 am, and headed directly up the Hudson River. Conflicting air currents caused the aeroplane to waver a little in its course, but all was well.

Hearing the factory and ship’s whistles, crowds of people rushed to roofs and other points of vantage to salute the “man-bird” on his historic flight. He reached the southern end of the line of the great international war fleet that stretched ten miles north from 42nd Street.

From these death-dealing warships, any of which Wright could have destroyed with a single bomb, cheering sailors gazed in wonder and admiration at the daring aviator. Passing beyond Grant’s Tomb, Wright made a semicircular turn towards the New Jersey shore. The maneuver, which occupied about three-quarters of a minute, was executed at a height of from 100 to 150 feet.

On the return trip, with the wind at his back, Wright reached the Governor’s Island airfield at 10:26 am. He had been in the air 33 minutes and 33 seconds. The total distance covered by Wilbur Wright in his half-ton Flyer was reckoned to be about 20 miles. It was one of the most perilous air flights made up to that time. Wright said that air currents diverted by Manhattan’s skyscrapers were bothersome, and particularly a puff which he experienced at 23rd Street, where he was flying lower than the height of the new Metropolitan Insurance tower. In the afternoon an unfortunate accident to the Flyer precluded further air voyages. At 3:30 pm, the aeroplane was brought out to the launching rail. After nine unsuccessful attempts to start the propeller, a sudden explosion blew off a cylinder head. Mr. Wright spread out his hands and said simply, “No more flights in New York.” He had vindicated the confidence placed in him by the Commission’s Aeronautics Committee.

Within a month, the Wrights established their first flying school at College Park, Maryland.

Award-winning Hudson Valley historian Lincoln Diamant has translated his father’s day-by-day reports of the festival for a Dutch newspaper and provided illuminating and engaging commentary on the city in 1909 and biographical sketches of Hudson and Fulton. An epilogue traces the fate of the replicas of the two vessels that were at center of the greatest party ever held in the Hudson Valley.

Lincoln Diamant is the author of Chaining the Hudson: The Fight for the River in the American Revolution, and
D I V E ! The Story of David Bushnell and His Remarkable 1776 Submarine (and Torpedo).

127 pages, illus., 7 x 10, 2003
paperback $15.00--A Purple Mountain Press original

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