The rest of the story on the 1912 plane flight
In this space on Sept. 28, we told the story of a historic plane flight from the race track on the Bloomingdale Road, now the location of the BOCES school.
I asked a number of questions in the column that were not answered in the 1912 news story, one being, did he drop the candy to the young boy at Pinehurst as he flew over? What kind of a biplane was in Saranac Lake in 1912? Well, it was a Burgess/Wright biplane. Read on about the candy drop.
Well, guess what? My friend Phil “Bunk” Griffin, the best history researcher in the Adirondacks, with the best Web page, not only came up with some of the answers; he has sent me various pictures of the plane.
In the previous column we told about Miss Edith M. Stearns being the first woman to aviate (sic) the Adirondacks in the plane owned and piloted by George Gray. He picked her up on the Fletcher Farm Road near Norman Ridge and flew her to the race track. She was also the first woman to aviate in her home state of Virginia.
Miss Stearns, affectionately known as “Jackie,” later married Mr. Gray and, according to Bunk, was his “manager.” She wrote a book, “UP,” about her flying experiences and about her participation in the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Courtesy of Norman Craybill:
“The airplane I built with the help of one man to enter in the Ice Carnival Parade in February 1913, at Saranac Lake, NY. I won fifth prize with it in competition with sixty floats, but froze my feet for the honor. The violets on the levers are real. I am flaunting the ‘VA’ on my cap for the Virginia Eagles and my home state.” (This was the caption for a photo carried in the official newsletter of the Virginia Aeronautical Historical Society.)
The following will be of interest to all the pilots in the area, especially those pilots who are members of the “Liars Club” whom I meet with almost daily at the Airport Cafe in Lake Clear. Among them are Jack Finegan, Milton Bickle, Lutz Gosser, Pete Gladd and Floyd Lampart. Some own and fly their own planes. My hero is Floyd, who recently completed a nearly 12,000-mile bike ride around the United States, raising money for abandoned pets. He owns his own plane which is now all apart, but he is putting it back together. I hope he doesn’t invite me on the maiden flight.
The cafe is in the charge of genial host and owner Bonnie; I cannot use her last name because she is my confidential informant regarding all the behind-the-scenes happenings at the airport.
The following is by “Jackie,” now Mrs. George Gray:
“During these early days of flying we flew over my old home town of Culpepper, Virginia. One flight I remember particularly, over this El Dorado of magnificent scenery. We attempted to fly with poor test gasoline. The airplane could safely carry the aviator but not ‘excess baggage.’ I was determined to go up, because as the motor hummed for a take-off the gate receipts had mounted to a considerable figure and I did not wish to return the money. I was at the time desirous to help a very ill girl friend at Saranac Lake who had tuberculosis. (Bunk is trying to find her name.) I was adamant on making that flight, even if it were only ten feet in the air so I could keep the gate receipts legally. She needed immediate funds and I justified the moral end of it by promising the crowd a longer and higher flight if the one that day did not satisfy them. Gary finally consented and said we’d try a ‘hop.’ That ‘hop’ missed by a narrow margin being a fatal one.
“We rumbled off across the fairgrounds, a much too short run for a safe take-off. We took this chance because it was the only practical place we could get an admission price paid, and as we rose in the air, the engine began to sputter and miss – then suddenly it got ‘sleeping sickness’ and quit altogether. There we were, three hundred feet up, with no possible chance by making it back to the racetrack. Gray had to think quick, I thought not at all. Under us was a high fence, bordering the Southern Railway tracks, where fate decreed a freight train was slowly puffing along adding to our precarious predicament. We took the fence posts and all. Neither one of us was injured and only four dollars damage was done to the plane. The kind people would not let us return the gate receipts. Gray helped me keep my faith to the people by circling the entire County of Culpeper one week after our nearly disastrous flight. In the ‘stick-and-string’ contraptions of those early days, as the airplane has been called, it was a hair-raising escape.”
After their barnstorming career, Jackie and George had three children: George Jr., Newcombe and Jacquelyn.
(Next week I will tell you about a person who has roosters to give away.)