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Friday, October 19, 2018

How Wilbur Wright Almost Died Going to Kitty Hawk

In 1900 Wilbur Wright wanted to go somewhere to test his new glider. He had been working on it above the bike shop and now he had found a perfect place where wind was constant and sand abundant for soft landings. The problem was it the Outer Banks of Kitty Hawk North Carolina, a desolate fishing village of castaways and nerdowells that was  almost impossible to get to. After taking a train to Elizabeth City Wilbur had to get a across Alebmarle Sound. Kitty Hawk was on a spit of land that kept the Atlantic Ocean at bay and was the home of many shipwrecks.

The man in the derby from Dayton Ohio found one Israel Perry to take him across the sound. They set out in a small skiff to get to his boat moored offshore. This was his first inclination there might be a problem. The boat immediately took on water. Wilbur and Perrys son began to bail like mad and when he asked the condition of the sailing schooner Perry told him the skiff was in better shape than the sailboat. They reached the boat and Wilbur found out this was true. They headed across intro the teeth of a lingering hurricane.

Wilbur now was bailing for his life.  When the main sail blew down he had to to out on the top of the boat to retrieve it. The weather turned so bad that Perry headed for a sand bar with only the jib acting as a kite. The boat was in danger of being swamped and Wilbur bailed with Perrys son to keep from gong to the bottom. When they finally reached the other side of the bay in the morning, Wilbur fell asleep on the dock waking to the sleepy isolated community of Kitty Hawk. He had survived. In three years he would look down upon the Albermarle Sound...from the sky.

Wright Brothers Wrong Story

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Orville Wright's Girlfriend

We have been told the Wright Brothers are stick men. They had no carnal knowledge and didn't want any. They come through history as these sawdust figures without urges, needs, bodily fluids. They are men in derbies and high collars hurrying to the next meeting on how to make a better airplane. Historians marvel that these men were so singularly focused on cracking the code of flight that they did not need women or anything else that mere mortals required. But...like most myths, it is simply not true.

Her name was Mabel Beck. She was Orville's secretary, protector, keeper of all things, and his girlfriend. This would not be revealed until the 1990's and then ignored by historians and all people writing on the Wright Brothers. But it was true. Many suspected it for years. After Wilbur had died Mabel moved onto the second brother. She had been Wilbur's secretary for years and then became Orville's. But Wilbur died in 1912 and that left Orville and Mabel 36 years to get to know each other before he succumbed to a heart attack in 1948.

In those years a secret relationship between the world famous inventor and the Dayton local girl developed. The smoking gun in all of this would happen during the Great Depression when a young boy pulled himself up to Orville Wrights laboratory window. He had been shining Orville's shoes and was curious to see the inventor at work. What he saw was Mabel Beck on Orville's lap and making out with the brother of Wilbur.

This clandestine relationship would go on to the end of his life. It fit perfectly really. Wilbur could still come across as the asexual man while having the very woman who acted as bulwark against the world be his sexual partner. It is almost blasphemous to assert that either Wright Brother had an interest outside of flying into the wide blue sky. But at least in Orville's case, he didn't mind being grounded every now and then for some maintenance.

Wright Brothers Wrong Story



Monday, October 15, 2018

A Coin Toss Changed the History of Flight

We have seen the  iconic photo of Orville Wright flying in the plane in Kitty Hawk in 1903 and lifting off for 12 seconds and changing the history of modern flight forever. But what you don't know  is that history depended on which way a penny turned in the ocean wind three days before on Dec 14. That was when the Wright Brothers flipped a coin to see who would fly  first. Wilbur won and took off only to crash very quickly. Three days later Orville would fly and a box camera would record the image for all time.
 
And the world would make the assumption then that Orville was the father of flight as much as Wilbur. The fact that Wilbur would follow the 12 second flight with a 59 second flight would be hidden way in the annals of history. The first twelve seconds of flight had Orville as the pilot and historians would look up this as evidence he was as much a participant in cracking the code of flight as his brother. The coin toss would be mentioned then quickly forgotten.

But if the toss had gone the other way then Wilbur would have been the man to fly on Dec 17 1903 and he would have been the man whom history deemed to have broken the Rubicon of flight. History would have been altered forever. But as it was, the myth of the Wright Brothers began here.

Wright Brothers Wrong Story


Friday, September 28, 2018

You Know When Men Are Lying

I knew guys like Kavanaugh when I was growing up in Baltimore Maryland. I went to a prep school for a few years and right down to the accent I recognized the type. You win at any cost. I busted my tail. I heard that many times out of the Supreme Court nominee. I had heard that growing up from many guys who were headed to Ivy League Schools. Right down to the accent, the bluster, the aggressive in your face style. It is an East Coast persona you never forget. And you learn how to lie early on and you do it with a simply tactic, attack.
 
Its between the self aggrandizing tirades about sports, grades, schools, the pushing back against the Senators, there was the moments between moments which all men recognize. It is a hopeful desperate expression that shows you are just barely hanging on. After watching for eight hours yesterday I have no doubt that Kavanaugh wasn't telling the truth. The yearbook, the drinking, the sex.  It was obvious, but it was also obvious the fix was in. The good old boys club would stick together.

That East Coast swagger had gotten the supreme court nominee pretty far. He was going to use it bull his way through the Democratic Senators. He was going to cower, cajole, lie. But guys know. Like I said I have seen the type before. Right down to the yearbook and the drinking games. Win at any cost. Lie at any cost. All the way to the Supreme Court.

William Hazelgrove

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer was Nearly Destroyed in a Flood

In 1914 a monstrous flood hit Dayton Ohio. The streets became rivers with people being rescued with canoes or anything that would float. A levee just outside of town collapsed sending a torrent of water toward the town and the old Wright Cycle Shop. Behind the the shop was a shed and in that shed were the glass plates of the famous 1903 flight in Kitty Hawk North Carolina. Also in the shed were wooden crates. In those wooden crates was the 1903 Flyer itself.

The Wright Brothers had crated it up after the flight and thought nothing of putting the most famous airplane in the world in a storage shed behind their bicycle business. The shed could have been opened by anyone in the eleven years since Orville took to the air for twelve seconds on December 17 1903. Someone could have easily stolen the airplane. It was not even locked. But now it was in danger of being destroyed by the water rushing through the streets of Dayton.

Wilbur Wright had died in 1912. Orville was frantically trying to rescue his father who had been stranded in the family home. After putting his father in a canoe and getting him to safety he had to wait for the flood waters to recede. Hundreds died and the city of Dayton was devastated .Orville reached the shed the next day and opened the door. The glass plates had been submerged but the most famous photo of all taken on December 17 1903 of the First Twelve Seconds of flight had survived. The crates were water logged and he realized they had been under water from the layer of mud over the top.

When he finally opened the first crate he found the 1903 Flyer wet but undamaged. The mud had acted as an insulator and kept the water from pouring in. The most famous airplane in the world had survived and would eventually be given to the Smithsonian for safekeeping.

Wright Brothers Wrong Story



Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Republic For Which It Stands; The history behind the rise of Donald Trump

America is living though the death throes of the twentieth century. The American Century. If you want to see why Donald Trump was elected then go no further than the heartland. Here are millions of displaced people left over from the Greatest Century, the one that built America up and made her into a SuperPower. Mom was at home. Dad had a good job. Communities thrived. The world was Made Safe For Democracy. This all ended really with 9/11. That singular event coincided with the twenty first century, the internet, and globalization. The casualties were mighty. 

If you go to the small towns of the Midwest where I give lots of speeches and visit the libraries or Historical Societies you see pictures of a different America. In these pictures the towns are pumped up and thriving from companies that employed many of the people and that prosperity spread out like the mantra we have heard a million times all boats rise on the same tide. But all boats also fall when that tide recedes. When industry left America and the Internet knocked profits to the floor and  KMart and Walmart finished the job then only the skeletons of that past glory was left.

Of course Donald Trumps base will not budge. He is seventy years old. He grew up in that Great American Century. He believes those days will return. Everyone was white, middleclass, plugged into a firm American Culture. Now the last train the US Trump is pulling out of the station and everyone knows this is it. The final reckoning those days are over is at hand. The culture pulled away long ago along with mind numbing technology. We assume everyone has the latest smart phone and computer and went to college. It is simply not true.

The people I see are of an old America. Men and women in faded jeans with beards and hairstyles that haven't changed since the 1970s. This is not some great epiphany but we should be reminded that Trumpism did not come out of nowhere. It is a historical footnote to a century gone by that was so powerful it produced a country and a culture that influenced World Events and continues to influence the times we live in. The baton was handed off during the Obama Presidency but quickly recovered with a backlash that has been stunning. No. No. We are not ready for this was the message given. 

That is why these final death spams are so acute. The glimmer of a world to come scared the hell out of a lot of people and like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz people just wanted to tap  their shoes together and say there is no place like home and return to that safe and warm twentieth century that gave so much to so many in America. The Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain, working his levers, pumping out the smoke, provided the Ruby Slippers, wearing a hat that said... Make America Great Again.

Can  you blame them?

William Hazelgrove

Friday, August 31, 2018

Wright Brothers Wrong Story

When I was a kid living in Virginia my parents go to vacation was Kitty Hawk North Carolina. It provided for my parents that sense of getting away from it all in a rustic cottage along the eastern seaboard. For me it was hell. Isolation. Sand dunes. I spent many days mooning about the beach wondering when I could return to my all important life in Richmond and then Baltimore. But one of the offshoots or rituals of our trip was a sojourn to see the Wright Brother Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

We would drive up the hill and look at the monolith that is the Wright Memorial and then at the manikins they had in some sheds and then a replica of the 1903 Flyer and then we would trek down to the all important track marked where each of the three flights occurred that day Dec 17 1903. I would like to say I was lit on fire with what had occurred on those cold December days but it was another trip to another hot place that I had to endure. Still, there was a glimmer of curiosity. Something about those markers under the hot Carolina sun...the absolute isolation...who would come here to fly? And really, who were these two guys in ties and vests from Dayton Ohio.

Many years later I returned to research my book Wright Brothers Wrong Story with the same question. Who were the two high school drops outs who ran a bike shop and had cracked the rubicon of flight. I had read McCullough's book and it left me flat. I still didn't know who they were. They were still historical stick figures leaking sawdust from every pore. Who were they as human beings...that started me on the road that led me back to Kitty Hawk NC and it was here I realized the wrong story had been told ever since 1903.

I would attempt to tell the Wright Story.

Wright Brothers Wrong Story




Books by William Hazelgrove