Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Glenn Curtiss and the 1910 Flight from Euclid Beach to Cedar Point

Glenn Curtiss
[from the Charles E. Frohman Collection]

It was a more than a strange sight to the 100,000 spectators who jammed Cleveland’s Euclid Beach in late August 1910. A man with goggles, helmet, and an inner tube draped around his neck was stepping onto what looked to many like a box kite. In reality, it was Glenn Curtiss and his Hudson flier, preparing for a flight over the waters of Lake Erie from Euclid Beach to Cedar Point.

Sponsored by Cedar Point and Cleveland’s “Press,” the flight was intended to bring publicity to the Lake Erie resorts. For Curtiss, the 64-mile trip would mean $15,000 in prize money if he could make the trip in under an hour, circle the Breakers Hotel at 3,000 feet, and return to Cleveland the following day. More importantly for Curtiss, it would mean breaking the world record for over-water flight held by the Frenchman Bleriot who had flown the English Channel.

Throwing up sand, Curtiss bounced down three hundred feet of beach, barely missing a retaining wall, before turning to pass over the cheering throngs below. Loaded down with 10 gallons of gas and two quarts of oil, Curtiss’ 850-pound pusher-type biplane could barely rise above 200 feet. The aviator hugged the shoreline to avoid wind currents that began to tax his 30-horsepower engine. Curtiss shifted from side-to-side in his seat to balance the fragile craft.

Few believed that Curtiss could make the daring flight. Rescue boats; stationed off shore at Edgewater Park, Rocky River, Avon, Lorain, Vermilion, and Huron, testified to their lack of faith. More than 300,000 people were strung out along the route to catch a glimpse and perhaps help pluck the “birdman” from the water.

Although Curtiss foresaw the day when planes could carry “up to ten passengers,” he too had his doubts on that August afternoon. Wind gusts slowed the craft at Lorain and Huron. But soon Curtiss could see the Breakers and some 20,000 onlookers waiting for him on the beach. In a slow descent, he skimmed the waves and dropped lightly to the beach. The crowds swarmed the aviator, tearing off his goggles and gloves, and hoisting him onto their shoulders.

Amid rain, gusts of wind, and blowing sand, Curtiss took off for Cleveland the following day. So strong were the winds on the return flight that Curtiss feared that his Hudson flier would break up completely. It took 102 minutes, but the brave pilot landed safely at Euclid Beach where thousands once again mobbed him in a wild celebration.

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