In 1911 Fred Wiseman made history by carrying some letters on his airplane. That is the least interesting part of the story.
Saturday, February 18, was the second leg of his Petaluma-to-Santa Rosa trip (coverage of day one appeared in the previous article and is essential reading before continuing this narrative). On Friday Wiseman had flown only a little over three miles before he was forced to land and by the time his crew pulled the aircraft out of its muddy field, it was too windy to fly. With the machine on solid ground the next morning, he was ready to finish his voyage.
Awaiting his arrival, most of Santa Rosa was cranked up tighter than a 6-year-old on Christmas morning. Any moment now, a real aeroplane would be flying overhead! Few in town had seen a plane in the air except in newspaper and magazine photographs, but nearly every day the local and San Francisco newspapers told the public that aviation was The Most Exciting Thing in the World. It was a rare front page in 1911 that didn’t have a story about fearless “birdmen” soaring through the skies, setting new records and winning fortunes in prize money. They thrilled audiences with their derring-do and terrified them with their fatal accidents, which did not happen infrequently.
Making it all more exciting, the Santa Rosa papers reminded readers at every opportunity Wiseman was no ordinary birdman; he was a hometown boy who had built his marvelous flying machine just outside of town. The Press Democrat also repeated claims made at the recent San Francisco air show that he was the first California aviator and flying the first plane constructed in the state, although the paper knew better. Just a little over a year earlier the PD had celebrated Blaine G. Selvage who built and flew his own airplane in Eureka, making him probably the first person to fly anywhere on the West Coast.
To alert the public that Wiseman cometh, the Press Democrat told readers to expect a godawful commotion. Once their spotter in Cotati saw Wiseman on his way, all factories in town were to blow their screaming steam whistles, the fire bell would clang and there would be “a succession of bomb explosions.”
|When you hear the whistles all begin to blow and when the firebell also joins in the din, get outside and prepare to “rubber” for it will mean that Fred J. Wiseman, the Santa Rosa aviator, in the first practical airship ever constructed in California, is coming home.
The Press Democrat wasn’t the only paper in town and the Santa Rosa Republican was likewise following events with avid interest. Once word came that Wiseman had taken off from Petaluma on Friday morning, “…news was flashed to Grace Brothers Brewing Company and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and by them was heralded through their steam sirens to the waiting populace. Again the REPUBLICAN had scored and as usual gave the news to the people first… [emphasis theirs].”
Wiseman barely made it out of Petaluma city limits before bringing the aircraft down, as we know. Meanwhile in Santa Rosa, the false alarm caused pandemonium. As reported in the PD the next morning:
|…Santa Rosa was wildly excited. A premature announcement of Wiseman’s approach had been put out by the blowing of whistles and the ringing of bells and everybody was out of doors, and on the qui vive to see the great airship come sailing home. Hundreds of people [? climbed to ?] the roofs and the streets leading to the south part of town were quickly lined with pedestrians. Scores of automobiles started out to greet the plucky and daring aviator who had sworn that he “would never bring the machine back until it flew back.” For a time business was practically suspended. The schools were dismissed for the afternoon or rather they were not called to order because the pupils were all out watching for the airship of which they had heard and read so much.
When no flying machine appeared, most people returned to their duties, although a large number remained out practically all day waiting for the sight that was fated not to materialize. Many automobilists went all the way to Denman’s and for a distance of several miles below town machines were stationed at various points of vantage during the greater part of the afternoon. Great inconvenience and an unnecessary disappointment to the public was caused by the giving out of this premature and ill-advised announcement, although the newspaper responsible boasts of it as a great achievement.
And with that nasty swipe, the Great Santa Rosa Newspaper Feud was renewed.
Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley and Republican editor Allen Lemmon had much in common – both were Chamber of Commerce leaders and zealous town boosters – but as competitors they mostly maintained a sulking armistice, pretending the other newspaper didn’t exist. The big exception had been the flapdoodle of 1904, when the pair mudslinged and hammered away at each other over election year politics. The feud over Wiseman became far more vicious and personal.
Finley appeared deeply invested in Fred’s flight, emotionally if not financially. (There was boozy talk at a banquet the month before about raising $3,000 to reward him for the Santa Rosa flight, but nothing more was ever said about that.) Wiseman had agreed to carry a half-dozen copies of the Press Democrat and drop them en route and the paper made it appear he was to be their aerial newsboy. “PRESS DEMOCRAT READERS TO BE SERVED BY WISEMAN,” read a headline the day before he took off. Reporting on his three-minute hop from Petaluma, the PD gushed, “All along the route Wiseman served Press Democrat subscribers with their morning paper, although of course the most of them had already been served by the regular carriers earlier in the day.”
The PD coverage of that day included an apocryphal story that’s mentioned in probably every retelling of the event: “At one farmhouse a woman ran out and waved her apron at the intrepid aviator sailing high in the air just above her head, and he quickly reached down and threw her a copy of that morning’s Press Democrat from the bunch tied beside him on the seat.” Wiseman told a different version to Flying magazine in 1947: “He remembers now that one woman dashed from her farmhouse to wave a dish towel for him to ‘scat’ when he zoomed close overhead,” apparently because he was spooking her farm animals.
The war between the two papers paused only long enough for Wiseman to complete his trip on Saturday morning. Once word was received that he was underway,
|Inside of one minute bombs were being exploded in front of The Press Democrat office to notify the public, the whistles were blowing, and the whole town knew that Wiseman the undaunted was coming home.
All over town automobiles were in readiness, and people quickly piled in and started for the south side where it was recognized that the best view of the flight could be obtained. Hundreds of people sought places of vantage on the housetops and on the roofs of the tall buildings. And sure enough, there he came!
What they saw, for the most part, was just a distant blip in the sky; Wiseman had flown for about twelve minutes before he again had to make an emergency landing, this time just outside Santa Rosa city limits (approximate location).*
The PD again played up the newspaper delivery gimmick: “Wiseman carried a big package of Saturday morning’s addition [sic] of The Press Democrat, which had been taken down of the early morning train. As he sailed over the various farmhouses along the line of his flight, Wiseman dropped a copy of the paper into each dooryard, one man catching his paper in his hands as it fell.” The Petaluma Argus description was decidedly less exuberant: “He dropped bundles of Santa Rosa papers along the road.”
Now that Wiseman had finished his voyage and the Press Democrat’s bomb supply was exhausted, the papers could get back to backstabbing. That same evening the Santa Rosa Republican defended the premature excitement of the day before; they had received a call from Wiseman’s team that he had left Petaluma and soon would be in Santa Rosa. “The disappointment came as the result of Wiseman’s being unable to complete the trip as he had planned it, not because the people were notified that he had started,” the Republican editorialized.
“The morning paper seems perturbed because the REPUBLICAN gave the first news to the public, as it always does…what a superior man the little fellow at the head of the morning paper presumes himself to be.”
PD editor Finley shot back, in part: “It will take more than the silly vaporings of an amateurish scribe to convince the reading public of the superiority of the Evening Republican’s organization and news service, and to establish the reliability of its statements.”
Republican editor Lemmon loaded his cannon and fired: “Sonoma county has been the scene of the achievements of many wonderful men. Among them Luther Burbank stands at the head. Fred J. Wiseman, the daring aviator is contending for a place at the top, but these gentlemen will have to beware, or their honors will be taken away from the ruthlessly by the egotist who edits the morning paper.”
Lemmon relished that the PD had an embarrassing typo in its boast of Wiseman delivering the Saturday “addition” of the paper and wrapped it up with a nasty (yet somehow lyric) ad hominem insult: “The general public is laughing at his egotism and are expecting him to extend the gay plumage with which he adorns himself and imitate the Wiseman act and take a flight into the upper ether.”
Really, you have to read the whole thing.
Lemmon’s screed might have included a valid point about inaccuracy of the Press Democrat’s reporting. The Republican said Wiseman landed on Saturday in a corral; the PD claimed it was in a plowed field, like the day before. Lemmon accused, “…the immaculate ‘professional’ journalist contented himself with a long distance view of the machine and the cattle corral and guessed at it.” But truth be told, a close look at coverage by both Petaluma and both Santa Rosa papers find they disagreed on almost everything.
Some differences were trivial geographic mistakes; for example, the Petaluma reporters seemed to accurately pin where his airship landed north of Petaluma on Friday, but clearly didn’t know Santa Rosa’s layout well enough to describe where he ended up on Saturday (the footnote below discusses this further).
Nor was there agreement why Wiseman had to unexpectedly land each time. On Friday, the Petaluma Argus claimed a flooded carburetor; the Press Democrat said his magneto gummed up. The Santa Rosa and Petaluma newspapers were even further apart on the cause of Saturday’s failure. The PD reported a wire “jarred loose” but the Petaluma Argus described a more dramatic and dangerous situation, with a broken crankshaft creating “a ball of fire that could be seen for a mile.”
Although modern retellings invariably repeat the PD’s version of events, when it comes to descriptions of mechanical problems I give greater credibility to what appeared in the Argus. They named their source as Joe Steiger, a Petaluma man who was the driver for Wiseman’s support team and someone certainly in a position to know what they were saying about the aircraft’s failures. Where the Argus was specific as to what had gone wrong, the Press Democrat’s “jarred loose” explanation sounded more like an uninformed guess.
The feud might well have continued – Ernest L. Finley was usually never content until he had the last word – except for what happened two days later. During his exhibition flights at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair Wiseman crashed his airplane badly and apparently was nearly killed. Bad luck dogged Wiseman again a few days later, when a fierce windstorm hit the big tent near Windsor where his team was rebuilding the plane; “a large number of the parts of the machine scattered to the winds,” the Press Democrat noted, before they were able to wrestle the aircraft into a barn.
Although we probably don’t know every appearance Wiseman made during the remainder of 1911, what was reported in the Santa Rosa papers shows it was mostly a rocky time. In April he made a couple of exhibition flights in Petaluma and his parents finally got to see him fly; the next month he was in Olympia, Washington, where he made a few three-minute flights around harbor to great acclaim. Then in July he fell from 500 feet in Salinas; at the state fair in Sacramento he crashed after two minutes.
Wiseman returned to Santa Rosa in September for a two-day exhibition at the fairgrounds following harness races. The event was promoted in half-page Press Democrat ads: “This will be Wiseman’s last appearance in Santa Rosa and the opportunity is offered the public to see the wonderful spiral dive and daring dips, sensational, interesting maneuvres [sic] The Wiseman Biplane is now in perfect working order, and today’s flights are POSITIVELY GUARANTEED. Ladies insist on coming. You will not be disappointed.”
Alas, he flew only the first day. On Sunday the crowd waited three hours and word spread that he was waiting for winds to die down. That may have been partly true, but the main issue was that Fred’s manager was in a backroom fighting with the promoter from the racing association, arguing the contract guaranteed a share of the gate whether or not Wiseman was able to fly. “The gullible public got ‘theirs’ Sunday and got it hard, and the two crowds are simply engaged in passing the buck,” the Republican complained. “There was dissatisfaction at the outcome of the matter the way people were treated, and aviation meets here in future will probably not prove much of a drawing card.”
Wiseman retreated from exhibition flying. A November item in the PD stated he was considering a Sacramento to Reno flight, which would have made him the first pilot to cross the Sierra Nevada. In what could only be called Wiseman’s Folly, he was said to be testing winds with kites on the summits and planning a flight the following spring. He never attempted it; not until 1919 would the mountains be crossed, and then by Army aviators flying powerful de Havilland biplanes at 14,000 feet, nearly thirty times higher than Fred’s best altitude.
Fred Wiseman was now 36, and the mountain cold probably renewed every ache from those many crashes. The year began with such triumphs and ended with many in his hometown feeling he had cheated them. As he flew his kites he probably thought of the cheering crowds and the thrill of his aircraft lifting off. You can bet he was thinking of how lucky he had been, with so many other aviators dead or horribly injured. There were big prizes but also money deals gone sour. The one thing he certainly was not thinking of were those three silly, ceremonial letters he carried to Santa Rosa, which would one day make his fame.
|* All of the contemporary accounts differ slightly as to his landing location near Santa Rosa. It was agreed that it was outside of city limits – which at the time was roughly the intersection of Santa Rosa Ave and Petaluma Hill Road – within a mile from downtown, and on the Enz Dairy property. Without deeply researching property records, the location indicated is probably a good approximation. When this section was incorporated into the city the dairy was given a Barham Avenue address, and this location is slightly less a statute mile from Courthouse Square.
PRESS DEMOCRAT READERS TO BE SERVED BY WISEMANHome-Coming of the Birdman May Occur Almost any TimePress Democrat Lookout at Cotati Will be Given Signal as Airship Passes that Point. Provided All is Well and Public Will be Notified by Means of Steam Whistles and Alarm from Fire Bell
Fred J. Wiseman, the Santa Rosa aviator, is about ready to make his flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa and will start as soon as weather and other conditions are satisfactory, but it is impossible to say exactly when the trip will be made. It will occur within the very near future and may be made today.
The Press Democrat has arranged with the management to be kept constantly advised as to the developments and the public will in turn be notified by the blowing of whistles and the ringing of bells as was the case regarding the news of the vote on the Panama Pacific Exposition bill.
Wiseman will serve Press Democrat subscribers with papers all along the route and in order to avoid confusion and prevent disappointment The Press Democrat will have a man on duty at Cotati to telephone the news ahead as soon as the airship passes that point.
No news will be given out by The Press Democrat until after the airship passes Cotati, and as a further safeguard, special arrangements have been made with Wiseman to notify the lookout at Cotati whether or not the englines are working satisfactorily, and the prospects appear good for the flight being completed. This signal will be conveyed by means of a handful of small paper slips of various colors. If all is well as Wiseman passes Cotati he will throw out his signal and so notify the lookout to that effect. If any trouble has developed en route, and if the prospects do not appear bright for completing the flight, no signal will be given and the machine will be brought to earth.
In addition to serving subscribers along the route with copies of The Press Democrat, Wiseman will also carry a grocery order for the firm of Hickey & Vonsen of Petaluma, entitling the holder to a quantity of merchandise on presentation at their store. Wiseman will also carry legal documents from a well-known resident of Petaluma to be deposited in the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa.
When you hear the whistles all begin to blow and when the firebell also joins in the din, get outside and prepare to “rubber” for it will mean that Fred J. Wiseman, the Santa Rosa aviator, in the first practical airship ever constructed in California, is coming home.
Wiseman will be given a great reception upon his arrival here.– Press Democrat, February 16, 1911WATCH OUT FOR WISEMAN SKY-SAILING ON SATURDAYSplendid Test Flight Made in Petaluma YesterdaySanta Rosa Aviator Will Come Home in His Big Airship, but Wishes to Wait Until Fair Weather and Dry Ground Make Sure a Good Landing Place
Aviator Fred Wiseman did not attempt to make his home-coming yesterday…
…In every respect the condition of the machine is now regarded as satisfactory and equal to the work it will be called upon to perform, and barring accidents or developments of an unforeseen nature there is no question whatever but that Wiseman will be able to make his homeward flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa whenever he decides to start. Representatives of The Press Democrat present at Kenilworth Park yesterday were surprised that any attempt should have been made to pull off even a test flight, in view of the softness of the ground there. A few days ago the field was mostly under water and yesterday when the machine was being rolled over the field the wheels sunk into the mud a distance of several inches. The ground is drying fast, however, and it is believed that by Saturday it will be in proper condition.
Since the San Francisco meet the machine has been housed in the old Pavilion at Kenilworth Park, and the work of re-assembling it did not begin until yesterday morning. It was almost 3 o’clock before the machine was all put together properly, and the motor started. By that time quite a wind had sprung up, which did not subside until a little after 5 o’clock. A number of Petaluma people drove out to Kenilworth Park to witness the flight, and in Santa Rosa Wiseman’s home-coming was the principal topic of discussion during the day. All day long people were on the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the big flying machine, of which they have heard so much, and until almost dark, the Press Democrat telephone was kept ringing almost constantly by subscribers anxious to know when Wiseman would reach here.– Press Democrat, February 17, 1911
WISEMAN LANDED AT CORONA ON FLIGHT HERE
The latest report from the scene where Wiseman descended was to the effect that the flight might be completed late Friday afternoon…
…According to the splendid arrangements made by the REPUBLICAN for giving the people the news that Fred J. Wiseman had started on his cross-country flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, this paper gave the news in record breaking time. The REPUBLICAN had a special representative at the scene, and was given a lengthy service.
From the moment that the mechanicians began to start the engine of the flying machine in front of the grand stand at Kenilworth Park, the REPUBLICAN was in telephonic touch with the situation. The wire was held until the announcement was made that the young aviator had departed on his journey and that he had headed straight for Santa Rosa.
Then the news was flashed to Grace Brothers Brewing Company and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and by them was heralded through their steam sirens to the waiting populace. Again the REPUBLICAN had scored and as usual gave the news to the people first…– Santa Rosa Republican, February 17, 1911WISEMAN, BIRDMAN, WILL COME SAILING HOME TODAYPlans Straight Flight From Petaluma to Santa Rosa this Morning as Originally Scheduled
Aviator Fred Wiseman successfully accomplished four miles and a half or his homeward flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa yesterday, but was compelled to descend in a plowed field near Denman’s creamery on account of his motor failing to work. He plans to fly back to Petaluma this morning, and then turn and fly direct to Santa Rosa as per the original schedule.
If you hear the whistles blow and the bells ring this morning, or if you hear a succession of bomb explosions, you will know that Wiseman has successfully passed Cotati, six miles south of this city, and at that point has signalled The Press Democrat’s lookout that he expects to be able to continue the flight on to Santa Rosa. The engineers in charge of the works at the local factories will co-operated with the Press Democrat in an endeavor to prevent a repetition of yesterday’s disappointment and inconvenience of the public. No signals will be forthcoming until Wiseman and his machine have reached and passed Cotati, the last station to be passed on the trip coming this way, and the first station below this city coming south. This is The Press Democrat’s original plan, but it was not the plan followed yesterday.
…For a distance of some four miles and a half the trip was successfully negotiated, although after the first mile it was seen that the engine was not working properly, and that trouble was being experienced in making a uniform headway. When just over the large field to the south of Denman’s creamery, Wiseman was compelled to bring the machine to the ground, as further progress was out of the question, in alighting the running wheels dug deep into the soft adobe, bringing the big biplane to a sudden stop, and breaking one of the skids. Wiseman had to coast down, for the engine stopped and in making a landing he came near colliding with a windmill, but happily this accident was averted.
A short investigation showed that the trouble with the motor had originated in the magneto breaker block which becoming gummed had refused to work properly, thus making it impossible to get a regular spark. The difficulty was remedied in a few moments after which Wiseman struck out across the field toward the county road on foot, leaving the work of repairing the broken skid to the mechanicians who had been following the flight in an automobile.
A number of people soon arrived on the scene and after the broken skid had been replaced an attempt was made to remove the machine to an elevated portion of the field where the ground was dryer so that a new start could be made.
Moving the big machine proved a matter of some difficulty. Everybody took hold and helped but the ground [? illegible microfilm] sunk into the sticky adobe almost to the hubs. The wheels gathered and held the mud and after a few moments resembled huge mudballs. John Denman told the boys to tear down a portion of his fencing and the boards were placed end to end beneath the runners and in this manner the machines was moved onto higher ground.
By this time Wiseman had returned to the scene, and the engine was tuned up and preparations made for resuming the flight. But meanwhile the wind had been freshening and by the time the engine was working properly a strong breeze was blowing from the west. It was finally determined to wait until the wind died down, and everybody went over to the road and sat down beside the fence to take a rest.
About six o’clock it was decided to make no further flights until this morning and all hands returned to Petaluma, leaving the huge machine in the field. Later one of the men returned and remained with the machine to see that no one tampered with it during the night.A Premature Announcement
While all this was going on Santa Rosa was wildly excited. A premature announcement of Wiseman’s approach had been put out by the blowing of whistles and the ringing of bells and everybody was out of doors, and on the qui vive to see the great airship come sailing home. Hundreds of people [?] the roofs and the streets leading to the south part of town were quickly lined with pedestrians. Scores of automobiles started out to greet the plucky and daring aviator who had sworn that he “would never bring the machine back until it flew back.” For a time business was practically suspended. The schools were dismissed for the afternoon or rather they were not called to order because the pupils were all out watching for the airship of which they had heard and read so much.
When no flying machine appeared, most people returned to their duties, although a large number remained out practically all day waiting for the sight that was fated not to materialize. Many automobilists went all the way to Denman’s and for a distance of several miles below town machines were stationed at various points of vantage during the greater part of the afternoon. Great inconvenience and an unnecessary disappointment to the public was caused by the giving out of this premature and ill-advised announcement, although the newspaper responsible boasts of it as a great achievement.Incidents of the Flight
Wiseman’s flight as far as Denman’s was marked by several interesting incidents. At one farmhouse a woman ran out and waved her apron at the intrepid aviator sailing high in the air just above her head, and he quickly reached down and threw her a copy of that morning’s Press Democrat from the bunch tied beside him on the seat. All along the route Wiseman served Press Democrat subscribers with their morning paper, although of course the most of them had already been served by the regular carriers earlier in the day. At one place a band of cattle stampeded, but no serious results followed. A horse took fright and a team started to run away, but the animals were soon brought under control. During the greater part of the flight, Wiseman maintained an altitude of about 100 feet, although at times he went considerably higher.School Children Surprised
The machine settled down not far from the Cinnabar district school at which Miss Helen McMeans of this city is the teacher. As he rushed by in his automobile Ben Noonan shouted to the children that the machine was coming and all had a fine view of the flight for a couple of miles. When the machine alighted, Miss McMeans took the children over to see it at close range, and they watched with great interest the preparations being made for resuming the flight. Needless to say, there was no more school that day, but the pupils had a lesson they could not learn from books.
In addition to a bundle of Press Democrats, Wiseman on his flight yesterday carried letters from George P. McNear to Mayor James R. Edwards and President John P. Overton of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa, a letter from Postmaster J. E. Olmstead to Postmaster H. L. Tripp of this city and a packaged of groceries from Hickey & Vonson to Kopf & Donovan. Wiseman will again serve Press Democrat subscribers along the route with their papers this morning.– Press Democrat, February 18, 1911WISEMAN LANDED WITHIN ONE MILE OF SANTA ROSA
Fred Wiseman finally got away at 9:05 of Saturday morning on his flight to Santa Rosa and just twelve minutes later he landed in the mud in the middle of a field on the Enz dairy, half a mile south of Santa Rosa on the Petaluma road, near the White Sulphur springs road and about one-fourth of a mile south of the city limits proper of Santa Rosa. His machine was badly damaged and there is no possibility of his flying into Santa Rosa on Saturday.
A big crowd flocked out from Santa Rosa as soon as word was received of his landing and he was conveyed in an auto to Santa Rosa. To a reporter he stated that he got away in good shape, flew a short distance in the direction of Petaluma and then struck out for Santa Rosa. The engine worked well and he made a good flight at an elevation of 100 to 200 feet and was just ready to shoot into Santa Rosa when a wire brace weakened by the machine being tugged about on Friday, suddenly broke and became entangled in the propeller. He had a close call from a very serious accident the propeller was badly smashed, three braces and a skid were broken and he landed on one side, seriously damaging one of the planes. He landed in the mud and the machine was sunk into the mud to the tops of the wheels. It is however resting in a place where it can be easily taken out and workmen are now engaged in getting the machine to hard ground. It is not as yet known whether he will try to fly directly into Santa Rosa, or when he will make the attempt if he does decide to make it. He was borne in triumph into Santa Rosa where he met a noisy reception.
The start was made from Ely’s station and the county road was used as a starting ground. The associates of the birdman followed him in an auto and were soon with him, having seen his landing. His trip caused great excitement along the line. Horses and cattle scurried about the fields and people ran to doors and windows and called to him in their excitement. He dropped bundles of Santa Rosa papers along the road.
When the machine passed over Penngrove, somebody at that place thoughtfully telephoned to the Argus so that it was known here that all was well with the aviator.
On Friday night the birdman and his associates camped with the machine at that spot where it was taken on Friday afternoon after his landing on the Denman ranch near Ely’s as described in Friday’s Argus. On Saturday although he did not get into Santa Rosa he approached the city so closely that he practically has kept his word to the people and has established a new record for himself and for the county.Crank Shaft Broke.
The crank shaft of the aeroplane broke and crashed through the engine. Joe Steiger who took the machinists to Santa Rosa for Wiseman and who followed the ship on its flight brought the news back as did H. W. Horn who motored to the scene.
When the crank shaft broke a ball of fire that could be seen for a mile flew from the shaft. A man on a windmill a mile away, who had a pair of glasses leveled on the ship, plainly saw the flash. It is a great wonder the daring aviator was not injured.
The machine is now being taken to pieces. The engine will at once be shipped to the factory at Berkeley for repairs while the aeroplane will be repaired and then encased and sent to Cloverdale where Wiseman will fly next week at the citrus fair. He will make no attempt to fly into Santa Rosa at the present.– Petaluma Argus evening edition, February 18, 1911THE LETTERS THAT WERE CARRIED BY AVIATOR FRED WISEMAN
Following are copies of the letters carried by Aviator Fred Wiseman on his flight on Friday and Saturday in addition to the package sent by Hickey & Vonson:
Aviation Field, Feb. 17, 1911
Mr. John P. Overton,
Santa Rosa California
Petaluma invites Santa Rosa to her Industrial and Pure Food Exposition.
GEO. P. McNEAR
Aviation Field, Feb. 17, 1911
The Hon. James R. Edwards,
Santa Rosa California
Petaluma sends greetings and best wishes to Santa Rosa by F. J. Wiseman.
GEO. P. McNEAR
Petaluma, Cal., Feb. 17, 1911
H. L. Tripp, Postmaster
Santa Rosa, Cal.
Petaluma sends via the air route congratulations and felicitations upon the successful mastery of the air by a Sonoma County boy in an aeroplane conceived by Sonoma county brains and erected by Sonoma county workmen. Speed the day when United States mail between our sister cities, of which this letter is the pioneer, may all travel by the air route with speed and safety.
J. E. OLMSTED,
Postmaster– Petaluma Argus evening edition, February 18, 1911WISEMAN’S ANNOUNCED FLIGHT WAS AUTHORIZEDPerturbed Little Man Is Peeved Because He Is Beaten
Ralph A. Belden, treasurer of the company, which owns and manipulates the flying machine which Fred J. Wiseman directs authorized the REPUBLICAN on Friday to make the announcement that the big ship would start at 11:30 o’clock. This announcement was authorized and comes from an inside source. Yet a local paper pretends to believe that no authorized statement of the start was made. Arrangements had been made with Mr. Belden to keep this office in touch with the start and he did so.
The REPUBLICAN had a man stationed at Cotati to keep this office informed of Wiseman’s passing that point, but as he never reached Cotati, no news came from that point except that the man in the flying machine could not be located.
The morning paper seems perturbed because the REPUBLICAN gave the first news to the public, as it always does. This paper promised its readers that it would inform them the minute Wiseman departed from Petaluma and they realized what it meant when the whistles were heard. The disappointment came as the result of Wiseman’s being unable to complete the trip as he had planned it, not because the people were notified that he had started.
What a superior man the little fellow at the head of the morning paper presumes himself to be.
Under the pretended superior plan mapped out to our contemporary, the populace would have no opportunity to secure places of vantage from which to see Wiseman in the air.
Cotati is less than eight miles from this city, and it would require only about eight minutes for Wiseman to reach this city from that place. When the news is telephoned from Cotati it would require something like three minutes to get the various factories and notify them to blow their whistles. This would leave too small a time for the people to prepare to witness the flight and get to places where they could get a good view of the flying machine in the air.
Under the arrangements made and carried out by the REPUBLICAN, the news is given when the aviator departs and this gives the populace ample time to get on top of buildings, top open spaces where their view would be unobstructed by buildings and other places in ample time to view the wonders of a Santa Rosa boy flying to his home.
The REPUBLICAN promised to give the news that Wiseman had departed on his trip, but could not well guarantee that he would be successful in making the flight and landing in Santa Rosa. The people showed they were more than anxious to get the news of his departure and more than willing to take a chance on his reaching Santa Rosa, for they waited long and patiently for him to arrive. They dispersed when the REPUBLICAN gave the first news that Wiseman had landed in the Denman fields, four miles out of Petaluma.– Santa Rosa Republican, February 18, 1911FLIGHT OF THE BIRDMAN IS FINISHED IN TRIUMPHFred Wiseman Sails from Petaluma to Santa RosaALIGHTS IN FIELD SOUTH OF TOWNWill Fly Next Week at Cloverdale’s Citrus Fair, and the Week After Tat at San Jose–Wiseman Eager for Further Conquests
[? illegible microfilm] completed his daring cross-country flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa and alighted in the open field close to the Enz residence about three-quarters of a mile south of the city limits.
When Wiseman and his assistants left the big machine Friday night at Denman’s station, where it was brought to earth shortly before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, it was carefully covered with a huge canvas to protect it from the dampness. Two men slept beside the machine all night, on a huge pile of straw that had been hauled out into the field for the purpose and with bonfires to help keep them warm. Wiseman stayed in Petaluma.
Soon after eight o’clock Saturday morning the mechanicians began to remove the canvas covering, and spread it out in front of the machine to form a runway. A few minutes time was consumed in filling the tanks and turning up the engine, and then Wiseman climbed into the driver’s seat and gave the word to “turn her over” which in the case of an aeroplane is accomplished by twisting the propeller blades from the read.
The engine started almost the first time and ran beautifully. Wiseman signified that he was ready and the attendants gave the machine headway. After traversing the length of the canvas, the running wheels struck the soft adobe and the progress of the machine was materially checked, but only for an instant. Wiseman titled his forward planes, the engine responded nobly to the added load slowly the great machine began to rise. It was a straight-away flight for Santa Rosa. Wiseman was off on the last stage of his homeward flight.
A few moments later came the message from Cotati. “The airship is rapidly approaching Cotati from Penngrove, and is travelling beautifully.” Four minutes later the telephone bell rang again. This time the message was, “The airship is just passing over the Cotati depot, and Wiseman signals that everything is all right.” Inside of one minute bombs were being exploded in front of The Press Democrat office to notify the public, the whistles were blowing, and the whole town knew that Wiseman the undaunted was coming home.
All over town automobiles were in readiness, and people quickly piled in and started for the south side where it was recognized that the best view of the flight could be obtained. Hundreds of people sought places of vantage on the housetops and on the roofs of the tall buildings. And sure enough, there he came!
For the greater part of the distance, Wiseman flew low, the height averaging about 100 feet, although occasionally he arose to twice the altitude. A short distance south of the Enz dairy farm is a row of tall trees. Wiseman gracefully arose to make sure of clearing them, and as the machine tilted back, a wire that had jarred loose swung down and caught in the propeller. There was a rasping sound the engine stopped, and Wiseman, within less than a minute and a half from the city line, knew something serious had happened.
Tilting the machine sharply forward, he coasted down toward the earth. He was directly over a newly-plowed field of wet adobe and the instant the running wheels struck they sunk deep into the earth, bringing the machine to a sudden stop. The machine pitched forward on its skids like a rocking chair that has swung too far, and then quickly settled back. The flight was ended, and Wiseman had made good although he had intended coming on into town, circling over the race track and alighting on the circus grounds.
Ben Noonan, who had left Denman’s station in his big Stoddard-Dayton several minutes before Wiseman made his start arrived at Enz’s dairy only a short time after the daring aviator had alighted and was quick to felicitate Wiseman on his success. A big crowd quickly gathered, and Santa Rosa’s successful aviator was immediately surrounded by an admiring throng and piled with question after question, regarding his trip, after which he was conducted up town, where he delivered several letters and a package of groceries sent from Petaluma by Hickey & Vonson to Kopf & Donovan. The letters read as follows:
In addition to the letters and package above mentioned, Wiseman carried a big package of Saturday morning’s addition [sic] of The Press Democrat, which had been taken down of the early morning train. As he sailed over the various farmhouses along the line of his flight, Wiseman dropped a copy of the paper into each dooryard, one man catching his paper in his hands as it fell. Horses and cattle took fright at several places and a number of rabbits were so badly frightened that they appeared to lose their senses, running around and around in a circle in the attempt to escape the aerial monster that appeared to be bearing down upon them. Quite a breeze was blowing when Wiseman left Denman’s station, but at this end of the flight the atmosphere was still and a light haze partially obscured the view. From the top of the Santa Rosa Bank building a good view was had of the airship as it came in.– Press Democrat, February 19, 1911
WISEMAN AT TABLE WITH HIS FRIENDSHe is Guest of Honor at Bismarck Banquet Celebrating His Home-Coming and Conquest of the Air
There was a Birdman’s Banquet at the Bismarck Saturday evening, and Fred J. Wiseman was toasted and honored for his pluck, his enterprise and his daring, and the other good qualities that inspired him and enabled him to undertake the air’s conquest and to persevere in the face of difficulties manifold, finally to triumph, to fly in company with the men who had already won their laurels, and ultimately to sail back in his own airship to his own native home. They feasted him and they toasted him and he bore his honors like a boy who has won a Bible by reciting verses in Sunday school. Fred never loses his nerve on the hurricane deck of an aviator when seated in an aeroplane but put it up to him how fine a fellow he is as they did last evening and he “goes straight up in the air.”
Fred J. Bertolini and Louis Gnesa were the hosts at this Birdman’s Banquet. They had promised it to Wiseman in the event of his home-coming by the cloudland way and they did the honors in a fashion that cannot be surpassed. Besides the bounteous feast there was abundant flow of good humor and high compliment for the guest of honor, all of which passed merrily and well. Ralph Belden acted as toastmaster. The banquet lasted late, and it will be remembered long. These were present:
[..]– Press Democrat, February 19, 1911FACTS VS. HOT AIR
It will take more than the silly vaporings of an amateurish scribe to convince the reading public of the superiority of the Evening Republican’s organization and news service, and to establish the reliability of its statements.
Somebody telephoned in that Wiseman’s airship had left Petaluma, and that paper immediately announced that the time had arrived to rush out and see the biplane come sailing home. Meanwhile, the machine was stuck in the mud at Ely’s station. The Press Democrat had two of its representatives on the scene, and had another man stationed at Cotati to give out the word when the airship passed that point; but if the Republican had any of its people at either place we should be glad to know their names.
Yesterday The Press Democrat had three of the regular members of its [? illegible microfilm] Ely’s station on the electric car, and a third was dispatched to Cotati on a motorcycle. In this way it was planned to cover all three points of vantage. If the Republican had anybody at either place our men failed to see them. The first the Republican knew of Wiseman’s approach was when the bombs were set off in front of this office, and the steam whistles gave out the signal.
In its issue of Thursday morning and again on Friday morning, The Press Democrat announced that the airship would reach here Saturday, probably late in the early forenoon. It arrived Saturday morning about 9:30 o’clock.
The Press Democrat does not usually devote its space to telling how it gets the news or covers the important events that transpire, holding that what the people want is the news and not silly boasting or “hot air.” But when anything worth while happens, The Press Democrat usually has a fairly good account of it; and we always do our best to have it right and to give the facts.
It certainly is not the business of a newspaper to discommode or mislead the public, as the Republican through its carelessness has done repeatedly of late.– Press Democrat editorial, February 19, 1911SMALL MAN IS “PROFESSIONAL”Just How He Became Such is Matter of Wonder
Sonoma county has been the scene of the achievements of many wonderful men. Among them Luther Burbank stands at the head. Fred J. Wiseman, the daring aviator is contending for a place at the top, but these gentlemen will have to beware, or their honors will be taken away from the ruthlessly by the egotist who edits the morning paper.
Lou Dillon, queen of the turf, the first trotter to go under the two minute mark, was also developed here, but the speed of this wonderful equine be as nothing compared to that with which the egotist vaulted into the rank of “professional” journalism. By implication he place himself in that class, and the general public are wondering just how he got there. No one assisted this wonderful little man in gaining the front rank of “professional journalism,” he simply took his stand in that class, for he felt his importance to such an extent and his egotism became so great that he could not refrain from accepting the honors which he thrusts upon himself.
No one has ever accused the egotist of being a professional newspaperman, so he has not been compelled to deny that he is. Ergo, that must necessarily make him what he claims to be. Where this wonderful talent developed is not just absolutely certain. Possibly it is one of the spicules which Luther Burbank compelled the cactus to drop when he brought it into civilized society.
Possibly the placing of a man’s name at the head of a newspaper makes that man a “professional” newspaperman. This is the only claim this important, self-constituted “professional” journalist has to the distinction which he so liberally and gracefully (?) bestows upon himself. A few years ago, without the slightest training in newspaper work, the man whose cranium is so abnormal swelled with his own importance, became the editor of a paper by grace of the powers that owned and controlled that journal. His accession to the chair whence he became a “professional” journalist was through the death of a trained newspaperman, one who knew the niceties and amenities of the profession which the upstart never learns through density. Up to that time he had never had experience in the work but as no one else appeared on the scene he placed his name at the mast, and promoted himself into the “professional” class. Truly, Solomon in all his glory, was never arrayed like this important individual.
When this wonderful country can developed a “professional” journalist of such material, it is hard to predict what it may produce in the near future.
The alleged “professional” journalist in his article telling of Wiseman’s flight states that the aviator carried a bundle of the Saturday morning “addition” of his paper. If this is professional journalism as developed in Santa Rosa, few of the newspaper craft now serving an apprenticeship and watching the gyrations of this egotist would care to graduate into the school of “professional” journalists in which this youth has seen fit by his arrangement to place himself.
The “professional” journalist, who claims to do everything proper and correct, states that the air ship landed in a plowed field Saturday morning. This is another of his inaccuracies, for it landed in a cattle corral, which has not been plowed in many years. The immaculate “professional” journalist contented himself with a long distance view of the machine and the cattle corral and guessed at it.
The general public is laughing at his egotism and are expecting him to extend the gay plumage with which he adorns himself and imitate the Wiseman act and take a flight into the upper ether. What a great pity it is that the public refuses to take him at his own estimate of himself. The remainder of the fraternity connected with the press of this city are simply newspapermen, but the bombastic egotist poses as a “journalist.” Selan.– Santa Rosa Republican, February 20, 1911AVIATION WISEMAN HAD ESCAPE FROM DEATHBiplane Wrecked After Beautiful Flight of Seven Minutes
The first day of Aviator Fred J. Wiseman’s exhibition flights at Cloverdale proved also to be his last there, as after a beautiful flight, lasting over seven minutes, during which time he gained an altitude of 100 feet, he had an accident that demolished his big bi-plane. He had made two flights earlier in the day previous to the one that brought the machine and aviator to grief. The third flight was started from the Smith field, where he had alighted after his second flight, and he had circled twice over his original starting point, going over a large area, when the engine stopped while Wiseman was at a height of about 100 feet from the ground.Hit Lumber Pile
On coasting to the ground Wiseman was not able to keep away from a lumber pile, and this ended the flight when the machine coasted head-on into it. The machine was quite badly demolished but Wiseman and his mechanicians believe they can have it repaired and ready for use again in about a week. Fred Wiseman was not injured when his machine came to grief, but he got a shaking up that he will not soon forget. That he was not seriously injured is a miracle is the opinion of those who were nearest to him when his machine struck the pile of lumber. The crowds that were present watching the flight ran to the scene of the accident and crowded around the aviator, expecting to find him dead or seriously injured.
[..]– Santa Rosa Republican, February 22, 1911AEROPLANE HAS A NARROW ESCAPEWiseman Machine Caught in Storm in The Laughlin Field Monday and is Damaged
The Wiseman aeroplane narrowly escaped destruction in the storm Monday. As it was the large tent in which it was sheltered on the Laughlin ranch near Mark West was completely destroyed, and a large number of the parts of the machine scattered to the winds…
…Don Prentiss, in reporting the accident Monday night declared the boys were “blown out and drowned.” All returned here during the night and hoped to get a good night’s rest. Today a survey of conditions will be made and some course of action agreed upon. While the loss will be heavy it is nothing as compared to what it would have been had the storm blown the aeroplane away.
Mr. Wiseman and his crew are under [? illegible microfilm] Miss Annie Laughlin for favors and the use of their barn. Also to neighbors who rallied to their assistance during the storm and assisted in getting the machine across the wet fields, over fences and into the shelter where it will now be safe from the elements.– Press Democrat, March 7, 1911