wisemanfirstairmail

THE MYSTERY OF WISEMAN’S PLANE

An important artifact of Sonoma County history hangs in a Washington, D.C. museum, yet there’s always been gaps in what we knew about its past. This is the story of what happened to Fred J. Wiseman’s airplane – with a Believe-it-or-Not! twist at the end.

Surely everyone who lived in this area in 2011 remembers the centennial celebration of Wiseman’s historic first airmail flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa and saw a picture of his odd little plane. It appeared delicate and clunky at the same time, hardly looking like an aircraft at all; if anything, it resembled a monstrous IKEA product someone tried to assemble without reading the instructions and abandoned halfway.

But aside from his famous flight, readers of this journal know Fred Wiseman crashed that poor plane like clockwork. Was he just a lousy pilot or was it due to crappy design of his homemade machine?

Certainly, flying was a risky business in the early 1910s, and Wiseman’s history of plummeting wasn’t nearly as bad as daredevil Charles Hamilton, who amazingly survived around sixty crashes. But at the same time, Wiseman wasn’t trying to set records or perform death-defying stunts; he was simply trying to stay aloft for a few minutes sailing over a pasture or fairgrounds. When he made the Petaluma to Santa Rosa airmail flight in January, 1911, it took him two days to travel the 24 miles because he crashed. Twice.

Wiseman made a few more exhibition flights around the west coast that year. He crash landed at least twice more – the worst being a 500-foot fall in Salinas – leading to his retirement as a birdman. He reportedly told relatives he saw “no future in it” because so many of his colleagues were being routinely killed.

It’s just as likely, though, Wiseman and his pals were out of money. Expenses mounted with each crash; a new propeller cost the equivalent of about $20,000 in today’s dollars and engine rebuilds were frequently required. While fortunes were being made by celebrity aviators who drew big audiences to airshows where they often set records, Wiseman’s appearances at backwater county fairs probably earned barely more than expenses – and that’s assuming he didn’t crack up the plane and add to the red ink.

Wiseman’s primary financial backer – and likely the only one – was Ben Noonan, his boyhood buddy who shared his interests in competitive sports. Noonan’s family had somewhat of a monopoly on the meat business in central Sonoma county, owning the slaughterhouse at the corner of College and (today’s) Cleveland Avenues as well as operating the butcher shop on Fourth street in downtown Santa Rosa. When Wiseman retired the plane was stored at their stockyards. Thus ends the first chapter of our little plane’s story with it sitting in a cow lot, its wings probably being used to scratch the backs of cattle and horses with an unreachable itch.

Just a few months later chapter two began with the appearance in Santa Rosa of a 28 year-old Oakland man named Weldon B. Cooke, who was in town to make some money on exhibition flights over the New Year’s holiday.

Cooke couldn’t know at the time, but he was at the zenith of his aviation career during his Santa Rosa visit. Just a few days earlier he was the first to fly over the summit of Mount Tamalpais, a feat once considered so insanely risky that prize money for the accomplishment had been withdrawn. A few weeks after flying in Santa Rosa he competed in the Los Angeles Air Meet where he set a record for altitude (5,800 feet) and the longest time in the air, winning over $7,000 as a result. And in between these accomplishments he was awarded pilot’s license #95 from the Aero Club of America, making him only the second flyer in California with official recognition.

There’s no evidence Wiseman and Cooke ever met, but they were cut from the same cloth. Both had brief careers as race car drivers before getting hooked on aviation. Both taught themselves to fly using airplanes built by men who knew nothing about aerodynamics and learned aircraft design from reading magazines; Wiseman’s team was auto mechanic Jean Peters, himself and sometimes Don Prentiss, while Cooke’s machine was put together by a Sacramento River boat builder and a dredge boat captain. Their finished planes were also nearly identical – both fundamentally rip-offs of the Curtiss design with a propellor at the back and the pilot sitting in front of the engine. (A photo of Cooke’s plane, called the “Black Diamond” and now on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, can be seen here.)

Before his New Years’ visit to Santa Rosa, a reporter from the Press Democrat asked Cooke whether he would try out Wiseman’s plane while he was here. Cooke replied he might consider making it part of the upcoming exhibition at the fairgrounds (he didn’t). But Cooke agreed to something far more important to the PD; the weekend after his paid-admission show, Cooke would fly over Santa Rosa.

The Chamber of Commerce had been long yearning for a Santa Rosa flyover, so great was the mystique of early aviation. It was strongly hinted Wiseman might do it during an exhibition flight at the 1910 Rose Carnival (he didn’t fly at all because of winds) and both town papers swore he would buzz the town during his 1911 flight from Petaluma (he crashed outside city limits). Now that it happened, the PD babbled incoherently, “Santa Rosa was aviation crazy on Saturday afternoon and the flight made by the daring young aviator aroused the greatest interest and admiration of everybody.”

But Weldon Cooke wasn’t done in Santa Rosa. About a month later he slipped into town and met with Ben Noonan to look over the Wiseman plane. He made a few short test flights, including a 15-minute loop around the Laguna plain. “Well, I certainly guess she will fly all right,” he was quoted as saying. A deal was struck for Cooke to lease the plane and it was shipped down to the East Bay, with the Press Democrat waving goodbye with a good-luck-he’ll-need-it sendoff: “[T]here is little doubt but that Cooke will make a very satisfactory showing with the machine, which has appeared to hold a hoodoo for Santa Rosans.”

Hoodoo or no, Cooke was probably desparate to strike a deal because he no longer had a plane. For reasons unknown, the Black Diamond was packed up after the Los Angeles Air Meet a few weeks prior and sent back to the owner’s shipyard, never to fly again. (It’s possible they were threatened with a patent infringement lawsuit by Glenn Curtiss – which would have been ironic, as Curtiss was himself being sued by the Wright brothers over his own patent piracy.)

Cooke had extra urgency to secure a plane quickly because in a few days he was expected to appear at a six-day, two weekend aviation meet in Emeryville where it was being advertised he would race Lincoln Beachey, one of the most famous flyers at the time. Cooke showed up with the Wiseman plane, but it was a rout; even with a 90-second head start as a handicap Cooke not only lost, but Beachey literally flew circles around him, executing several “spiral dips” around Cooke so close they nearly collided. On another day at Emeryville his engine stalled and he glided down, narrowly missing a fence.

Cue foreboding music.

That spring of 1912 Cooke became a bonafide barnstormer, crating up his plane and shipping it to the next local fair or exhibition. Part of his schtick was air mail delivery, where he would carry a pouch of mail with aviation souvenir postmarks and chuck it overboard at the local post office. He also dropped local newspapers at a news stand or the rural homes of some subscribers, both stunts Wiseman pioneered in his trip from Petaluma.

In April he flew over Humboldt Bay and Eureka, then had a hard landing that crumpled the plane. It was apparently his first crash in the Wiseman aircraft and his second serious accident, having earlier ditched the Black Diamond in Lake Merritt.

After repairs were made Cooke spent the summer working his way east, where he became “the boy aviator,” reported in the papers as being 23 or 21 and only having a few months experience. He was also being credited with creating the airplane; the Salt Lake Tribune reported he “went home to Oakland and built a machine of his own” after being part of Curtiss’ crew. In Salt Lake City, by the way, he amazed crowds when he flew above the clouds for several minutes, leaving some to declare he must have been “lifted upwards by unseen hands.”

But Cooke was tinkering with the Wiseman airplane, upgrading the engine and tweaking the airframe. The reconstructed airship currently on display in Washington is clearly more powerful and sleeker than the funky kite-like thing that left Santa Rosa in early 1912. It seems most likely Cooke was using parts of the Wiseman airplane – which had to be completely disassembled and crated after every appearance anyway – as the framework for an experimental design that would fully emerge at the end of the year. He hinted as much at the Emeryville air show after he only had the Wiseman plane for a few days; the Oakland Tribune mentioned he hoped to show off “a new principle in plane and wing construction,” which he could not have possibly built from scratch.

He set some minor records that summer in his hybrid Wiseman-Cooke, being the first to fly in Idaho and then winning some prize money in Illinois. He was also beginning to appear in the news because of increasingly frequent crashes. In September he wrecked the plane near Chicago. Thrown clear but knocked out, he regained consciousness to find “a large crowd around his machine breaking pieces from it to carry away as souvenirs.” Cooke grabbed a “stout club” and held them off until police arrived.

(RIGHT: Weldon B. Cooke flying over Sandusky Ohio, c. 1913, in the Wiseman aircraft showing only minor modifications from the original design. Photo courtesy Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center)

In November he landed at his destination: Sandusky, Ohio, home to the Roberts Motor Company. (The Black Diamond had used a Roberts motor and early on Cooke had replaced Wiseman’s 60 HP engine with a 75 HP Roberts.) The company knew him well and was already touting his name in its catalog. Roberts allowed him to use a portion of their facilities to work on his experimental planes while the town of Sandusky was equally welcoming, dedicating an airfield.

He incorporated the Cooke Aeroplane Company and spent the winter building a smaller racing plane he promised could easily clock 75 MPH. Show any aviation history buffs this photo, explain that the aircraft shown was designed 1912-1913, and kindly scrape their jaws off the floor. He was years ahead of his time.

Cooke also unveiled the “Flying Dutchman,” his new aircraft for exhibition flying. This was an elegant rethinking of the Wiseman/Black Diamond designs, with a simpler tail assembly and no canard at the front. With possibly the widest wingspan of any biplane it would have been graceful to watch, but not fast. Presumably the Wiseman plane was mothballed at this point.

Another advantage of the new plane is it could be equipped with floats and used as a seaplane (Cooke called it a “hydroplane”). Many of his 1913 exhibition appearances were with the Flying Dutchman configured for use on water.

Few newspaper articles about Cooke crashing can be found for 1913, but we don’t know if he was flying less or because the new plane was substantially safer. He did have a bad time of it that summer while doing shows  at a county fair in Canton, Ohio. On one landing his airplane overturned, breaking struts between the wings; on another day his motor died and the plane crashed, catapulting him out. Shaken but undaunted, he said his show would resume in a couple of days after he telegraphed back to Sandusky to ship him “another biplane of much heavier type,” according to the local paper. Presumably that was the old Wiseman plane.

Cooke built yet another type of aircraft that year: A “flying boat” that could hold three passengers and probably scooted along only a few feet above the waves. Of all his various projects, he apparently saw this as offering the best chance of commercial success. He helped a colleague start a St. Petersburg-Tampa passenger service using his plane, and talked about operating a fleet based in Sandusky fanning out to other towns and cities across Lake Erie. He applied for a franchise from the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition to run an airboat shuttle between Oakland and San Francisco. Alas, his dreams were bigger than his bank account; the Cooke Aeroplane Company went bankrupt in 1914.

He returned to California and piloted flying boats of someone else’s design for a short-lived air ferry service across San Francisco Bay. Despite a promise he had supposedly made to his mother to quit barnstorming, he took the Flying Dutchman back out on the exhibition circuit. On September 16 in Pueblo, Colorado, he was performing a fine show when the thousands in the audience heard a faint explosion when he was at an estimated 2,000 feet. “The biplane careened and like a shot dropped sheer from the clouds,” the wire service reported. “It was almost one minute before the aeroplane hit the ground with a sickening crash.”

Cooke was dead and the Flying Dutchman was a “tangled mass of junk,” according to accounts, but the Wiseman plane was presumably still crated up back in Sandusky. The boxes were sent to Cooke’s brother in Oakland, who kept them in storage at home until 1933 when the Oakland Airport asked to borrow it. As an example of an old biplane, it was put on display for years near Cooke’s earlier Black Diamond. The tale would have ended there if not for the Smithsonian Institution’s declaration in 1947 that Wiseman had made the first official airmail delivery, an incredible story of an accidental discovery told in an earlier article appearing here. The Wiseman-Cooke airplane was finally restored between 1983-1985 and now hangs above visitors at the National Postal Museum with a mannequin Fred J. Wiseman at the controls.

But here’s the Believe-it-or-Not! angle: The airplane on display is quite possibly not the one that made the famous flight.

There were two Wiseman biplanes. The first machine, designed and constructed 1909-1910 by Wiseman and Peters was built under a tent in a Windsor pasture. The other was made at a Petaluma planing mill in the late summer of 1910 as they continued flying practice in the original. The new plane was intended to be easier to take apart for shipping and was also some 200 pounds lighter than the prototype, which weighed 670 pounds (lengthy description here). It’s doubtful Wiseman ever flew the old plane again, as long as the newer one was in working condition. He certainly would have used Model B on his airmail flight.

Given the choice between the older, often-crashed beater and the new, improved model, Cooke would have picked the latter – if he had the option. But Noonan had already sold one of the aircraft a few weeks earlier.

“NOONAN SELLS HIS BIPLANE”, was the hed of a Santa Rosa Republican article appearing the same day Cooke was making his New Years’ exhibition flights at the fairground. There it was reported the purchaser was “Lieutenant Jack Handy of the U. S. A.” Lt. Handy attempted to make a test flight, but – predictably – crashed, causing him to make immediate repairs.

The buyer was actually Army Lieutenant Courtland Waite Handy. For Fiscal Year 1912, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Signal Corps to purchase a few aircraft and it was reported they bought five, although only three manufacturers were named. But which airplane did Noonan sell the government? With no other buyers on the horizon, presumably he sold the one worth the most money, and that would have been the newer plane with the improvements. Regardless, Weldon Cooke had no choice when he showed up six weeks later on his shopping trip, desperate to buy/lease an aircraft for the Emeryville competition just days away.

Evidence that Cooke was using the earlier plane points both ways. One of the changes with the Model B was it being a “knock down” machine for easier shipping, and Cooke certainly often packed and unpacked whichever version he used during his 1912 barnstorming. But Model A could be disassembled as well; it was carted by wagon from Windsor to Santa Rosa (and to at least four different locations around town) and then to Petaluma. When Cooke cracked up the Flying Dutchman at that 1913 county fair and switched to “another biplane of much heavier type,” it suggests he had the Wiseman Model A, which weighed considerably more even before Cooke added a larger and heavier Roberts engine.

So is the historic airmail plane on display at the museum the real deal? Alas, further research here is above my pay grade; an answer may be found by prowling through the National Archives. Certainly the Army Signal Corps would have required Lt. Handy to describe precisely what he purchased – although what I’d really like to read is the report to his C.O., explaining how he bought an expensive biplane and immediately managed to trash it.

NOONAN SELLS HIS BIPLANE
Army Aviator Buys Machine Built for Wiseman

Ben Noonan has sold his biplane to Lieutenant Jack Handy of the U. S. A., and the latter attempted to make a flight in the machine Sunday afternoon. Owing to the sweater the aviator was wearing catching in one of the levers of the biplane, an accident occurred which did considerable damage to the aeroplane. The biplane had just risen from the ground on its way for a flight when the accident happened, and the front part of the aeroplane dived into the ground. The engine continued to go and the propeller revolved at a fast rate, the aviator being unable to stop the engine. Lieutenant Handy has charge of the army aviators.

It is stated on good authority that Ben Noonan got a good price for his aeroplane. However, the price he got for his air craft does not anywhere near clear him of the expense he has been to by being mixed up in the aviation game, It was planned Sunday that Aviator Handy was to fly out to the race track and make a double attraction for the afternoon. The accident to the machine prevented the second biplane giving the exhibition. Luckily Aviator Handy was not hurt in the accident.

Mr. Handy was in San Francisco on New Year’s day getting a new propeller and other parts to replace those injured Sunday. He will return today.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 1, 1912

LADY WILL MAKE ASCENT HERE WITH AVIATOR COOKE

Word was received from Aviator Weldon B. Cooke late yesterday afternoon that the aeroplane would arrive in Santa Rosa early this morning and that he himself, instead of waiting until tomorrow morning as he had at first thought would be the best he could do, would be on hand on the 11 o’clock train, as to be sure that everything would be ready for Sunday’s flight. One of his mechanicians has accompanied the car from the time it left Elmhurst, to see that nothing went wrong.

Carries Lady Passenger

One thing has been definitely decided upon, namely, that a popular and daring young lady of this city will be taken up as passenger, probably the first day. Although she does not want her name mentioned as yet, she expressed her delight at the prospect of really “going up in the air,” and said she hoped Mr. Cooke would go high enough so that she could see all the surrounding country from an aeroplane. Cook has already carried many passengers, including his wife and sisters, so that he has no fear about being abole to take up the young lady here.

May Try Wiseman’s Machine

It has been rumored that on one of the two days Cooke, after making all of the flights as he had planned there on his own machine, which he knows he can fly, might also take a chance with a local machine formerly used by Aviator Wiseman. Cooke said over the long distance telephone that if he did try to make such a flight he would assume no responsibility for its success, and would not consider it except in the light of a possible incidental feature of his regular program with his own machine. However, there are undoubtedly many local people who would be interested in such an exhibition.

Spectacular Flights

In speaking of the prospects of flying Sunday and Monday, his manager, who has been in the city the past few days promoting the meet, said that if weather conditions were at all favorable, there would certainly be flying to please the most critical. Mere cloudy weather will not prevent the bird man from going, and if it should rain after any tickets had been bought so that he could not fly, rain checks would be issued to purchasers entitling them to admission on the first favorable day following. This is a new feature in conducting aviation meets which will be much appreciated.

The program as outlined at present will include exhibitions of bomb throwing at which Aviator Cooke has demonstrated that he is an expert; passenger carrying on both days; mail carrying, and including the taking up of mail bags at full speed as well as dropping mail, an entirely new “stunt” in aerial navigation; attempts at speed and altitude records; and an exhibition of all the flights required to secure pilot’s license, such as quick starting, cutting figure eight’s, etc., the first opportunity anybody in Northern California will have had to see these flights. Cooke does not plan to make only one flight each day, but to make three or four, each illustrating some special feature in flying in heavier than air machines. Moreover, the flights on the second day will be entirely different from those made on Sunday.

– Press Democrat, December 30, 1911
AVIATOR COOKE WILL GIVE FREE FLIGHT OVER THE CITY

Weldon B. Cooke, who made very successful flights here Sunday and Monday in his aeroplane, has been secured by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce for a free exhibition over the business section of town next Saturday afternoon.

This is a feature which will no doubt bring a large crowd to town for the day. General Passenger Agent J. J. Geary of the Northwestern Pacific railroad has agreed to give a round trip rate of one and a third fares to Santa Rosa from all points north on regular trains for that day.

Mr. Cooke has proved that he can and will fly when he says he will if the weather permits, and now that he has shown the public his ability to fullfil this promise there is no doubt but that he will be watched by the largest throng which has ever gathered on the streets of Santa Rosa. There will be no charges of any kind and any one who is on the streets will be able to see all there is to see without money and without price.

– Press Democrat, January 3, 1912
VAST CROWD SEE COOKE’S DARING FLIGHT SATURDAY
Birdman Reaches an Altitude of 2,500 Feet Easily

With thousands of people gathered in the down town district in Santa Rosa on Saturday afternoon to witness his daring, Aviator Weldon Cooke made one of the most anticipated and successful flights ever attempted in aerial navigation in the State. He crossed and recrossed overhead and rose to a height that at times made him and his big aeroplane look like a speck on the horizon.

Santa Rosa was aviation crazy on Saturday afternoon and the flight made by the daring young aviator aroused the greatest interest and admiration of everybody. To the majority of the people in the vast assemblage, the aviation was a novelty, and they were fortunate in seeing the true art of aerial navigation as their introduction to the sport. Cooke is a wonder and he richly deserved the compliments that were showered on his daring.

Cooke reached an altitude of over 2,000 feet while flying over the city. He estimated the distance at between 2,000 and 2,500 feet. Principal Searcy of the High School made a calculation which fixed the altitude at something slightly over 2,000 feet. Press Smith, who had a surveying transit at work in the country, turned his glass on the aviator while he was flying and made a calculation of about 2,2500 feet.

Many will be interested in knowing that the aviator can’t hear anything after he gets a few hundred feet from the earth, owing to the noise of his motor. The noise is so great that Cooke fills his ears with cotton to deafen the sound. He said last night, while discussing the flight, that he looked down while directly over the Court House and waved his hand to the crowd below, but his height was so great it could not be seen from the ground.

While the wind was light from the southwest on the ground at the altitude he was flying, it was blowing about 15 miles per hour from the north, he says, and that explained why he appeared to fly so much faster when going south, and why he always climbed higher as he went north. It is easier to ascend in the face of the wind, he says. A feature of the flight was that he circled both to the right and left with equal ease. The motor is set slightly to the right, and the aeroplane turns to the right much more easily than to the left.

Several times during Saturday’s flight the aeroplane had to buck rough air currents. Those familiar with weather conditions saw this at the time and remarked it. The starting and alighting are the most interesting features of aeroplaning. This the crowd missed Saturday, but the finish was as spectacular as any part of the flight. Cooke landed as easily as he flew through the air. Those interested can see this feature today by visiting the race track during the afternoon, when more flights will be made.

Cooke does not wear leather clothing, but simply adds more garments between his pantaloons and under his coat he places layers of newspapers which keep out the wind just as well as the heavier leather clothing.

– Press Democrat, January 7, 1912
COOKE MAKES FINE FLIGHT
Surprises People by Flying in Noonan Machine

Weldon B. Cooke, who established himself as an aviator of considerable ability a few weeks ago, when he flew over this city, surprised and added to his popularity with the people of Santa Rosa Sunday, when unannounced he came to this city on the morning train and drove to the Noonan field, where the former Wiseman biplane has been stored, and after a few trials around the field in the morning, he took the machine in the afternoon, arose in the air and flew for about ten minutes. After coming to the ground and adjusting his carburetor the better to enable the machine to gain more power, he again arose in the Wiseman machine and made a handsome flight for a period of fifteen minutes, and made a grateful landing.

On alighting from his flight Cooke said, “Well, I certainly guess she will fly all right,” and it certainly did.

In an interview after the flight he stated that he had found nothing wrong with the airship in any way whatever, claiming it was a better balanced ship than his own, and that he thought it very good. He said, “The machine has hardly power enough to make any great speed, but after I became better acquainted with the working of the engine, I expect to increase its power. Although the air seemed very quiet on the ground today, I found that it chopped when I had arised [sic] about three hundred feet. I will take the machine to Emeryville during the week, where I am to use it in the meet that is to be held there commencing next Saturday, and lasting for ten days. In my contest with Beechy [sic – Lincoln Beachey] I expect to use this airship, unless something goes wrong.”

Cooke is building another airship, but does not expect to complete it until after the Emeryville gathering is over. He has leased Noonan’s biplane and will use it in exhibitions that he will give around the country.

There was not a very large crowd at the field as Cooke, in his unostentatious manner had suggested that nothing be said of his coming by his mechanics, who are handling the machine for him here, Bob Schieffer and Al. B. Cooper. Those who were present to see the fine flight were attracted there by the humming of the engine, or had seen him testing it out in the morning. All were loud in their praise of the daring flight he made on his second attempt to leave the ground in this strange machine. On the second flight he traveled first to the north and skirted the foothills about Fountaingrove vineyard, and flying west about four miles. He was about three hundred feet in the air on this flight and remained up over fifteen minutes, making the turns in a very graceful manner and showing his faith in the engine by removing one of his hands from the wheel and waving to the cheering crowd below. Mr. And Mrs. Cooke returned to San Francisco on the afternoon train.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 12, 1912
SHIP BIPLANE TO WELDON COOKE
The Wiseman Airship Sent by Southern Pacific to Oakland Yesterday Afternoon

The Wiseman aeroplane which has been stored on the Noonan property at the foot of Carrillo street for several months was taken down, packed and yesterday shipped to Oakland over the Southern Pacific to be used by Weldon B. Cooke at the Emeryville race track during the aviation meet beginning Saturday.

Robert Schieffer and Al Cooper accompanied the machine and will look after it while Cooke is using it. After the successful flight here Sunday afternoon there is little doubt but that Cooke will make a very satisfactory showing with the machine, which has appeared to hold a hoodoo for Santa Rosans.

– Press Democrat, February 14, 1912
GETTING READY TO BUILD AN AIRSHIP
Wiseman and Peters Will Construct New Bi-Plane in Petaluma Within Thirty Days

The Wiseman-Peters airship people have secured the use of the building on Copeland street Petaluma, formerly occupied by the silk wire factory and there they will make their headquarters for the next thirty days, during the construction of their new airship. The huge machine will be constructed at the Camm & Hedges planing mill near by, but the wire works building will be used as the headquarters of the airship people and for storage, assembling and other details of the big task which is before them.

The new airship will be different from the present machine in many details and will be an improvement on the one now in use. It will be a “knock down” machine and will be built in sections so that it can be taken apart, crated and thus shipped in the baggage car of trains, on steamers, or in vehicles. From this plan it can readily be seen that the owners intend to do some travelling and will not go on the road with their exhibitions.

In the meantime aviator Peters will practice flying every day and the old machine will be kept at Kenilworth park for that purpose. He intends to increase his flights daily, both as to distance and elevation and some sweet day in the very near future he is going to surprise the natives of a distant city. –Petaluma Argus.

– Press Democrat, August 6, 1910

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FRED WISEMAN’S AIRMAIL FLIGHT: DAY 2

In 1911 Fred Wiseman made history by carrying some letters on his airplane. That is the least interesting part of the story.

         
THE REDISCOVERY OF FRED J. WISEMAN

Believe it or not: Fred J. Wiseman owed his page in the history books to his mother’s long life.

When Mrs. America Wiseman celebrated her hundredth birthday in April, 1947 she gave reporters stock answers to their stock questions. The secret of long life is to enjoy hard work, folks were nicer in the old days, and so on. But she also mentioned her son had built an airplane way back in 1911 and flew it between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, carrying with him some newspapers, a small sack of groceries, and three letters. It was the postmarked envelopes that piqued the interest of Paul Edward Garber, curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution. Garber came to California to meet and interview Fred Wiseman, who was then 76, retired and living in Berkeley.

By 1947 everyone had forgotten Wiseman’s brief aviation career, such as it was; he held some amateur class records during 1911 and made a few barnstorming appearances around the Pacific Coast that same year before calling it quits. As for carrying the first letters, he was never mentioned in histories of early air mail, which credited a man named Earle Ovington for making the first U.S. air mail run several months after Wiseman’s flight. It was sometimes also mentioned that on February 18 – the same day Wiseman completed his Petaluma to Santa Rosa flight – a pilot in India flew over 6,000 pieces of mail a short distance as a stunt.

But a few weeks after Garber’s visit, the Smithsonian recognized Wiseman for the first official air mail flight. No one was probably as dumbfounded by the honor than he; Wiseman was quoted in Flying magazine at the time as saying the ceremonial letters (transcribed below) were only written and carried along “as a gag.”

Perhaps equally incredible, Wiseman’s airplane still survived, first boxed up for about twenty years and later exhibited at the Oakland Airport as a generic example of an antique biplane. After its historic recognition it was sent to the National Air Museum where it remained in storage. Restoration began in 1983 after a Santa Rosa man donated the original wooden propeller Wiseman damaged in his air mail crash outside of town. Today the restored aircraft dramatically hangs above visitors at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC with a mannequin Fred J. Wiseman sitting at the controls.

(Photo above: Santa Rosa Republican, Jan. 25, 1911)

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.

(RIGHT: The best photograph of Fred J. Wiseman in flight, probably taken at the January, 1911 San Francisco air show. Photo courtesy National Air and Space Museum)

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.”

Aw, snap!

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.

(RIGHT: Fred Wiseman’s damaged biplane after crash at 1911 Cloverdale Citrus Fair. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

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 WISEMAN
Home-Coming of the Birdman May Occur Almost any Time
Press 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, 1911
WATCH OUT FOR WISEMAN SKY-SAILING ON SATURDAY
Splendid Test Flight Made in Petaluma Yesterday
Santa 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, 1911
WISEMAN, BIRDMAN, WILL COME SAILING HOME TODAY
Plans 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, 1911
WISEMAN 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, 1911
THE 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.
Respectfully yours,
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.
Respectfully yours,
GEO. P. McNEAR

Kenilworth Park
Petaluma, Cal., Feb. 17, 1911
H. L. Tripp, Postmaster
Santa Rosa, Cal.
Dear Sir;
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, 1911
WISEMAN’S ANNOUNCED FLIGHT WAS AUTHORIZED
Perturbed 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, 1911
FLIGHT OF THE BIRDMAN IS FINISHED IN TRIUMPH
Fred Wiseman Sails from Petaluma to Santa Rosa
ALIGHTS IN FIELD SOUTH OF TOWN
Will 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 FRIENDS
He 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, 1911
FACTS 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, 1911
SMALL 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, 1911
AVIATION WISEMAN HAD ESCAPE FROM DEATH
Biplane 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, 1911
AEROPLANE HAS A NARROW ESCAPE
Wiseman 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

Read More

FRED WISEMAN’S AIRMAIL FLIGHT: DAY 1

By New Year 1911, Santa Rosa was itching for an excuse to throw a great party for Fred J. Wiseman.

During the first decade of the 20th century, Wiseman was Santa Rosa’s favorite son and hometown celebrity, second in esteem only to that guy named Burbank. Over forty items about him appeared in the Santa Rosa papers during 1910 alone, as discussed in a few of the articles about him listed at right.

         
WHO WAS FRED J. WISEMAN?

Fred J. Wiseman loved all manner of racing machines. Born on a Rincon Valley farm in 1875 (sometimes he made himself younger by claiming 1877 or 1880) he grew up just as bicycling was becoming a national craze. He opened a small bicycle shop downtown and by 1905 his Santa Rosa Cyclery was also renting small cars as well as offering Wiseman as a driver for hire.

After the cyclery business was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake, Wiseman took a job with a San Francisco auto dealership. Within two years he was their competition driver and “head automobile man,” showing off their make of auto at races around California and Nevada, which he frequently won. His name and victories appeared in ads for tires and other auto parts.

His interest in auto racing faded after he attended the first West Coast aviation meet in 1910. With an investment from his old Santa Rosa friend, Ben Noonan, his team began cobbling together an aircraft under a large tent in a Windsor pasture. The first official flight of his aircraft happened that July in Petaluma and over the next few months Wiseman and the others remained in Petaluma redesigning the aircraft and learning to fly it.

Wiseman called it quits in 1912 and sold his biplane, reportedly telling relatives he saw “no future in it” because so many of his colleagues were being killed. He took a job as a garage foreman and mechanic with Standard Oil where he worked until he retired around 1940. He died in 1961 in Berkeley.

Here are some of the previous articles about Fred J. Wiseman’s adventures:

FRED J. WISEMAN JUST WON’T SLOW DOWN
FRED J. WISEMAN: HOMETOWN BIRD-MAN
YOUR PILOT TODAY IS FRED J. WISEMAN
FRED J. WISEMAN’S CRASH COURSE

Wiseman’s great popularity that year was all the more remarkable because he had little public presence. In his earlier days as a race car driver someone could go see him at a competition or at least read about his latest trophies on the sports page; most of what he was doing in 1910 could only be witnessed by chance. Nevertheless, anything Wiseman-related was newsworthy because he and his pals were building an airplane and the country was then whipped up to dithers about the exciting new world of aviation.

Much of that newspaper coverage was about things that were supposed to happen, but didn’t. An exhibition flight for the Rose Carnival was called off because of winds, so the crowds only saw Wiseman give a little talk in front of his plane. A flight was planned at the Fourth of July fair in Petaluma, but called off after Wiseman crashed the plane twice in a month. When the biplane finally made its official public flight in Petaluma Wiseman wasn’t the pilot, but instead his long-time racing partner and mechanic, Jean Peters. Wiseman was next behind the controls for an air show in Reno and you guessed it – he crashed. Yet despite his knack for plummeting to earth instead of staying aloft, the Petaluma and Santa Rosa newspapers remained his indefatigable cheerleaders. “Fred Wiseman has the airship spirit,” the Press Democrat chirped after the Reno smashup. “He wants to fly. He says he has a machine now that will fly like a bird. There is no longer any question about it…”

But come January 1911, Fred Wiseman’s bad luck gloriously changed. He entered as an amateur at the Selfridge Field air meet in San Francisco (really the Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno). This was no county fair-type event – it was the first big aviation show held in Northern California. Prize money was huge, which attracted top aviators worldwide. One of them thrilled the city by flying over downtown San Francisco and becoming the first pilot to cross through the Golden Gate. Another made the first landing on the deck of a battleship. Another buzzed an Oakland-to-SF ferry and scared the bejeezus out of passengers. It was Fred J. Wiseman, however, who won the public’s heart.

“CHEERS SPEED WISEMAN ON IN FLIGHT IN HOME MADE MACHINE,” read a headline in the San Francisco Call. “When Wiseman wheeled his biplane in front of the grandstand and the announcer informed the crowd that he was a Californian and would ‘attempt’ to fly a California built machine he was accorded a great reception,” the Call reported, after telling readers about past failures when “the best he could do was to make a few short hops off the ground.”

Wiseman executed a perfect takeoff – and then the goddesses smiled upon him. A gust of wind blew him off the course, sending him soaring over the infield and presenting the audience a longer majestic display. He circled back with ease and “made a beautiful landing in front of the grandstand,” the Call said. Later in the day he made the longest amateur flight of the show and ended up winning six prizes with a total purse of $1,283.33, just a hair behind the first place winner in the amateur class (who was a semi-pro flyer in a professional aircraft, which stirred bad feelings).

The Press Democrat told readers Wiseman was “given a hearty reception by the grandstand crowd each time he appeared on the grounds,” and the PD’s staff writer was so excited by Wiseman’s trophies and his Santa Rosa-ness that he could not bother to proofread:

Mr. Wiseman and his associates are all Santa Rosans and they are proud to have the fact known on every possible occasion. The announcer always speaks of Wiseman from Santa Rosa and no opportunity is lost to give Santa Rosa the benefit of the publicity due her for having young men who manufactured their own aeroplane from a combination of the principles from the best to be found in the other makes and unsuccessful fly the makes and successfully fly the machine 

[Yes, that was the actual end of the article -Ed.]

Wiseman found himself the man of the hour. He signed endorsement deals, such as the ad seen below. Famed British aviator James Radley told reporters that Wiseman was “the most promising amateur he ever saw” and invited Fred to join him at an upcoming flight exhibition in San Jose (Wiseman appeared but Radley cancelled at the last minute). And in an odd story, the Santa Rosa Republican falsely claimed “Lieutenant” Wiseman was about to be called up for military service by the United States Aeronautical Reserve to conduct aerial patrols along the Mexican border.*

When Wiseman and his team returned to Santa Rosa a week after the San Francisco air show, he received the sort of welcome reserved for national dignitaries:

…Parks’ Santa Rosa band was on hand at the depot to render martial music and to add to the welcome of Wiseman. Red fire was burned at the depot and along the line of march, and giant crackers were exploded as a noisy welcome. This was continued along the line of march up Fourth street. When the train arrived the passengers became considerably excited, and hastily threw open the windows to learn the occasion of the band’s presence and the firing of the giant crackers and the burning of the red fire.

(RIGHT: Fred J. Wiseman placing a device on his biplane to record elevation at the San Francisco air show. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

After speeches on the courthouse steps by Mayor Edwards and Wiseman, everyone marched over to the Bismarck restaurant for a banquet in Fred’s honor. There, a possible Petaluma-to-Santa Rosa flight was the hot topic.

The notion of a flight between the towns first came up a couple of months earlier, after Wiseman wrecked the plane at Reno. While the smashed aircraft was being rebuilt back in Petaluma, papers in both towns ran stories that he was planning a low-key flight up to Santa Rosa – with his track record at the time, it would be understandable if his confidence was shaken and didn’t want to risk a humiliating crash in front of his family and friends.

“There will be no flourish of trumpets prior to what Fred Wiseman hopes will be his next accomplishment–a flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa,” the PD wrote around Thanksgiving, 1910. A few weeks later, the Petaluma Courier reported, “The aviator will take the county seaters by surprise and he intends to land there early in the morning in time for breakfast.”

At the banquet talk of such a trip became serious, perhaps lubricated by what the Santa Rosa Republican called the “flow of soul.” Members of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce were rousing interest to collect enough pledges to pay Wiseman up to $3,000 for making the trip. He certainly needed the money; as the Republican mentioned, “Friends of Wiseman yesterday stated that the Santa Rosa birdling wrecked 12 machines before perfecting the one in which he now rides, and that he has exhausted his funds in the work…”

The flight was on. A few days later Wiseman told the Press Democrat, “I shall never bring that aeroplane to Santa Rosa by any other route than the air route, and if I can’t fly it here from Petaluma it will never come.”

A couple of weeks later, Fred Wiseman was probably eyeing the grey skies and regretting that promise. It had been an exceptionally dry winter up to then, but in early February of 1911 the rain came down in buckets. His aircraft was at Kenilworth Park in Petaluma and that fairground was like a lake. All he could do was hope the ground dried up enough before February 22, when he had a commitment to fly at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair.

(RIGHT: Fred Wiseman endorsement advertisement. Aircraft magazine, April 1911)

On Feb. 16 Wiseman and crew tested the engine in the morning and word spread through town he was about to make his Santa Rosa trip, drawing a big crowd. After most of them gave up and went home for supper he decided the winds were quiet enough to make a short test flight. “The hundreds of factory hands returning from work at that time had a fine view of the aeroplane and he made by far the finest flight yet made here by him,” the Petaluma Argus told readers. He flew about two miles north before returning, breaking a landing skid on touchdown.

The next morning everyone seemed confident he would be making the flight – everyone. that is, except for Wiseman and his crew. Before he took the train to Petaluma he told people in Santa Rosa he didn’t expect to attempt it until the following day. Whatever the cause for his hesitation faded by noon, however.

This time the airplane was on the fairground racetrack and not the grassy field. The Petaluma Courier offered the best narrative of what happened next:

Aviator Fred Wiseman, exactly at 12:30 this noon with a broad smile and determination covering his face and amid an eager crowd of two hundred people jumped into the seat of his biplane, gave orders to crank the engine and in three seconds was speeding his way for twenty feet up the slippery and muddy track, when suddenly to the surprise of those who had never before seen a flight, rose gently into the air over the heads of the cheering crowd. The women especially waved their handkerchiefs while the men threw their hats in applause of the daring of the little aviator.

Others held their breath and turned away in anxiety for fear that he would drop to the ground and be injured.

The engine worked in fine condition and like a swallow swerved over the Kenilworth Park trees while the big crowd scrambled to get onto the street. Every eye was bent on Wiseman, gently floating through the air, and all eyes were strained until the last [moment] when Wiseman disappeared into the distance…

Even before he started his engine, autos were racing towards Santa Rosa in hopes of pacing his flight, including old friend and investor Ben Noonan who hoped to reach Santa Rosa before Wiseman.

“In an almost incredibly short time however,” the Argus reported it received a telephone call “stating that Wiseman had met with some mishap and had landed in a plowed field about half a mile north of Corona road.” Wiseman brought it down because his engine began sounding rough – the carburetor had flooded. He had flown only a little over three miles (approximate location).

Autos carrying Wiseman’s team and aviation fans arrived almost immediately. The plane was not seriously damaged but a runner was broken, which they fixed using a shovel handle (!) but there was no chance it could take off again from the muddy field. The delicate aircraft with its 33 foot wingspan would have to be carried and dragged out by hand.

“Everybody took hold and helped,” the Press Democrat reported, but the wheels were “sunk into the sticky adobe almost to the hubs. The wheels gathered and held the mud and after a few moments resembled huge mudballs.” The farmer who owned the land told them to tear down part of a fence and put the boards under the runners. It took hours to move the thing to solid ground just 200 feet away.

There was talk of flying back to Kenilworth Park where proper repairs could be made and Wiseman could attempt to set a cross-country speed record, but Fred still wanted to finish the voyage. By the time they were ready, however, a strong wind was blowing from the west. At sunset it was decided to wait until the next morning and everyone went back to Petaluma, with a watchman returning for the night. Fred Wiseman’s airplane was left near the side of the road, facing in the direction of Santa Rosa.

* In reality, the Reserve was a national aviation club with thousands of members who were mostly aviation entusiasts, including President Taft. While there was much hype at the time about using aircraft to look for Mexican Civil War Insurrectos sneaking across the border, the air patrol ended up being a single volunteer pilot who worked for the Wright Brothers – and who ditched the aircraft belly-up in the Rio Grande on his second flight, ending the whole plan.

Wiseman did serve in the Army during the Spanish-American War, when Santa Rosa’s National Guard Company E was called up 1898-1900 to serve as replacement troops stateside. In 1924 he applied for a military pension as an invalid and was approved.

WISEMAN WILL BE GIVEN OVATION TUESDAY EVENING
Band Will Meet Aviator At Train and Escort Him On March

Fred J. Wiseman, the Santa Rosa boy who has made a splendid record at the aviation meet in San Francisco, will be honored on his return to his home city Tuesday evening. He and his crew of mechanicians will be met at the depot here on the arrival of the afternoon train at 5:45 and will be accompanied in the front of the court house by many of the representative citizens of Santa Rosa.

Parks’ Santa Rosa band has been engaged for the occasion, and the home-coming of Wiseman after having established some new amateur records at the aviation field, will be made memorable in many ways. Louis Gnesa, the well known business man of this city, has provided the band as a mark of recognition of Wiseman’s feats in the air, and the fact that Wiseman has made known the name of Santa Rosa in exceptionally splendid manner.

Gnesa is one of the enthusiasts over the success of the Santa Rosan, and has secured the services of a band to demonstrate his appreciation.

A line of march will be formed at the depot and the march will be undertaken to the front steps of the court house on Fourth street. Here Mayor James R. Edwards will make an address to Wiseman, and a brief reply will be made by the aviator. Mayor Edwards will felicitate the young man on his splendid achievements in the air.

Fred J. Bertolani of the Bismarck restaurant will entertain Wiseman and his mechanicians at a sumptuous repast later at his place of business. It will be a gala spread with good fellowship prevailing, and there will be a feast of reason and a flow of soul following the serving of the viands.

Accompanying Wiseman will be Ben Noonan, Don C. Prentiss, Bob Schieffer, Archie Prentiss and Alvin Cooper. Ralph A. Belden of this city is also a member of the official staff.

[..]

Friends of Wiseman yesterday stated that the Santa Rosa birdling wrecked 12 machines before perfecting the one in which he now rides, and that he has exhausted his funds in the work and given all his time to it for a year. They are indignant that an employee of a professional camp, driving a professional machine had entered in contest with the lead inventor and the matter will probably be taken up by the aviation committee and the judges of the meet.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 24, 1911
A ROUSING OVATION IS TENDERED FRED WISEMAN
Santa Rosans Honor A Favored Son on Tuesday Evening

Fred J. Wiseman and his crew of mechanicians were given an enthusiastic welcome to the City of Roses on Tuesday evening…

…Parks’ Santa Rosa band was on hand at the depot to render martial music and to add to the welcome of Wiseman. Red fire was burned at the depot and along the line of march, and giant crackers were exploded as a noisy welcome. This was continued along the line of march up Fourth street. When the train arrived the passengers became considerably excited, and hastily threw open the windows to learn the occasion of the band’s presence and the firing of the giant crackers and the burning of the red fire.

When Mr. and Mrs. Wiseman alighted they were surrounded by a large number of friends and residents of Santa Rosa. Every one in the vast thong desired to shake Wiseman’s hand and express appreciation of his efforts, and to say words of appreciation of his efforts, and to say words of appreciation to Mrs. Wiseman. It was with some difficulty that the young aviator could be gotten through the crowd…

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 25, 1911
WISEMAN, WELCOME!
By George L. Smith

All join to welcome our hero, returning,
Cheer follows cheer from the multitude there.
Loud plays the band, while the red fire is burning;
Tri-colored streamers float out on the air.

Yes, we are proud of the boy who is flying,
Proud that he hails from our city so fair.
Loudly today his praise we are crying
This self-proven amateur king of the air.

Here’s to Fred Wiseman an excellent example
Of what man can do when he so sets his will.
Yes, Fred, indeed you’re a living example
That confidence into all hearts should instill.

So here’s to the boy whom today we’re all praising
Who soon will be showing the whole world his might,
And was first in the state to succeed in the raising
Of a California built airship in actual flight.

– Press Democrat, January 25, 1911
WISEMAN IS COMPELLED TO DIVIDE THE AVIATION PRIZES

The many friends of Fed J. Wiseman will be interested in the result of the prize awards for the recent aviation meet…

…[F]riends in this city were preparing to go to the aid of the young birdman before the aviation committee here and protest that the honors gained in the novice class by Wiseman should not be shared by H. A. Robinson and Lincoln Beachey, the two Curtiss men also entered as novices. Beachey and Robinson have both made flights in standard Curtiss machines set up by Curtiss mechanicians. They are both carried in the Curtiss camp. Wiseman is a Santa Rosa youth who has put his own time and money and ideas into his aircraft…

…The citizens of Santa Rosa, under the leadership of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, are collecting a purse which will be offered to Wiseman for a flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, sixteen miles. Petaluma citizens are anxious to contribute also, it is said, and the total sum offered may approach  $3,000…

– Press Democrat, January 26, 1911
HE’S COMING HOME IN HIS AEROPLANE
Santa Rosa Aviator Says if He Can’t Make the Trip that Way He’ll Stay Where He is the Rest of His Life

Fred J. Wiseman and his associates have established temporary quarters in this city, where they will carry on the construction of a large lot of aeroplane parts. They are having quite a bit of their woodwork turned out at the Simpson & Roberts mill under charge of Lee Patton of that establishment. Mr. Patton was with Wiseman’s mechanical force some time at Petaluma.

Wiseman has the distinction of being the first and only amateur aviator in America to build and successfully fly a heavier than air machine of his own original design. Yet his flying at the San Francisco international meet placed him and his machine about on par with professionals. While his machine was first being assembled at the Tanforan meet the question: “Will you try today?” was often asked. After his first exhibition of flying there the question was altered to “Will you fly today?”

Being asked when he would bring his air craft to this city, the local birdman replied, “I shall never bring that aeroplane to Santa Rosa by any other route than the air route, and if I can’t fly it here from Petaluma it will never come. But I don’t believe there are many people who now doubt we can perform that feat and more, too.”

At San Francisco Wiseman established an official duration record of 49 minutes, double the time required for his promised Petaluma to Santa Rosa flight, which he has decided to make some time within the next few days.

[? illegible microfilm] recognized by all the eastern magazines and aero publications and excellent pictures appeared in most of them.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1911
WEATHER DELAYS WISEMAN’S FLIGHT
Had Planned to Fly to County Seat from Petaluma Monday, But Rain Makes it Impossible to Do So

Fred J. Wiseman had proposed to fly from Petaluma to Santa Rosa Monday, it being a holiday, but owing to the continued storm this will be impossible. As soon as the weather clears up and the ground dries sufficiently to give him firm ground on which to make the start, he will make the flight.

Wiseman returned Saturday night from Petaluma, where he had been during the afternoon with Ben Noonan and Don Prentiss to look over the conditions there regarding the prospects of getting a flight Monday. They were greatly disappointed to find the ground under water and the indications that it would be several days after the rainstorm broke before any attempt at a flight would be possible.

The machine is now ready, the attendants are on hand and the very first opportunity the attempt is to be made, declared Wiseman during the evening. The machine will not be dismounted to take to Cloverdale until the last minute in hopes that a flight can be made from Petaluma to Santa Rosa prior to going to Cloverdale for the Citrus Fair when Wiseman is contracted to make flights on Wednesday and Saturday, February 22 and 25.

– Press Democrat, February 11, 1911
WISEMAN STARTS FOR SANTA ROSA BUT MEETS WITH MISHAP

After the big crowd of spectators had left Kenilworth Park on Thursday evening, following the announcement that Wiseman would not make his attempt to fly to Santa Rosa on that day he made a splendid tryout flight which the spectators missed but which was seen by many people at a distance. The hundreds of factory hands returning from work at that time had a fine view of the aeroplane and he made by far the finest flight yet made here by him.

It was just 5:05 when everything was working nicely and Wiseman from his seat on the machine shouted, “let her go.” The machine rose majestically and took to the air, rising to the height of about 75 feet and set out on a course which took him directly over the slaughter houses north of this city, and thence out as far as the point where the electric railway tracks leave those of the steam road. He made a wide turn to the left and came back to the park, having gone a distance of about four miles. He was in the air for about fifteen minutes.

On landing, he forgot a trough which stood in the path of the machine and after he had shut off the power he was compelled to rise slightly to avoid the trough so made an uneven landing and smashed one skid of the machine. The work of making repairs was at once taken up and the machinists worked until far into the night to make repairs, and they were finished by morning.

The test on Thursday morning was very satisfactory and there was over 400 pounds thrust before the machine left the ground. The additional power was added at Tanforan park in San Francisco. Wiseman had the machine under perfect control at all times and if he could have made such a flight as that on the Fourth of July the people would have gone wild with excitement. Yet Wiseman has been so successful he thought little of the flight Thursday, except to express his satisfaction.

At 12:28 Friday afternoon Fred Wiseman, the local aviator, started from  Kenilworth park for his long-discussed air trip from this city to Santa Rosa. Wiseman and his assistants spent the morning working like beavers getting the big air craft is shape for the perilous journey. Meantime the news of the attempted flight spread throughout the city and a crowd of several hundred people were at the park all morning waiting patiently and with great good humor for the mechanicians to finish their work.

Soon after 12 o’clock the work was completed and the big air craft was moved down the track from near the pavilion to a point near the club house. Then Wiseman took his seat and the engine was started. The aeroplane moved rapidly along the track for some distance after which Wiseman lifted the plane and the air craft rose into the air as gracefully as a bird.

Wiseman rose to a height of about one hundred feet, executed a graceful curve and headed for Santa Rosa, passing over the trees that line Washington street at a point a short distance west of the residence of J. D. Ellis. At this juncture the engine seemed to be working perfectly and Wiseman was traveling at a high rate of speed. The local people watched Wiseman until he passed out of sight beyond Corona, and all returned home to their delayed luncheons jubilant in the belief that Wiseman would reach his destination in safety.

In an almost incredibly short time however, word was received over the telephone at the Argus office stating that Wiseman had met with some mishap and had landed in a plowed field about half a mile north of Corona road about one hundred yards west of the Northwestern Pacific Railway tracks. Investigation revealed the fact that Wiseman was compelled to descend for the reason that, in some manner, lubricating oil had flooded the carburetor of his engine causing it to stop.

Wiseman made the landing in good shape and without damage to the aeroplane. Assistance was promptly on the scene and the work of moving the airship to solid ground preparatory to fresh start was soon under way. It was difficult work moving the airship across the plowed adobe to the county road near Denman station and this task had not been accomplished when the Argus went to press. Wiseman was not discouraged and declared his intention to complete the journey to Santa Rosa tonight if it was possible to do so.

The airship had not been five minutes on the way when Mrs. H. C. Bartlett phoned the Argus word that it had alighted. Mr. Bartlett ran to the spot, about a mile away from their home, to see if he could be of assistance.

Steiger’s auto, with Wiseman’s assistants on board, was soon at the scene and the slight repairs necessary were quickly made. They consisted of a broken runner, which was repaired by using a shovel handle.

J. M. Johnson of Corona was less than a mile away when the machine approached and he saw that it was tilting considerably and was flying at an angle. The engine was missing and he could tell from the sound that it was not working properly. He could see that Wiseman was endeavoring to right the machine and that it gradually settled closer to the earth. Mr. Johnson saw that Wiseman was uninjured and then come on to town, and soon had told the Argus the first true particulars of the landing of the birdman.

Wiseman carried letters from Geo. P. McNear to Mayor Edwards and J. P. Overton, a letter from Postmaster Olmstead to Postmaster Tripp and a package from Hickey & Vonsen to Kopf & Donovan.

– Petaluma Argus, February 17, 1911
WISEMAN’S SECOND FLIGHT PROVES UNSUCCESSFUL

Aviator Fred Wiseman, exactly at 12:30 this noon with a broad smile and determination covering his face and amid an eager crowd of two hundred people jumped into the seat of his biplane, gave orders to crank the engine and in three seconds was speeding his way for twenty feet up the slippery and muddy track, when suddenly to the surprise of those who had never before seen a flight, rose gently into the air over the heads of the cheering crowd. The women especially waved their handkerchiefs while the men threw their hats in applause of the daring of the little aviator.

Others held their breath and turned away in anxiety for fear that he would drop to the ground and be injured.

The engine worked in fine condition and like a swallow swerved over the Kenilworth Park trees while the big crowd scrambled to get onto the street. Every eye was bent on Wiseman, gently floating through the air, and all eyes were strained until the last [moment] when Wiseman disappeared into the distance, being now at Corona.

Automobiles in large numbers left for the county road to get sight of the aviator’s movements and previous to the flight, Ben Noonan left in his auto for Santa Rosa to be with Wiseman when he arrived. Disappointment was expressed on all sides when a telephone message was received from Corona that Wiseman had alighted in Denman’s field and that there was little or no probability of his continuing the flight.

The exact state of the injuries done to the machine could not be learned at the time of this writing although the fact was made known immediately that Wiseman was not injured.

Six newspapers of Santa Rosa were tied to the seat of the machine which Wiseman had intended leaving at the homes of ranchers along the line of flight. Hickey & Vonsen sent a package along to be delivered in Santa Rosa and Geo. P. McNear sent a letter to be delivered to the Mayor of Santa Rosa, inviting the citizens of Santa Rosa to attend the Industrial and Pure Food Exposition in Petaluma in March.

Wiseman was wished success by all around him and and before taking the flight partook of a light meal. It is to be regretted that he could not have continued the journey to Santa Rosa.

Wiseman’s trial trip to Corona on Thursday evening was identically the same as taken this morning. The test Thursday was satisfactory in every way. In alighting one of the beams was broken which had to be repaired today. The machine will be brought back to Petaluma and another trial made. The machine is being housed in the pavilion at Kenilworth owing to the unsettled weather.

Our esteemed contemporaries at the county seat have christened Wiseman the Santa Rosa aviator. Petaluma also has a claim on him on account of his machine being built here and holds that he should be christened the “Petaluma and Santa Rosa aviator.”

Later.

Aviator Wiseman is still at the Denman field at Ely where he alighted while enroute to Santa Rosa. He is three and one-half miles on the other side of Corona station. Mr. Wiseman was compelled to alight in the field on account of the fact that the oil flooded the carburetor and the engine lost its power. Mr. Wiseman observed the trouble and alighted to save disaster. He landed on the field in fine style, making an easy stop. Unfortunately the field has recently been plowed and the soil is adobe and consequently the machine stuck. Wiseman and his assistants moved the machine 200 feet out of the field and hope to leave tonight for Santa Rosa. He has the machine headed for Rainsville.

– Petaluma Courier, February 17, 1911

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