David McCullough is one of my favorite authors. He is able to transport me into a different time and place whether Paris, Panama or Brooklyn. I've learned so much history from every book. Imagine my surprise this time when I read his new book, The Wright Brothers, and already knew most of the story.
Researching for a Historical Novel
I often wondered if I did enough research for Yours in a Hurry. One of the characters is involved in early aviation. When I started the book, I knew almost nothing on the topic. My spouse, an avid reader, suggested I start by contacting Tom Crouch and Walter Boyne, both prolific writers on aviation and former curator and director respectively for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Both were gracious and Boyne even provided writing advice.
A Wright specialist, writer Paul Glenshaw, and Traff Doherty, Director of the Glenn Curtiss Museum, fact checked the aviation sections of the novel. I'm fortunate that a local antiquarian bookstore, The Bookseller, specializes in many topics, including aviation. It's the type of store you can spend hours in. Octogenarian owner, Frank Klein, sat with me several times and suggested resources. I bought more than a few books there over the years.
Like McCullough I read The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright (1953) edited by Marvin McFarland. I didn't read them as well or as closely as he did—too detailed for a historical fiction with two other story lines. I often turned to Fred C. Kelley's The Wright Brothers (1943) and Fred Howard's Wilber and Orville (1987).
Of course, the Wright story is covered in uncountable compilations of aviation stories and histories like Tom Crouch's Wings. Websites like Early Aviation Pioneers helped, too.
Enter Other Pioneers
The more I read, the more I realized that the Wrights weren't the only early aviators and manufacturers who made an impact in the new profession. Glenn Curtiss was a better collaborator than the Wrights making him a different, but many feel as important, contributor to the early industry. For that story I relied mostly on Glenn Curtiss: Pioneer of Flight by C.R. Roseberry.
Some firsthand accounts are very interesting. Waldo Dean Waterman's Waldo: Pioneer Aviator is one. Journalist Harry Harper wrote stories and books in the early days, Riders of the Sky and Evolution of the Flying Machine.
Harriet Quimby, who wrote many early accounts in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, became a character in Yours in a Hurry. She eventually joined with another early American aviation family, the Moisants—John, Alfred, and Matilde. The Magnificent Moisantsby Doris Rich tells their story. Matilde is one of three early women flyers along with Quimby and Blanche Scott.
The Wright brothers gave credit to the early information they received from the Smithsonian, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine still publishes articles on early aviation such as the one that included part of the Yours in a Hurry story.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Wright family dynamics and want some lighter summer reading, I'd recommend the historical novel Dawn Over Kitty Hawk by Walter Boyne.
Next time: Boxing and our culture: The Jeffries -Jackson Fight
Guest blog by Yvonne Montoya
Early in my research for Yours in a Hurry, I was referred to Yvonne Montoya, who was working on, Hollywood and Vine, a documentary about the famous intersection and how it started out as part of a temperance community and transformed into the heart of the entertainment industry helping shape American pop culture. I asked her about the College Theater, one of the first movie theaters in 1910 that I'd read about and used in the novel. She provided the following information about a few of the first Hollywood movie theaters.
In 1910, a tiny wooden building equipped only with a projector, screen and a few chairs and benches opened on the northeast corner of Hollywood Blvd and Hudson Ave. Pictured at right, the Idle Hour was Hollywood’s first movie theater. The Hollywood community at that time was largely residential with Protestant Christian values. Idleness was not a virtue they looked upon favorably, so with patrons in short supply, the Idle Hour was soon renamed the Iris, after the famous painter Paul de Longpre in whose garden the theater now stood.
The original founders of Hollywood, Harvey and Daeida Wilcox, were steadfast prohibitionists and they built a community of like-minded Christians who wanted nothing to do with movies or the people who made them. This all changed within a few short years as the movie industry firmly planted themselves in the area and became a profitable business.
Hollywood's population in 1910 was around 5,000 by the 1920s, the population boomed to over 100,000 and Hollywood was fast becoming the heart of the film industry. There were more than 20 movie studios in or near Hollywood and movie theaters were gaining in popularity. The beautiful homes that lined Hollywood Blvd were slowly disappearing. According to Gregory Paul Williams in The Story of Hollywood, “Hollywood Boulevard’s claim to being movieland’s main street remained, in part, because of its many movie theaters. The area uniquely combined first and second run theaters side by side.” In addition to the Iris there was now the famous Egyptian and Grauman’s Chinese Theatres.
The Iris Theater managed to stay in business despite the community opposition and in 1918 moved near Hollywood Blvd and Wilcox Ave. The new theater, which housed about a thousand seats, opened with DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation. In 1965, it was renamed Fox Theater, but eventually closed in the early 1980’s. The theater reopened in 2009 as the Playhouse a popular nightclub still in operation today.
The College Theater
According to Motion Picture World, T.L. Tally ran the theater where characters Pete and Lucy work in the novel, from Dec 14 1910 to at least October, 1912.* It was described as 'a high class picture theater building…on the west side of Hill street, halfway between the Los Angeles-Pacific railway station and Fifth street'.”
The following item appeared in DOINGS AT LOS ANGELES – Powell
"I have located the hardest working, most intelligent picture pianist in Los Angeles. She is employed at the COLLEGE THEATRE (a Tally theater on South Hill) and I go there often not so much to see the pictures as to hear her play them, for she not only employs judgment and originality in making the music fit the scenes, but is an artist besides — has tone and temperament. I am told by the management that her name is Ruby Wallberg…
*Motion Picture World, Vol. 14, No. 7, 16 November, 1912 (page 653)
As mentioned in my April 29 blog, you can find out about the early film industry at the Hollywood Heritage Museum website.
Next time: The Wright Brothers Revisited
Many early aviators came from Ohio. The Wrights, obviously, and others like Roy Knabenshue and Cal Rodgers of Vin Fiz fame who worked for the Wrights. One of the most interesting is seldom mentioned, but appears in Yours in a Hurry.
Cromwell Dixon was born in 1892 and was raised in Columbus, Ohio with his mother and sister after his father died in an accident. At the age of eleven he built a motorcycle. In 1907 he built a self steering dirigible and flew his "Sky-cycle" across the Mississippi River in the St. Louis International Balloon Race. He won first prize and became "the youngest aeronaut in the world". His mother remained his biggest supporter and personal press agent, making sure that all the news services followed her "boy wonder", all the while grooming his sister Lulu for vaudeville.
Heavier Than Air
Like most aeronauts, by 1911 Cromwell switched to aeroplanes. He took lessons from Glenn Curtiss and received the U.S. pilot license number 43 on August 6, 1911. He was popular with the crowd given his youth and pleasing personality. In September 1911, he flew a Curtiss Pusher aeroplane called the Little Hummingbird round-trip from Helena, Montana to Blossburg, some 15 miles to the west over the Continental Divide. He won $ 10,000 for being the first aviator to conquer the Divide.
Better to fly
Cromwell's next stop on the exhibition circuit was at in the Washington County Interstate Fairground. The field in Spokane was, known to be one of the more dangerous, wedged between low buildings and telegraph wires. When a reporter asked him why he was chancing the flight, he replied that it's better to fly than to live life on the ground, wondering what it's like to be in the sky. He loved meeting the crowds. He loved travel. He appreciated his crew.
The crowd watched as the aeroplane ascended, cleared the telegraph wires, and climbed slowly. But then it shuddered, pitching Cromwell sideways and then quickly down toward the ground at a terrible angle. Dozens of men charged down the slope to the bottom of a steep railroad embankment and were met by smoldering metal and a strong gasoline smell. Cromwell was semiconscious, and died in less than an hour. He was nineteen years old.
Photo courtesy of Helena as She Was website http://www.helenahistory.org/the_fairgrounds.html
The primary Dixon source for the novel is Cromwell Dixon: A Boy and His Plane, 1892-1911 by Martin Kidston, based on stories from Jeff Berry, Cromwell Dixon's great- nephew. It can be purchased from on-line book stores, but please support the Glenn Curtiss Museum gift shop and purchase it at:
Next Time: The earliest movie theaters in Hollywood
It's Cleveland Indians time again in Northeast Ohio, and Cleveland remains a baseball town as it has been since 1865 when the Forest Citys was an amateur ball club. They were followed by the Cleveland Blues, the Lake Shores, the Naps, and the Cleveland Spiders. Cleveland became a Major League franchise in 1901. One of the most famous players in the early 20th century was pitcher Cy Young, and Purl in Yours in a Hurry has followed Young since his Spiders days.
Born on a farm in Ohio in 1867, Denton True "Cy" Young's professional career began with a minor league baseball team in Canton, Ohio in 1889. His fastball destroyed so many fences that that spectators said it looked like a cyclone had hit them. Reporters nicknamed him "Cy".
Cy Young Comes to Cleveland
Young signed with the Cleveland Spiders in 1890. Prior to the 1899 season, the Spiders' owner bought the St. Louis Browns, which were renamed the "Perfectos". Shortly before the season opener, most of the better Spiders players, including Young, were transferred to St. Louis. It didn't seem to help the Perfectos.
After two years in St. Louis he joined the American League's Boston Americans who played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first modern World Series in 1903. General admission tickets were fifty cents. Young threw the first pitch in modern World Series history, and Boston went on to defeat Pittsburgh.
Beginning in 1902, he spent the off season as a pitching coach, first at Harvard University and then at Mercer University, leading Mercer to several Georgia state championships—pretty impressive for someone with a sixth-grade education.
Cy Young Returns to Ohio
In 1909 Young was traded back to the Cleveland Naps. The following season, he won his 500th career game on July 19 against Washington. In 1911, his final year, he played for both the Naps and the Boston Rustlers. On September 22, 1911, Young shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates, 1–0, for his last career victory in a game against pitcher Christy Mathewson in a game famously billed as a pitchers' duel.
During his 21-year baseball career Young pitched for five different teams and established numerous pitching records, some of which stood for nearly a century. He pitched three no-hitters, including one just after his 41st birthday, making him the oldest pitcher to record a no-hitter for eighty-two years until the honor passed to Nolan Ryan. In addition to the most wins, he still holds the major league records for most career innings pitched and most career games started. He pitched the third perfect game in modern baseball history.
After his retirement, Young returned to his farm in Ohio, where he stayed until his death at age 88 in 1955. One year after his death, the Cy Young Award was created to honor the previous season's best pitcher. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937.
The Spiders are gone, but I hope you have the opportunity to see one of America's most treasured pastimes this year at a ballpark nearby.
Next time: Cromwell Dixon, Boy Wonder
We've all followed recent events in Charleston. Domestic Terrorism is nothing new. As Howard Blum so well documents in his narrative nonfiction, American Lightning: Terror, Mystery and the Birth of Hollywood . By the time the smoke cleared at the Los Angeles Times Building on October 1, 1910, the building was in ruins, twenty-one people died, and dozens more were injured. As Anna writes her brothers from Los Angeles in Yours in a Hurry, there is no need to worry about the rumors of more bombs in the city as no one can do anything about it.
Los Angeles employers had successfully resisted unionization for nearly half a century. Desperate union officials turned to violence after setbacks they had suffered since 1906. Harrison Otis, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was vehemently anti-union. Since 1896 he had been in control of the Merchants and Manufacturers' Association, spearheading a 20-year campaign to rid the city of its few remaining unions. The strongest, the Iron Workers, started a unionization campaign in the spring of 1910. A strike in June resulted in thirteen new unions by September, increasing union membership in the city by almost sixty percent.
The Los Angeles Times Building Bombing
It was a quiet night at 1st Street and Broadway until 1:07 a.m. when a bomb went off in an alley outside the three-story building. Many fell to their deaths by jumping out windows to escape the resulting fire, and many couldn't escape the flames. The "crime of the century" was carried out by members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Workers who were not adept at planning. The bomb was supposed to go off at 4:00 a.m. when the building would have been empty, but the clock timing mechanism was faulty. There was not enough dynamite for the job. They didn't know that natural gas main lines ran under the building, and they were unaware that 115 people were still in the building working on an extra edition for the next day.
Organized labor was immediately suspect.
The investigation and trial brought experienced private detectives to town who searched the country to solve the case, but national labor leaders didn't like the way the situation was handled.
Brothers John J. and James B. McNamara were arrested in April 1911 for the bombing. James admitted to setting the explosive, and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. John was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bombing a local iron manufacturing plant, and returned to the Iron Workers union as an organizer. Another fifty five members and officers were eventually arrested and the investigation revealed the Dynamite Conspiracy, which was linked to more than 100 bombings across the country. The Iron Workers asked Clarence Darrow to defend the McNamaras, adding more national attention to their cause. The labor movement in Los Angeles collapsed in 1912 and only began to show signs of growth again in the 1950s.
Howard Blum, American Lightning: Terror, Mystery and the Birth of Hollywood
Photos and additional information: Library of Congress
Next time: Cy Young in Cleveland