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