Big Celebration at Maryville

Advertisement from the June 12, 1913 Skidmore New Era for Maryville celebration

This advertisement for the Maryville festivities ran in the June 12, 1913 Skidmore New Era.

Things were worth celebrating in Nodaway County in 1913.  New technology had brought electricity, moving pictures, automobiles, and even aeroplanes to the area.  Maryville planned a grand celebration of it all to mark the official lighting of its brand-new electric street lights.  For Skidmore, it was a moment to envy, for although the town had enjoyed its own aeroplane exhibition – the first in the county – a full three years before Maryville did, the town still lacked the beauty of electric street lamps.

From the June 12, 1913 Skidmore New Era:

Will Come From Just As Far As Rates Reach

Wide Territory Interested in Big Celebration at Opening of White Way, June 18

Aeroplane Flights Will Be One of Big Drawing Cards, But There’s Free Movies, Concerts, Etc.

Maryville will draw visitors June 18 from just as far as rates reach on the railroads, and just as far as a horse or auto can travel comfortably – and maybe some of the horses will be urged just a bit to make the journey.

From all over the territory adjacent, comes word that the people want to see Ralph E. McMillen in his aeroplane flights, and his sensational flying down at Kansas City the past ten days has increased the desire to see him.

He will make two flights, and the field will be open so that the visitors can see everything, from start to finish, and there will be no entrance fee.

Besides the flights there will be a number of other interesting features, a free picture show in the park – something worth the seeing, an out door movie – and there will be band concerts and trips to the factories, and a number of other attractions.

At night the formal turning on the lights will take place, when seventy-two clusters, extending over ten blocks of the down town streets, will flash out for the first time.

These lights which are the result of a campaign on the part of the Commercial club, were installed at the cost of $4,500.  Over 7,000 feet of steel-armored cable, laid in cement under paving, supplies current to the lamps.  These lamps are arranged in clusters of five on ornamental iron posts.  Large opalescent globes cover the lamps and soften the light, and the lower four will burn until 11 o’clock at night and the middle and larger lamps will burn until morning.

In connection with the White Way the whole lighting system of the town has been changed, to get better distribution and where forty-five arc sixty two incandescents formerly lighted the town, there now will be 124 tungsten lamps scattered over the city.



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This Airship Business

Well-known aviators like Thomas S. Baldwin, Glenn Curtiss, and Lincoln Beachey had managers like Charles L. Young to make arrangements, negotiate contracts, and scout out locations.  As newcomers to the business, Kansas City birdmen William M. Evans and J. A. McCallum were their own managers.

The business of hiring aviators was new and perhaps a bit stressful for those who were on the hiring end, as well, as can be seen in the the October 21, 1910 Larned Tiller and Toiler:

The proposition of Charley Scott of the firm of Scott and Coppock of Kansas City to try and induce a couple of aviators to come to Larned to put on an aeroplane exhibition, which was mentioned in this paper last week, was taken up by the Pawnee county fair association the latter part of last week, after a general response had been received from the people of the community in favor of such an exhibition, and the editor of this paper was instructed to go to Kansas City last Sunday to look into the matter and see what kind of an arrangement could be made.  An effort was made to put on a flight Sunday to show what the aviators and their machines could do, but one of the aeroplanes was not yet repaired from an accident a few days before, and the work of putting the other one, a new one, together not being completed, the Larned visitor failed to see the machines in action.

A proposition was sent to the Association, which was accepted at a meeting of the directors held Monday morning, for a four-days exhibition, Wednesday to Saturday of next week but later a telegram was received from the aviators saying that they could not get their aeroplanes in shape for the exhibition before the same days of the following week, November 2nd to 5th.  This caused a hitch in the arrangements because Mr. Scott, who was to look after matters at the Kansas City end, was compelled to be absent the first week in November on business.  He suggested that the Association committee take the matter up directly with the aviators, but this did not appeal to the committee, as this air ship business is something decidedly new to everyone, and no one cared to take the time or assume the responsibility of going to Kansas City to make the necessary contracts, etc.  The matter is still pending, and it is hoped that arrangements can be made with either Charley or Will Scott or with Mr. Coppock, Charley’s partner, to look after the details of the matter at Kansas City, or to have one of the aviators come here in person to arrange matters, but an answer has not been received to the committee’s last letter, and until some such arrangement can be made it can not be stated definitely whether an exhibition will be given here or not, or the date when it will take place, if at all; although if given at all it will probably be from Wednesday to Saturday, Nov. 2nd to 5th.

According to the 1911 City Directory for Kansas City, former Larned resident Charles L. Scott and his partner, Henry H. Coppock, ran Scott & Coppock from room 311 in the Commerce Building in Kansas City.  Scott & Coppock dealt in carburetors, so it does seem likely that that the Fair Association board might want to entrust negotiations of all things mechanical to Mr. Scott.  As the paper would later report, Evans himself went to Larned to take care of the contracts and look over the terrain.  The first aeroplane exhibition west of Topeka and east of Denver was about to take place.

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Wreck of Evans’ Biplane

Kansas City Post coverage of the many wrecks at Elm Ridge Racetrack, October 8, 1910, page 2

The Kansas City Post featured photographs of the damage at Elm Ridge on October 8, 1910.

The Kansas City Post followed the Evans-versus-Baldwin contest with breathless dedication.  On the day after it reported the buildup to the race, it highlighted an impressive number of wrecks – Evans’ biplane among them.

Photo 1, on the left corner, shows “The Greene biplane which was wrecked by a 50-foot fall.  Evans, the young aviator, escaped injury.”  The other photos document a wrecked Apperson motor car that crashed in a race earlier that day.

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West of Topeka and East of Denver

Aeroplane Exhibition advertisement, Larned, Kansas Tiller and Toiler newspaper, October 28, 1910

This front-page ad appeared in the October 28, 1910  Tiller and Toiler newspaper.  The photo on the right was taken by photographer G. C. Ashbrook during Evans’ flights in Skidmore, Missouri.

The Larned, Kansas Tiller and Toiler trumpeted the arrival of daring aeronaut and inventor Captain J. A. McCallum and Captain William Evans, who, in less than one month went in the press from unknown amateur to “daring aviator who has made many successful flights in the east.”

McCallum and Evans were to make a number of flights each day in what the paper said would be “competition for height, distance, speed, endurance, time of starting and alighting, and other records.”  Evans, the press reported, had been known to fly as high as 500 feet – a marvel not to be missed.

“This exhibition,” the advertising promised, “will afford the first opportunity the people of central and western Kansas have ever had to witness genuine air-ships in flight.”  This was not Evans’ first time giving Midwesterners their first look at a “genuine” aeroplane, and perhaps he faced some of the same skepticism the people of Skidmore felt before his flights in September 1910.  “The flights will be made in aeroplanes, not in balloons, and the flights will positively take place every day if the weather permits,” the Tiller and Toiler promised.

Everyone in the county was urged to attend for the ticket price of fifty cents (children under 14, twenty-five cents) – a small price to pay to witness the “First Airship Flight Ever Attempted West of Topeka and East of Denver!”

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Does Larned Want an Aeroplane Exhibition?

The Larned, Kansas Tiller and Toiler posed that question on the front page of its October 14, 1910 edition. The paper, the editor reported, had received a letter from Charles Scott, son of former Larned resident Colonel William Scott and representative for the Boore Carburetor Company, who asked whether Larned might be interested in holding an aeroplane exhibition.

Scott was offering the services of William Evans – now styled Captain Evans, following the example of his hero and new mentor, Captain Thomas Baldwin. “Capt. Evans,” the paper reported, “has a new bi-plane, very powerful, and can fly 500 feet high.” Scott had seen Evans and Baldwin fly in Kansas City and felt that he could take advantage of a limited window of opportunity before the men left for the coast to attend the 1910 exhibition at Los Angeles.

It was also an opportunity for Larned to get ahead of other Kansas towns. Evans and Baldwin were scheduled to exhibit at Hutchinson “and one or two of the larger towns in Kansas,” but Scott, who had recently equipped Evans’ plane with a carburetor, felt sure he could persuade the men to abandon Hutchinson for Larned if the townspeople were interested. [1. “Does Larned Want an Aeroplane Exhibition?” Tiller and Toiler (Larned, KS), 14 October 1910, p. 1]

The editor left it up to the town to decide but offered his own opinion: “This is a rare opportunity to see an aeroplane flight exhibition, and is probably the only chance we will have in some time, as there are few aviators ‘living’ today, and their services will be exclusively taken up for a long time to come by demands from the bigger cities.” [2. “Does Larned Want an Aeroplane Exhibition?” Tiller and Toiler (Larned, KS), 14 October 1910, p. 1]

Larned, it seems, did want an aeroplane exhibition, and eventually Evans and his friend, Kansas City aeroplane inventor J. A. McCallum, were booked for a four-day gig at the Larned Fair Grounds.

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Veteran Aviator vs. Daring Amateur

Veteran Aviator and Daring Amateur Entertain Thousands at Elm Ridge[1. “Evans’ 50-ft. Fall Makes Baldwin Richer by $500.”  The Kansas City Post, 8 October 1910, p. 2.]

It’s a crisp, clear October day in Kansas City.  The hills surrounding Elm Ridge Racetrack are just beginning to show the first brushstrokes of fall color.  The constant rain that has stirred up mud and watered down your spirits for the past five days has finally ended, and you, like the rest of the crowd in town for the Priests of Pallas festivities, are ready for some fun and excitement.

You step off the streetcar and walk toward Elm Ridge.  Thousands of people pour into the stands, and as you settle into your seat, you feel the electric hum of competition and technological wonder buzzing through the crowd.  The Kansas City papers have promised some real auto racing and a brand-new wonder at today’s events: an aeroplane race between Captain Thomas Baldwin, seasoned aviator and nationally-known King of the Air, and William Evans, a local Kansas City boy whose recent flights out at the Overland Park air field have caused a stir.

The automobile races prove to be crowd-pleasers, but they are not without peril.  W. H. Gillmore takes a bad turn in the twenty-five mile free-for-all and wrecks his Apperson car, and Pete Hickerson just barely avoids calamity in the sixth lap of the ten-mile race when he rounds the back stretch and his Indian motorcycle skids out of control, throwing him into the fence.  Applause and sighs of relief ripple through the crowd as each man emerges unharmed from the wreckage.

Your ears gradually tune to the near-constant growl of car engines and the pop-pop of motorcycles. The races drone on through the day, and some of the crowd has started to thin out.  The sun begins to fade toward the hills, and the late afternoon haze settles in, but you aren’t ready to leave – not by a long shot.

You and your seat mates have been sneaking glances at a large tent positioned just inside the track.  The tent flap flies open with a dramatic flourish, and from your position, you can just make out the shape of an aeroplane.  The crowd bursts into applause, and Captain Baldwin leads the way as several men from his crew wheel the “Red Devil” aeroplane toward the grandstand.

Not to be outdone, William Evans and his team push his Greene biplane forward to stand beside the Red Devil.  The reporter next to you remarks that this daring local kid might just stand a chance against Baldwin.  You agree that the Greene biplane, while not as graceful and classic as the Red Devil, seems just a bit more eccentric and rakish. [2. “Evans’ 50-ft. Fall Makes Baldwin Richer by $500.”  The Kansas City Post, 8 October 1910, p. 2.]

By now, the auto races are over and all eyes are focused on the two aeroplanes and their pilots.  The machinists step forward and start the engines on both planes, unleashing a machine gun blast of noise.  Baldwin, the senior aviator, climbs into his seat and motions to his crew to release the plane.  Man and mechanical bird skim along the ground for a few yards, then slowly rise up and over the track and over the fence to curve around the stands, then swoop back down into the infield for a graceful landing.  The crowd cheers, and Baldwin graciously waves to acknowledge the applause.

Young Evans takes his seat and makes two short test flights across the field.  The crowd shifts forward, ready for the race between the man-birds to begin.  Evans’ machinist, Harry Boore, motions for a moment’s delay.  He is concerned about the Greene biplane’s engine, and Evans agrees to another test flight.

Evans’ plane performs on command, soaring up fifty feet toward the east, and as the young pilot turns back toward the field, the crowd cheers, pleased that the local fellow, a relative newcomer to flight, should do so well.  The aeroplane tilts to one side, and as you glance away from the biplane, you see Captain Baldwin and machinist Boore watching the flight, their faces pulled tight with worry.  They know what the crowd will see in moments:  The engine has stalled, and the machine is about to fall.

Instead of Baldwin’s birdlike swoop, Evans’ descent is a straight drop, and the few women in the crowd scream as the plane turns its nose downward and plummets thirty-five feet.  Evans quickly pulls himself from the plane’s wires and jumps from the machine mere seconds before it crashes to the ground.[3. “Three Near Death in Local Races.”  The Kansas City Journal, 8 October 1910, p. 1.]

The police strain to hold back the crowd for a third time today, but before the sea of people can flood to the site of this wreck, Evans shakes off his fall and moves to stand by the crumpled biplane, waving his hands in the air to show the crowd that he is safe.  Another cheer bursts from the crowd, and the reporter next to you remarks that the celebration could not have been greater had the boy aviator actually succeeded in establishing an altitude record instead of a crash landing.[4. “Three Near Death in Local Races.”  The Kansas City Journal, 8 October 1910, p. 1.]  Survival, especially in these early days of aviation, is worth celebrating.

Baldwin strides forward to shake Evans’ hand.  “I’m downright sorry, Evans.” Baldwin, a seasoned aviator, is no stranger to the fortunes and misfortunes of aviation.  Although he is richer by the $500 prize he now receives by default, Baldwin seems genuinely sorry to see the Kansas City fellow lose.  The Post later reports, “As for Evans, it may be said he was a game loser.  Of course, it was a great chance gone in a minute, but the young man had a plucky smile on his face as he and Captain Baldwin clasped hands.  The older man seemed to be the more grieved of the two.”[5. “Evans’ 50-ft. Fall Makes Baldwin Richer by $500.”  The Kansas City Post, 8 October 1910, p. 2.]  “Thanks, captain.  I hope for better luck next time,” Evans says.  He has had a chance to stretch his wings alongside his hero, and he knows that as soon as his aeroplane can be repaired, he will be in the air again.

The Kansas City post reported, “Young Evans had gone out to Elm Ridge expecting to do something brilliant, something great, something that would gain him world renown, by defeating at his own game the master of aeronautics.  And, although he failed, he lost as gracefully as only a thorobred can.”  [6. “Evans’ 50-ft. Fall Makes Baldwin Richer by $500.”  The Kansas City Post, 8 October 1910, p. 2.]

One loss – one crash landing on that crisp October day – was not the end of William Evans’ flying career.  Although the race at Elm Ridge did not end in his favor, it did mark the beginning of a friendship and professional association with Captain Thomas S. Baldwin.  Evans would go on to make solo flight demonstrations in Kansas and would later join Baldwin’s crew at Mineola for a time.  The young amateur’s dreams of flight and fame were just beginning to take off.

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