Monday, April 16, 2012


“Without any of the modern instruments, in a plane which was hardly more than a winged skeleton with a motor, and one, furthermore, with which she was totally unfamiliar, to cross the Channel in 1912 required more bravery and skill than to cross the Atlantic today." Amelia Earhart

"Life is a risk. The people that take a chance have a chance."
Harriet Quimby

5:30 A.M. Tuesday. April 16, 1912.
While the survivors of the RMS Titanic shivered and wept aboard the RMS Carpathia, as 1,513 souls were orienting themselves to the Afterlife – 'So this is Heaven! Good gracious, is that Clara Barton?' (The celebrated "Angel of the Battlefield," had just arrived four days earlier, Earth Time.) a lone pilot took off from Dover, England, bound for Calais, France.
It wasn't as if no one had ever flown over the English Channel. Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries spent two & a half chilly hours crossing the Channel on January 7, 1785, in the basket of a hot-air balloon.
When Louis Bleriot took off from France on July 25, 1909 and landed in sight of Dover's famous Castle and its chalk cliffs 37 minutes later, he accomplished the FIRST flight of a heavier-than-air craft over a significant - not to mention cold, rough, deep, and suffocatingly wet - body of water. And what a glorious picture book his flight inspired!
Just a few days earlier, on April 2, dashing Gustav Hamel had flown from England to France, along with Eleanor Trehawke-Davies, making her the FIRST woman to fly over the Channel. Please note that Miss T-D. was a passenger; (Here are the two of them in this grainy, itty-bitty photo.)

Harriet Quimby certainly did. A galling bit of thunder-stealing as far as she was concerned
She had already written several screenplays, working with silent film pio pioneer,
She had established herself as a photojournalist, writing for the very popular Leslie's Weekly.
In August 1911, she had become America's first female licensed pilot, then began showing up, at one sensational air show after another (in her trademarked purple satin flight suit - talk about branding!), for thousands of spectators. Now, in mid-April, she was determined to be the FIRST
woman to fly across the English Channel. She secured a monoplane from Louis Bleriot. Check out this video to get an idea of this tiny dragonfly of an aircraft. (Gustav Hamel made a gallant offer: He would dress up in a purple suit and make the flight for her. She could come out of hiding in France and accept the world's plaudits. Non, merci.}

"In a moment [Harriet wrote] I was in the air, climbing steadily...I was up 1,500 feet within thirty seconds...In an instant I was beyond the cliffs and over the channel."
"My hands were covered with long Scotch woolen gloves, which gave me good protection from the cold and fog; but the machine was wet and my face was so covered with dampness that I had to push my goggles up on my forehead. I could not see through them."
"I dropped [through the cold clouds, engine racketing, oil blowing back in her face, roiling waters down below] from an altitude of about two thousand feet...The sunlight struck my face and my eyes lit upon the white and sandy shores of France....rather than tear up the farmers' fields I decided to drop down on the hard and sandy beach."

According to Britain's Daily Mirror, April 17, 1912, "The Channel air route has now been conquered by a woman. To Miss Harriet Quimby, a young American lady journalist, belongs the distinction of being the first woman to fly alone in an aeroplane from England to France." But most of the front page was taken up with the shattering news about the Titanic. "TEAR-STAINED WOMEN'S WAIT FOR GOOD TIDINGS. Harrowing scenes at All the White Star Line Offices."
A hundred years ago today. So long ago and so not.
Not to put a damper on her huge achievement, I've got to tell you that less than three months later, Harriet Quimby, 37, was as dead as Julius Caesar. An accident - screaming, falling - in the air over the "Third Annual Boston AVIATION MEET."
It was a time of adventure. I reckon it still is, no?

I know that there are some handsome books about this talented, beautiful, ambitious, independent, brave, dead-way-too-soon person, but if you're reading this, you know where to find them.
"Something tells me that I shall do something great someday." Harriet Quimby


Cheryl Harness said...

So, guess what: I wrote an actual book about her, e-wise anyway. It's called Something Great: The Adventure of Harriet Quimby. Happy Monday everybody.

Annalisa said...

As a budding writer and illustrator, I feel like a pioneer trying to find my way in the broad spectrum of possibilities and having so much fun along the journey! Pioneers are amazing (thanks to Nancy I. Sanders & others...they are a great help to people like me!).