The daring young man in his flying machine


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April 07, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

A picture of French aviator Hubert Latham sitting on the wing of a wrecked Antoinette monoplane in 1909 was published recently in The New York Times.

Currently part of a Paris photography exhibit, the picture shows Latham floating in the English Channel, off the cliffs of Dover, casually puffing a cigarette while awaiting rescue.

As crowds cheered and ships blew their whistles in encouragement, a cranky engine suddenly put an end to Latham's second attempt at flying the Channel from Calais to Dover. He gradually lost altitude until gently settling on the waters below, just a few frustrating miles short of his goal.

Latham had better luck a year later when the Sunpapers, as part of a circulation promotion, invited him to fly an Antoinette monoplane at the Baltimore Aero Meet of 1910, which was held at Halethorpe field.

To tempt the famed aviator who had flown by balloon from London to Paris in 1905, Charles H. Grasty, president of the A.S. Abell Co., publishers of The Sun and The Evening Sun, offered a $5,000 prize.

Ross R. Winans, a Baltimore millionaire and former director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, sweetened the pot with an additional $500.

Winans, who was bedridden, was willing to pay for the pleasure of having Latham fly past the bedroom window of his mansion at 1217 St. Paul St.

The planned meet received an additional boost from promoter Col. Jerome H. Joyce, whose enormous mustache and carefully cultivated Vandyke goatee matched his ebullient personality.

Joyce, a hotelier whose Hotel Joyce was across from Camden Station, was one of the city's biggest civic boosters, and he had organized the Jubilee Parade of 1906, which marked the city's recovery from the Baltimore Fire of 1904.

"Will make flight over your city with greatest pleasure and hope the people of Baltimore will enjoy it as much as I shall," said Latham in a telegram to Grasty.

The recounting of Latham's flight over the city -- which marked the first time most Baltimoreans had ever seen an airplane -- was recounted in the recently published Halethorpe Heritage: A Story of a Maryland Community.

The mile-long, 300-yard-wide field from which Latham made his historic flight was in Halethorpe.

"It was off Washington Boulevard and reached by Halethorpe Farm Road. It was a huge natural field," said Barry A. Lanman, the book's author, who is director of the Martha Ross Center for Oral History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"It was the only time an aviation event was held there, and the B&O used the site in 1927 for its Fair of the Iron Horse. Today, an industrial park is there, and you'd never know anything like the Baltimore Aero Meet had been held there," he said.

In the late morning of Nov. 7, 1910, a cool day, Latham -- dressed in a long, double-breasted duster and tweed cap -- climbed into the plane's cockpit and revved its 50-horsepower engine as he prepared for a flight that would take him from Halethorpe to Baltimore.

With a road map opened in his lap (which is a part of The Sun's archival collection, along with other memorabilia from the flight) Latham bounced down the dirt field and, after waiting a moment or two, made his charge.

Latham circled the field several times and leveled off at an altitude of 400 feet while getting his bearings. He then turned the plane toward Fort McHenry, where he was welcomed by a chorus of steam whistles from ships, factories and locomotives that broke into a salute, as groups of spectators pointed skyward.

"My only regret is that the force of the wind compelled me to fly higher than I desired or originally intended," Latham wrote in an account of his flight that was published in The Evening Sun.

"Over the city proper I should estimate my height at about 1,200 to 1.500 feet, but even at that, I believe the people had ample opportunity to see the machine and to appreciate the beauties -- especially as demonstrated by an Antoinette machine," he wrote.

As Latham circled the newspaper's Sun Square building at Baltimore and Charles streets, its roof was crowded with gawkers, as was the B&O Building across the street.

Students had been let out of school, and Latham had acceded to a request from the musicians' union that the flight take place before 1 p.m., so its members who performed at matinees could witness his flight.

Other spectators climbed the 224 steps of the Washington Monument to see the plane fly by while "society folk," reported The Evening Sun, gathered at the Belvedere Hotel to sit in comfortable chairs that had been placed on the broad gravel roof.

"Why, it's a perfect function," Mrs. Nelson Perin told a reporter, as she stepped onto the hotel roof.

"Dainty opera glasses were trained on the western landscape, and everyone waited breathlessly," observed the newspaper.

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