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Looking Backward: Flights of Fancy

The Baltimore Aero Meet got off the ground at a Halethorpe airfield on Nov. 1, 1910.

Beginning on Nov. 1, 1910, a scant seven years after Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved powered flight on the dunes of Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Baltimore was host to one of the country's earliest air shows.

The Baltimore Aero Meet attracted aviators from around the world, an elite circle of flying pioneers who competed for $50,000 in prize money. According to Maryland Historical Society, cash prizes were awarded for altitude, speed, endurance and distance.

A mile-long airfield and reviewing stand was built on B&O Railroad property in Halethorpe, off Halethorpe Farms Road—the same location of the 1927 Fair of the Iron Horse celebrating the centennial of railroading—presently used as an industrial park.

It was the first time that most of the general public saw an airplane. According to accounts, tens of thousands of people attended the two-week air show.

The big news from the event was a Nov. 7 stunt by pioneering French aviator Hubert Latham. The 27-year-old Latham was the first aviator to attempt a crossing of the English Channel and, not coincidentally, was the first to land a plane in water.

Flying his plane Antionette, Latham won a $5,000 prize put up by The Baltimore Sun for flying a prescribed route over the city—following the Patapsco River to Fort McHenry, turning north to circle the Sun offices at Baltimore and Charles, looping over to Patterson Park, to Druid Hill Park, and back to the Halethorpe airfield.

Millionaire Ross R. Winans, bedridden in his St. Paul Street mansion, offered an additional $500 if the pilot flew past the window of his residence.

According to a 2007 account by the Sun's Frederick Rasmussen, Latham flew the 50 HP-powered Antoinette guided by a road map on his lap.

About a half-million people witnessed Latham's historic flight, according to a New York Times account of the event.

The Times reported:

Every vantage point of the city was occupied. All of the tall buildings in the downtown section were crowded by thousands who sought viewpoints to witness the flight of the airman, and by noon every rooftop was packed with people. Even low buildings had hundreds of spectators, and many more thousands unable to get rooftop places, crowded into downtown thoroughfares or sought parks and open spaces.

Latham flew over Baltimore for 42 minutes, including a detour to perform gyrations in front of Winans' window, and returned safely to Halethorpe after completing a nearly 26-mile course.

It was the first time an airplane flew over an American city, and the longest flight over a city anywhere in the world.

"Hubert Latham was hailed to-night as a hero who had accomplished the impossible and, establishing a new record for over-city flight, had disclosed new possibilities in aviation, by his flight over Baltimore to-day," the Times reported.

All images are courtesy of Baltimore County Public Library's Legacy Web photograph collection.

Historical Society Baltimore County November 01, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Well recorded in this book, Halethorpe Heritage, by Barry Lanman. Contact the Historical Society of Baltimore County and they might better direct you where to purchase it far less than the sellers on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/HALETHORPE-HERITAGE-Story-Maryland-Community/dp/061513016X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351779007&sr=8-1&keywords=halethorpe
Halethorpe Improvement Association November 01, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Great article Bruce. Thanks for bringing attention to this forgotten event in American history. And it happened right here in our backyard. You can read much more about this event and other intriguing events that took place in Halethorpe in a the Halethorpe Heritage book. This book was the doing of Halethorpe native Barry Lanman and Halethorpe Improvement Association. You can by it directly from us for $25.00. Contact us at (410) 247-9470, visit our website halethorpemd.org or email us at our new email address: halethorpe.improvement.assn@gmail.com

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