Big Aero Dreams

The article in attachment IMSaero092609 is a time capsule for studying journalistic standards of the era it was published, September 26, 1909 in the Indianapolis Star. Proclamations of the greatest air show in the world at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are made with a tone of certainty that would soon prove baseless. Check out this excerpt:
"a mighty fleet will swoop down upon the city of Indianapolis to the Speedway to meet in competition in the most elaborate of all meetings ever held for this kind of craft in the world. Both lighter than air and heavier than air machines will meet here to pay just homage to their gods, and with the prizes offered and the entries guaranteed Indianapolis will writhe under a spell that has been experienced by few if any cities of the universe."
The superstar aviator of the moment was Glenn Curtiss who was fresh from winning the James Gordon Bennett Cup for airplanes at the great airshow held in Rheims, France just weeks earlier in August. The general belief was that attracting Curtiss to an airshow would trigger a flood of entries from other famous pilots. Several are noted in this article led by Louis Bleriot who not only constructed airplanes but became the first man to fly across the English Channel.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Director of Contests Ernie Moross was actively pursuing Curtiss for the planned Speedway event. He reportedly cabled him numerous times and apparently greated the aviator in New York when he arrived home from France. Moross and the Speedway Management team envisioned a grandiose affair that not only included airplanes but balloons and motorized dirigibles as well.
This meant not only a mix of vessels but pilots of varying expertise as well. Several of these men were household names in Indianapolis as a result of the National Balloon Championships including George Bumbaugh, Captain Thomas Baldwin, Dr. Goethe Link and his assistant Russe "R.J." Irvin who won the handicap race associated with the National Championship in June. John Berry, winner of the National Championship event was assumed to be a likely entrant as well as Albert Bond Lambert and H.E. Honeywell who had both competed in June as well. Bumbaugh had recently taken his huge dirigible on a test flight at the Indiana State Fair.
The article also reports that Speedway Founder and President Carl Fisher was having built "the largest airship on this side of the Atlantic." Plans called for the dirigible to be powered by a 40 HP automobile engine and be 150 feet long with a weight of 2,000 pounds. Another renowned dirigible pilot mentioned as a likely entrant is A. Roy Knabenshue, the first man to fly such a craft over New York City in 1905. He also performed at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the venue for one of the most important auto races held that year won by Alonzo Webb.
The event was expected to attract a host of airplane pilots including Lincoln Beachey who had already established his skills as a master of aerobatic stunts. To my original point the article raises expectations with hyperbolic language and assertions of fact. The reality is that this was a lot of wishful thinking that would not come to fruition. The Speedway did hold an airshow eventually in 1910 but the big aero dream of staging such an event in the autumn of 1909 would quickly evaporate. Check out the closing paragraph of the article and note its grandiose tone and sense of inevitability:
"Three days of this meeting for air craft will be one of the most complete sessions of celebrities this country has ever seen, and from all parts of the world nations will have representatives here. Society will lavish its splendor on the meeting of sport for millionaires and Indianapolis will gayly attire itself for the austere* gathering."
*I question about the use of the word "austere" in this context and have to wonder if the writer did not mean "august." We will never know. Keep in mind that it was during this time that the Speedway's huge brick-paving project was underway.
*More interesting info on Knabenshue.

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