Dickie, Cellie & Major William J. O’Dwyer, USAFR

Fabrications, Oversights, Mistakes, & “later admissions”
© Carroll F. Gray - 2013
Posted: July 21, 2013


      The origin and center point of the Whitehead Controversy is, without doubt, the story that appeared in the August 18, 1901, issue of the Bridgeport, Connecticut, Sunday Herald, under the witch bedecked headline "Flying."

      If this story were proven true, aeronautical inventor and enthusiast Gustave Whitehead could have serious claim to having been the first human to fly - although the significant issue of control would still limit that claim.

      If, on the other hand, that story were proven to be a fabrication, a fantasy or hoax, Gustave Whitehead's claim would evaporate in light of the accomplishments of Wilbur and Orville Wright of December 17, 1903, especially the last flight of that day, by Wilbur Wright.

      The keystone to the Whitehead controversy is the truth or falsity of the Sunday Herald story, and the testimony of the two named witnesses in that story are the keystones of the Sunday Herald's report.

      If the two named witnesses do not support the story, then the story is done a fatal blow.

      So, who were the purported winesses to the reported events in the moonless wee hours of August 14, 1901? The anonymous writer of the story tells the reader that the writer, Whitehead, “Andrew Cellie” and “James Dickie” were present to see firsthand what happened, as dawn was just beginning to break.

      “Andrew Cellie,” was never found, although many sought him out, so he was not interviewed and didn’t provide a sworn statement. James Dickie, however, was located by author Stella Randolph and provided a sworn statement, on April 2, 1937, that appeared on page 87 of "Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead."

James Dickie 1937 statement       James Dickie’s sworn statement does nothing to reassure those supporters of Whitehead’s claim of flight in 1901, for Dickie stated, in part:

      “I do not know Andrew Cellie, the other man who is supposed to have witnessed the flight of August 14th, 1901 described in the Bridgeport Herald. I believe the entire story in the Herald was imaginary, and grew out of the comments of Whitehead in discussing what he hoped to get from his plane. I was not present and did not witness any airplane flight on August 14, 1901.”

      Equally as damning, emphasizing the degree of his denial, Dickie added this in handwriting to his affidavit: “I do not remember or recall ever hearing of a flight with this particular plane or any other that Whitehead ever built.”

      When Air Force Reserve Major William J. O’Dwyer waded into the Whitehead Controversy in the early 1960’s, he recognized how much of a threat Dickie’s statement presented. O’Dwyer felt so strongly about the Dickie affidavit that if O’Dwyer could have been advising Randolph in 1937, we might never have seen Dickie’s affidavit - O’Dwyer was quoted as saying “In light of Dickie’s later admissions, his affidavit of earlier date has little value and it would not have been published had all the facts been known earlier.”

Stella Randolph, ca. 1936       Stella Randolph, to her credit, included Dickie’s damning affidavit and in full, in her 1937 book LOST FLIGHTS of GUSTAVE WHITEHEAD.

      It was not a good thing that one of the two named and reported “eyewitnesses” to Whitehead’s 1901 “flight” had sworn that he was not present.

      If Whitehead’s claim was to be upheld, then the anonymous Sunday Herald story’s claims must be protected, and to O’Dwyer that meant going after James Dickie’s character and credibility. To Major William J. O'Dwyer, the "Flying" article on page 5 of the August 18, 1901, Sunday Herald was to be taken as literal truth, and if it said James Dickie was present, then he must have been, even if Dickie denied it.

      To preserve the Sunday Herald story, James Dickie’s credibility and Dickie’s sworn affidavit had to be thoroughly discredited - if O’Dwyer were to let Dickie’s unambiguous denial of having been present stand, it would have collapsed the Sunday Herald story beyond hope of redemption.

      Coupled with Dickie’s firm denial that he knew “Andrew Cellie,” Dickie's denial of having been present was nearly insurmountable proof that the Sunday Herald story was concocted of thin air.

      As O’Dwyer wrestled with the Dickie denial, he said that he went straight to the source and spoke with Dickie, telling aviation writer Frank Delear in 1996 that “In 1963, when I read of Dickie’s denial, I wondered if he was the same Jim Dickie I’d known ever since I was a youngster. I phoned him, and although he was much older than I, he remembered me well and we kidded each other about the old days. But his mood changed to anger when I asked him about Gustave Whitehead.”

      O’Dwyer continued... Dickie “flatly refused to talk about Whitehead, and when I asked him why, he said: ‘That SOB never paid me what he owed me. My father had a hauling business and I often hitched up the horses and helped Whitehead take his airplane to where he wanted to go. I will never give Whitehead credit for anything. I did a lot of work for him and he never paid me a dime.’ I noticed, though, that Dickie did not tell me he was not with Whitehead on August 14, 1901, saying simply, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ Also, he did not say he never knew anyone named Andrew Cellie - not surprising since Cellie was Dickie’s next-door neighbor on Tunis (sic) Hill in Fairfield, and they both hung around Whitehead’s shop.”

      O’Dwyer made a series of serious errors in his effort to discredit Dickie, and the nature of those errors raises serious questions about O’Dwyer’s approach, methods and - ultimately - his honesty.

      O’Dwyer made two flying leaps of illogic... first, when Dickie purportedly told O’Dwyer that he did not want to talk about Whitehead without stating a reason (according to O’Dwyer), O’Dwyer linked that comment to the reported August 14, 1901, event, a connection Dickie did not make, but one that O’Dwyer was eager to establish.

      Then, O’Dwyer interpreted Dickie’s refusal to talk about the elusive “Andrew Cellie,” as a lie, concluding with a contorted twist of logic that since Dickie did not say that he never knew Andrew Cellie, then therefore Dickie must have known him - the two being neighbors, after all... but were they ?

      As O’Dwyer was trying to identify “Andrew Cellie,” a nightmarish hodge-podge of numerous similar-sounding names and addresses and associations appeared. Sorting through the names was the least of O’Dwyer’s problems - he had to locate a person with a “Cellie”-sounding name living close enough to James Dickie on Tunxis Hill to be called his neighbor. This line of attack on Dickie might be termed a case of “If I can make them neighbors, they must be friends.”

       Too bad for O'Dwyer that while there were a number of people living in Bridgeport at the time whose last names sounded like "Cellie," there wasn't another "James Dickie" handy who might have been the eyewitness.

      One of the central thrusts of O’Dwyer’s attack on Dickie's veracity was that, according to O’Dwyer, “Andrew Suelli had lived next to Whitehead on Tunxis Hill, and being a machinist, he became interested and worked with Whitehead closely on his aircraft, and they [O’Dwyer means Dickie and Suelli/Cellie] both hung around Whitehead’s shop.” Note that the “Andrew Cellie” of August 14, 1901, has become “Andrew Suelli.”

      There was a problem with this, however, for when Gustave Whitehead lived at 184 Alvin St., on lightly populated Tunxis Hill, his close neighbor (about twenty feet away) was “Stephen C. Seeley,” at 193 Alvin St., not O’Dwyer’s “Andrew Suelli.”

      O’Dwyer manages to mix-up yet another person into his mulligan stew of “Andrew Cellie”-sounding suspects, claiming that “Cellie” lived next to James Dickie - and, therefore, held that up as proof that Dickie lied.

      Recall that O’Dwyer told author Frank Delear that “Cellie was Dickie’s next-door neighbor on Tunis [sic] Hill in Fairfield...”

Dickie Family, 1900 US Census
      O’Dwyer makes a bollix of the matter, because the person with the Cellie-sounding last name who lived on Dewey St., where Dickie then lived, and who was Dickie’s neighbor, was “Fred Sully" (also as "Suelle”) not “Andrew Cellie.” Fred and Victoria Sully, not Andrew Cellie, lived at 134 Dewey St. when James Dickie lived at 130 Dewey St. with his parents, three brothers and four sisters.

      Fred Sully and James Dickie were neighbors, not “Andrew Cellie” and James Dickie, and Fred Sully was not “Andrew Cellie.”

Fred & Victoria Sully, 1900 US Census
      Perhaps O’Dwyer’s errors were the unpleasant result of honest mistakes, inattention or of sloppy research, or, perhaps, they resulted from a desire to make things be as he wished them to be. Cast in the worst possible light, O’Dwyer’s errors might well have been purposeful attempts to mislead, so his other assertions deserve close scrutiny. At a minimum, this demonstrates how sloppy O’Dwyer and his committee were when they researched the identity of “Andrew Cellie.”

      Co-authors Stella Randolph and O'Dwyer offered this reason for "Andrew Cellie" appearing in the August 18, 1901, article, "We believe he [Anthony Suelli] may have been the man we, and Richard Howell, had believed was named Andrew Cellie. This would have been a natural error on Howell's part if he merely heard the name pronounced." Although, even newly minted reporters will ask people to spell their names to eliminate that very possibility.

      There is another reason for "Andrew Cellie" - spelled in that way - to have appeared in the Sunday Herald article, a reason which serves to prove that the August 18, 1901, Sunday Herald report was a fraud (See Article # 8 "'Out Fairfield Way'…" for more on this point)

1901 Bridgeport Directory
      However, blaming the error on Dick Howell does not explain how, after spending hours looking through city directories (as he claimed), O'Dwyer could have missed the 1901 listing of Whitehead's co-worker and near-neighbor "Andy Celley." Regardless of what the reasons and causes were which led O’Dwyer to make the errors, they are serious errors, nonetheless, for these errors were arrayed against the character and honesty of James Dickie, to portray him as a liar.

      In the book he co-authored with Stella Randolph, “History By Contract,” Major O’Dwyer wrote that he believed the true identity of the elusive Andrew Cellie was one “Anthony Suelli, immediate next door neighbor of Whitehead. Believed to be the long sought ‘Celli’ [sic] named as an eyewitness to the August 14, 1901 flights. Suelli died before he was able to be interviewed by researchers.”

      O’Dwyer informed his trusting readers that while searching through “... old Bridgeport city directories in the 1970s, [O'Dwyer] found that Andrew Cellie, a Swiss or German immigrant also known as Zulli and Suelli, had moved to the Pittsburgh area in 1902.”

Anthony Suelli ?
      As if to emphasize the discovery, O’Dwyer offers what he says is a photograph of Anthony Suelli, wearing a fraternal order’s vestments, with his hand on a gavel resting on a table. There is a serious problem with both the photograph and the identification, though... even if the photograph actually is of Anthony Suelli, it proves nothing since Anthony Suelli was not Andrew Cellie.

      But, then, Andrew Cellie not only was not Anthony Suelli, he was also not Fred Sully, and neither was he Stephen C. Seeley, and nor was he Albert Sully - Andy Celly was "Andrew Cellie."

      This conglomeration of similar sounding last names becomes, in O’Dwyer's view, evidence for dismissing James Dickie as a liar. As it turned out, it demonstrated that O’Dwyer and his research committee were unable to turn up “eyewitness” “Andrew Cellie” - or determine his true name - and if they did find his true name, they failed to mention it. The extent to which other variations on "Cellie" were sought by O'Dwyer and his committee is shown by a folder in the O'Dwyer collection titled "Zulle/Zulli/Sully" - to which "Cellie," "Suelli," "Suelle," and "Seeley" could be added.

      One important fact that O’Dwyer and his committee managed to miss (or, perhaps, purposefully ignore) was that in 1901 Whitehead and family still lived at 241-1/2 Pine St., in Bridgeport, not on Tunxis Hill - they moved there in 1904-05.

Andy Celley 1901
      In 1901, “Andy Celley” lived very near Whitehead (about a 1/3 of a mile away) at 308 Wordin Ave, in Bridgeport, and “Andy Celley” worked at nearby Wilmot & Hobbs, where Whitehead was employed - it’s very likely that the “Andrew Cellie” mentioned in the August 14, 1901, article was Andy Celley.

      The 1902 Bridgeport & Fairfield directory (current as of June/July 1902), notes that “Andy Celley” had moved to Leechburg, Pennsylvania, perhaps to take employment at one of the newly built sheet steel mills or foundaries.

      The problem with mentioning “Andy Celley” - so far as O’Dwyer would have been concerned - was that Andy Celley never lived next to Whitehead on Tunxis Hill and had never been James Dickie’s next door neighbor.

      O’Dwyer might have felt the need to bolster his case, for he told author Frank Delear that “Meanwhile, Cellie’s former neighbors in Fairfield assured O’Dwyer that Cellie had ‘always claimed he was present when Whitehead flew in 1901.’” O'Dwyer had the phantom “Cellie” speak through unnamed unquoted “former neighbors” to assure everyone that “Cellie” had been present on August 14th, 1901, after all. There appear to be no transcripts or other contemporary records of O’Dwyer having spoken to any of “Cellie”’s “former neighbors,” we have only O’Dwyer’s statement that he did so.

      One question worth asking is where could O’Dwyer have obtained the erroneous naming of Whitehead's Tunxis Hill neighbor as “Andrew Cellie”... from a city directory, as he said he did ? A thorough search of Bridgeport and Fairfield, Connecticut, city directories failed to find Whitehead’s Tunxis Hill neighbor listed as “Cellie.” As already noted, that neighbor was Stephen C. Seeley.

      There is a path out of this wilderness of similar names and city directories, however. Rather than spending time going through “... old Bridgeport city directories in the 1970s” as O’Dwyer claimed - and more than once - he might simply have appropriated information provided to Ernest L. Jones by Whitehead associate and staunch supporter Junius Wentworth Harworth III, in a letter dated October 11, 1951.

      In an attachment to that letter (a copy of which was found in Stella Randolph's files) Harworth drew a rough map of the Tunxis Hill area, showing where Whitehead’s shops and “Cellie’s Home” were located, next to each other as Harworth noted in handwriting. Yet Harworth made an error, confusing Stephen C. Seeley with Andrew Cellie and O’Dwyer simply repeated the error. So, Harworth’s error is likely the source of O’Dwyer’s subsequent error, which whispers that O’Dwyer was not truthful about the source of his information. It also indicates that O'Dwyer had set about to conceal the information’s true source, for whatever reason.

      This episode also reveals a disturbing aspect of the methods Maj. O’Dwyer used to gather and present the fruits of his labors. In this instance, O’Dwyer misstated the source of his information and made unattributed use of another person’s work.


      O’Dwyer stated several times that Dickie made “later admissions” about the affidavit which he, Dickie, had signed on April 2, 1937 - "admissions" that O'Dwyer believed cast a bad light on Dickie and on Dickie's sworn statement. Reading the 1937 affidavit, however, proves Dickie’s supposed “later admissions” were, in fact, assertions Dickie made in 1937, not at some later time as O’Dwyer says. By characterizing Dickie’s comments as “later admissions,” O’Dwyer conveniently casts himself in the role of truth seeker and the then deceased Dickie in the role of callous liar.

      Looking at Dickie’s 1937 affidavit in light of what O'Dywer termed “later admissions,” it’s clear that Dickie’s story changed not a whit between 1937 and the 1960's. Dickie never recanted his 1937 sworn statement, nor did he change it or add to it. So, what were these "later admissions" about ? In an odd bit of logic, Georg K. Weissenborn (in his article "Did Whitehead Fly ?" - Air Enthusiast #35, Jan. 1988) says that Dickie's statement is "riddled with errors and proven distortions" - including dimensions Dickie cites that do not pertain to Whitehead's No. 21 monoplane. Weissenborn then reaches the conclusion that, "The dimensions of the aircraft described by Dickie have nothing at all in common with those of machine No 21, which Weisskopf tested on l4 August; therefore, Dickie cannot have been acquainted with that aeroplane." So, since Dickie was discussing a different Whitehead machine, Weissborn (and O'Dwyer) conclude that "… therefore, Dickie cannot have been acquainted with that aeroplane." Yet, James Dickie never claimed to be an eyewitness to the purported August 14, 1901, "flight" of No. 21 - he stated flatly that he was not present. Weissenborn (and O'Dwyer) conclude that since Dickie was describing a machine other than the No. 21 monoplane, therefore his sworn statement is "riddled with errors and proven distortions."

      O'Dwyer claimed he spoke with Dickie about what Dickie attested to, "(James Dickie) admitted that the engine described in it was one stationed upon the ground, having heavy boilers transmitting steam through a hose to the pipe, causing it to revolve for the testing of tethered aircraft . . . The engine was not intended for use in aircraft, and never was. In light of Dickie's later admissions, his affidavit of earlier date has little value and it would not have been published had all the facts been known earlier."

      O'Dwyer was apparently unaware that Whitehead had constructed a flying machine test rig, using a Pacific Iron Works steam boiler removed from a boat to supply steam to the engine of a tethered flying machine.

      What O'Dwyer and Weissenborn chose, after Dickie was dead, to characterize as "errors," "distortions," "later admissions," and worse, could more reasonably be termed "explanations" and confusion over which of Whitehead's machines was being discussed.

      If there were any real (not contrived) problems with Dickie's sworn statement, his unambiguous statements were not among them - he never saw any of Whitehead's machines fly, he was not present on August 14, 1901, and he did not know "Andrew Cellie."


      O’Dwyer had at least two compelling reasons to locate the “Andrew Cellie” of the Sunday Herald article

         1) to prove that “Andrew Cellie” had existed,


         2) to show that Cellie was known to Dickie, so that when Dickie denied knowing Cellie, said to be his neighbor, Dickie could then be portrayed as lying.

      What if O’Dwyer had identified “Andy Celley” as “Andrew Cellie” ? The answer is, that would have caused a serious problem, because “Andy Celley” was not a next door neighbor to either Whitehead or to Dickie.

      It is for that reason that the person most likely to have been the "eyewitness" "Andrew Cellie" was not mentioned by O’Dwyer. He needed someone with a “Cellie” sounding name living close enough to Dickie to be called Dickie’s neighbor

      Putting Anthony Suelli forward as Andrew Cellie and publishing a photograph said to be of Suelli put a face to the name, but was not useful as an attack on Dickie unless it could be shown that Dickie knew Suelli.

      The fact that Stephen C. Seeley lived across Alvin St. from the Whitehead family would not impugn Dickie, either, unless Stephen C. Seeley could be said to be Andrew Cellie and that would mean having to explain how “Stephen C. Seeley” could reasonably be reported in the Sunday Herald as “Andrew Cellie.”

      Such an explanation would also have meant admitting that the anonymous writer of the Sunday Herald story had made at least one important and significant error - so then the question would arise, were there other errors ? An admission of that sort must not have been pleasant for O’Dwyer to contemplate, as it would undermine the credibility of the Sunday Herald story.

      There was another problem confronting O’Dwyer, the Tunxis Hill neighbor was not James Dickie’s neighbor, he was Whitehead’s. When O’Dwyer found Fred Sully next door to James Dickie on Dewey St., it was a simple matter to pose Fred Sully (without mentioning his true name) as the long-lost Andrew Cellie and to therefore support O’Dwyer’s claim that Dickie must have lied in his sworn statement. After all, weren’t Dickie and “Cellie” (Fred Sully) neighbors ?

      Dickie’s affidavit pierced the heart of the claims made on behalf of and by Gustave Whitehead, which is why O’Dwyer was compelled to forcefully attack Dickie’s statement and his character.

      But the attack O’Dwyer mounted went so far as to manipulate, contort and suppress information and to confuse matters when it was to his advantage. In doing so, James Dickie was done a grave injustice by Maj. O’Dwyer.


      Given that O’Dwyer attacked Dickie with false and mangled information regarding the Cellie Matter, the very fact of O’Dwyer’s supposed phone conversation with James Dickie becomes open to question.

      As is the case with much of the material O’Dwyer presents as drawn from his personal experience, it is short on details of time and place and lacks substantiation, and this vagueness raises significant doubt as to what O’Dwyer set about to do.

      We’re not told the date of the supposed phone call O’Dwyer placed to Dickie and the conversation they supposedly had is not quoted directly but is paraphrased and editorialized by O’Dwyer.

      O’Dwyer touted that the interviews he conducted were recorded (only some were, contrary to the impression O’Dwyer gives) so it seems a fair question to ask... where is the tape of the critically important O’Dwyer/Dickie conversation?

      The William J. O’Dwyer Gustave Whitehead Research Collection 1869-1999 (Fairfield Historical Society Ms. B107) cannot help, for its holdings do not contain a recording or a transcription of an interview with James Dickie.

      Where is the transcript prepared from a recording ? In the absence of a recording or a transcript, where are the contemporaneous notes of that conversation ?

It must be asked, what - and where - is the evidence that Major O’Dwyer's 1963 telephone interview with “Jim Dickie” ever took place ?

      James Dickie died on January 1 (or 12), 1964, so he was not able to respond to the charges and attacks on his veracity and character that O'Dwyer leveled against him fourteen years later in "History By Contract" of 1978.

      If there is no supporting evidence that the O’Dwyer/Dickie interview happened and no supporting evidence as to what was said if it did take place, then Dickie’s sworn statement ought to be accepted as truthful. Of course, if Dickie’s sworn statement is true, then the anonymous August 18, 1901, Sunday Herald article should be dismissed.

      The Sunday Herald story’s writer, having named two eyewitnesses, fails to place their own name on record... so, lacking “Andrew Cellie” and having James Dickie swear that he was not present, there's only one sourced eyewitness account in the Sunday Herald article, that of Gustave Whitehead himself, quoted in a sidebar... as Whitehead spoke about his own supposed exploits.