The Real "Article"

"Out Fairfield Way" - The Horse, The Moon, The Dawn, The Glory,
The Forgotten Tests

© 2013 - Carroll F. Gray
Posted : July 24, 2013

      Saturday, June 8, 1901, was quite a day for Gustave Whitehead. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN magazine published an illustrated article written by Stanley Yale Beach, about Gustave Whitehead having built "A New Flying Machine." The illustrated article, with numerous technical details, was the source of a series of re-writes and re-prints in newspapers. The two photographs accompanying the article were taken by Beach, likely on Sunday, May 26, 1901 (the grouping in the lower photograph might possibly be - on left - Stanley Beach, Andy Celley and Daniel Varoni/Varovi - also identified as "Joe Hoffman" - and certainly Whitehead with daughter Rosie on his lap - on right).

      That same day, the Bridgeport HERALD NEWS reported that "A New Flying Machine:....A novel flying machine has just been completed by Mr. Gustave Whitehead, of Bridgeport, Conn., and is now ready for the preliminary trials. Several experiments have been made, but as yet no free flights have been attempted."

      The day after the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN and Bridgeport HERALD NEWS stories ran, the New York Sun ran its story about Gustave Whitehead's "IMPROVED FLYING MACHINE" - "Bridgeport Man Has One With Wheels And A Tail Like A Bird's" which, as the subhead states, he "Has Built It in His Front Yard - Made Two Flights Out in the Country Early in May - Goes on Wheels Until It Gets Ready to Fly - Of Light-Weight and Can Keep Its Balance."

      The Sun managed to interview Whitehead and carried extensive quotes from him about his machine and the test of it made on May 3, 1901. Given Stanley Beach's family ties to the New York Sun, it would not be surprising to learn that he'd arranged for the Sun's coverage of Whitehead.

      The Sun story tells us that Whitehead "interested Andrew Cellie and Daniel Varovi in the subject" and "they supplied him with the small amount of money he required and last November he began work on the present machine which was completed several weeks ago and is now undergoing repairs made necessary by an accident which happened at the machine's trial flight on May 3 last."

      The Sun doesn't mention the Moon… but the night of May 3, 1901, there was a Full Moon. It's interesting to note that on August 14, 1901, when the supposed "flight" was made by Whitehead, it was the darkest night of the month, a New Moon. Choosing a Full Moon to experiment with a flying machine at night certainly makes more sense, it seems, than a dark moonless night. Of course, perhaps the writer of the August 18, 1901, Sunday Herald "Flying" article was offering a clue to not take the story too seriously (See Article # 2 "What Did The August 18, 1901…" for an interpretation of what the August 18, 1901, Sunday Herald story was telling its readers).

      There is no mention of any "trial flights" on May 3, 1901, in either of Stella Randolph's two books - neither do they make an appearance in the O'Dwyer & Randolph 1978 book History by Contract.

      Whitehead is quoted as saying "Mr. Varoni" (also reported as "Varovi") rode a bicycle while he and Mr. Cellie rode in Whitehead's flying machine, its wings folded, starting from in front of Whitehead's house on Pine Street, and "a number of people saw us and stopped to look with wonder at the queer automobile that was going by." Whitehead drove his flying machine slowly in the countryside so the machine would not be strained and they would not arrive at the chosen field "until daylight." "We passed one horse and wagon about dawn and the horse took fright at us and ran away. I did not hear of any smashup, however, so I guess nothing serious happened."

The New York Sun quotes Whitehead,

      "It was just good daylight when we were ready to begin the experiment. We started the machine on the crest of a hill and from right in the middle of the road. With the under motor it got a good momentum and began to rise from the effect of the airplane wings. Oh no, I did not ride in the machine; not much. It has not reached a sufficient stage of perfection for that. I never for a moment had any intention of taking the flight in it. But I did put in 220 pounds of sand ballast and it would have carried a good deal more.

      "When the machine begins to rise the upper engine is started and the lower engine automatically stops. It worked perfectly. The machine sailed up into the air to a height, I should think, of forty or more feet. It cleared the tops of the trees at all events and I drew a long breath of relief when I saw it do that. It went the first time about an eighth of a mile, then it took a slant down to the ground because there was no living intelligence on board to control it and to keep it horizontally stable.

      "It was not hurt by the fall and we tried it again. The second time it rose higher and went farther. It went a full half-mile this trip, I should think. Then again the lack of an intelligent hand to guide it brought it to grief. It slanted downward and dashed bow on against a tree. This crash ended the experiments. The machine was smashed more or less about the propeller structure and could not be used any more that day.

      "As near as can guess I should say the machine was in the air the last time about a minute and a half. Yet I cannot tell, I was too much excited. It was a wonderful sight to see. The machine looked so big in the air and looked so like some great living monster flying about that the effect was almost enough to scare you. I was as curious and as much moved by the spectacle as any stranger could have been. I could not note the time of the flight or anything else. I could do nothing but look.

      "I do not know just when the next experiment will be made, but it will be soon. I think I shall change the method of launching the ship in the air. Instead of the wheels below and the running start, I think I will put under the machine a propeller to drive it up into the air and then start the progressive propellers. By the same under propellers the machine could be lowered as well as raised. All you would have to do would be to reverse the motion."

      "The advantage of my machine over Mr. Maxim's is that Maxim uses steam and that means an enormous proportionate weight for the motor. I have no fuel, no water and no condensers to carry. Another is in the appliance for maintaining horizontal stability. The motor and the stability appliance are not yet quite perfected and hence I have not yet applied for patents. Until I do apply I must keep the inventions a secret."


      The June 9, 1901, New York Sun page two article presents a serious problem for those who have promoted and defended the anonymous page five Sunday Herald report of August 18, 1901 - the Sun story appeared ten weeks earlier than the Sunday Herald's article.

      In short, it means that the Bridgeport Sunday Herald article was simply a broad re-write of the earlier New York Sun article about tests made on May 3, 1901, which was then grafted onto a number of previously printed articles, and combined with the unsubstantiated 'news' about Texan William D. Custead and Gustave Whitehead forming a partnership to build airships and airship powerplants.

      Not content with merely editing the New York Sun's article, the Sunday Herald's anonymous writer turned the tests of May 3, 1901, into a "flight" by Whitehead, but then the real news of the Sunday Herald article was not the confabulated account of a "flight" by Whitehead, the real news that August 18, 1901, was the Whitehead-Custead partnership, which might provide employment in Bridgeport, manufacturing Whitehead's new "generator."

      In addition to the major fabrication of having Whitehead go aloft for a "flight," less dramatic changes were made to the Sun's story. In the Sunday Herald story, the frightened horse and wagon of the Sun's article became the Sunday Herald's milkman's fightened horse and wagon, the Sun's "Daniel Varoni" became the Sunday Herald's James Dickie. One wonders what Daniel Varoni/Varovi might have said had he been asked 30-odd years later if he knew "Andrew Cellie." The mention of Varoni/Varvovi in the earlier Sun article, which does appear to be a straightforward account of the tests, adds support to James Dickie's denial of being present and his denial of knowing "Andrew Cellie." (See Article # 4 "Dickie, Cellie & Major William J. O'Dwyer, USAFR" for a full discussion of the "Andrew Cellie" matter)

Note that the Sun's "Andrew Cellie" also appears in the Sunday Herald's account. Since we now know that "Andrew Cellie" was "Andy Celley," the use of the spelling "Andrew Cellie" in the Sun is substantial evidence that the Sun's story was used as the template for the subsequent cobbled-together Herald's story.

This much-touted central piece of evidence that Gustave Whitehead flew in a powered, heavier-than-air, controllable aeroplane prior to the December 1903 flights of Wilbur and Orville Wright is revealed to be recycled reporting wedded to a falsehood.

There can be no real doubt of the truth of this revelation - the Sunday Herald article, long held by Whitehead advocates to be a truthful account is, in fact, a re-write - a patched-together embellished story with a fabricated added "flight" - infused with the genetics of the Sun's earlier account of sand-bag weighted tests of Whitehead's machine - made with no "operator" - "no living intelligence on board to control it."

      As with much else Gustave Whitehead had to say about what he did and did not do, Whitehead contradicts the August 14, 1901, Sunday Herald story of his supposed first "flight." (See Article # 3 Why Gustave Whitehead's August 14, 1901, 'Flight' Did Not Happen - In His Own Words for a discussion of how Whitehead's own words reveal he did not fly August 14, 1901)

      In a letter, dated January 10, 1902, to the St. Louis Exposition committee, Whitehead says of his No. 21 "... This machine on June 3, 1901, with an operator on board, flew one and one-half miles. It has done so several times with safety. This is the first machine of its kind that has ever risen in the air with a human being on board in an upward course." This is the one and only reference found thus far to a "flight" with a "human being" being done on June 3, 1901, and "several times" subsequently.

It might be of some interest that the night of June 2-3, 1901 had a Full Moon. Of greater interest is that the letter, written by Whitehead, states that a flight of "one and one-half miles" - with a "human being on board" - was accomplished that night. This would mean, of course, that the August 14, 1901, "flight" was not the first it has been touted to be. Both stories cannot be true, one contains a clearly false statement, and in doing so, casts even more doubt on the truth of the second.



      The Atlanta Constitution served up another version of the August 18, 1901, Sunday Herald article in its September 8, 1901, Sunday edition, with a "representative" of the New York World taking the place of the Sunday Herald reporter. In this version, Custead and Whitehead had been working together (with $100,000 capital) "for a long time" "on a flying machine which they confidently expected will revolutionize aeronautics, and apparently they have succeeded. It is a queer bird. It can run along the ground at 30 miles an hour and when the operator wants to travel through the air all he has to do is to make sure he is carrying enough accident insurance, pull a throttle and hold fast while the machine opens it wings, flops them and darts upward."

      The Constitution reassuringly reported that "This is not merely the claim that is made for the machine, for at Bridgeport, Conn., last week a World reporter saw Mr. Whitehead fly about with great ease." "The experimental trip was made at midnight, as Mr. Whitehead did not want to attract more attention than necessary. He, his two partners, Andrew Cellie and James Dickie, and The World man went to a little shed in Pine street, where the machine is housed. Whitehead and Cellie occupied the seats in the machine and the other two followed on bicycles to a spot beyond Fairfield, where the inventor had decided to take his first fly." A test flight was made with two 110 pound bags of sand at 3 a.m. After the successful test, the sand bags were removed. "By this time the light was good. Faint traces of the rising sun began to suggest themselves in the east. An early morning milk man stopped in the road to see what was going on. His horse nearly ran away when the big white wings flapped." The flight lasted for 10 minutes and covered "fully half a mile."

      In short, the Constitution story was a re-write of the Sunday Herald story, which, in turn, was a rewrite of the earlier New York Sun's story.


      Where might that mysterious place - "a spot beyond Fairfield" - be located ? Martha Matus Schipul, Gyula/Julius/Junius's Grandniece and Nicholas Horvath's Grandaughter, described a farm "in Fairfield bounded by Black Rock Turnpike, Stillson Road and Denise Terrace, where many Hungarians would come from the West End to picnic and pick their own fruits and vegetables."

      Four things make this farm a very good prospect for being the location where the May 3, 1901, tests happened…

1) it was familiar to the people living in the West End;
2) the farm field sloped down to the southwest from a 40-50 foot rise and was about a half-mile in length;
3) the road on it's boundary also sloped and would have matched the road described as being used during the May 3, 1901, tests;
4) Gyula/Julius/Junius and Nicolas Horvath's father and mother, Stephen and Mari Orosz Horvath, lived on that farm.


      The Boston Globe reported on August 22, 1901, that Gustave Whitehead "claims to have solved the principle of aerial navigation" and "is working day and night perfecting his airship, and within three weeks expects to demonstrate to the world that his winged craft has solved the problem of aerial navigation." Whitehead is quoted as saying "I am going to fly to New York inside of a month." "I consider that I have, after a lifetime of study and labor, solved the problem of midair flight which has cracked scientific minds for centuries." "With me the experimental stage is passed. My rough model has carried me a full half mile at a hight (sic) of 50 feet and when my new ship is completed I will be ready to fly to New York." "My new machine will be large enough to accommodate half a dozen persons and my foreman will accompany me on my trip to New York."

Of course, the absurdity of a two- or six-passenger flight from Bridgeport to New York in 1901 wasn't clear at the time.

"Those who are now skeptical will have cause to open their eyes in wonderment. My 35 (sic) years of labor in this field is about to be crowned with success. From the first I have maintained that the principle upon which M. Santos Dumas' (sic) ship was built is an impossible one. I have more capital than I need now and the glory is to be all mine."