The first airmail flight in history, preparing to depart from Belmont Park in Queens. Image via newsday.com
Two crowds gathered together on an especially foggy May morning in 1918 — one on the Washington, D.C. Polo Field, and the other on the historic Belmont Park racetrack in Queens. Both crowds, which included the likes of President Woodrow Wilson and then-Postmaster General Albert Burleson, were there to witness history; May 15th would be the day of the inaugural air mail service between New York City and Washington, D.C., with a stop in Philadelphia along the way.
Belmont Park, which had only eight years earlier been the site of an airshow that included the Wright Brothers, was to see one plane leave with D.C.-bound mail, and ideally, according to the records of the service’s officer-in-charge, Major Reuben H. Fleet, receive a New York-bound plane from Washington. Mail from each city included important documents including a letter from Burleson to the Postmaster of New York, Thomas Patten, and a letter from President Wilson to New York Governor Charles Whitman.
Major Fleet briefs Lt. Boyle on his flight to New York. Image via airmailpioneers.org
The service and its planning was not without its fair share of mishaps. Fleet had been notified by President Wilson’s cabinet of the plan with only fifteen days to prepare, after which Postmaster General Burleson lobbied for about two more months extra time. Even then, the single-engine JN-4H biplanes Fleet had commissioned to carry the mail arrived with numerous mechanical flaws due to their hastened production. On one occasion, Fleet’s mechanic plugged a lead-pencil sized hole in one plane’s engine with a rubber cork, lacking both the time and the tools to fix it properly.
As the day approached, the first two planes departed from both the Polo Field and Belmont Park. The north-bound plane from D.C., piloted by Lieutenant George Boyle, ended up overturned in a field about an hour south of Washington; Boyle, who had been instructed to use the train tracks as a guide, had become confused and flown in the wrong direction. Despite some initial reports that the mail had simply been smuggled onto a train to make deadline, Boyle had in reality flown back to D.C., and the mail was delivered the next day.
Lieutenant Torrey H. Webb, departing from Belmont Park, arrived in D.C. three hours and five minutes later and right-side up. He became the first pilot to deliver mail by plane. Today, most everything, even some mail classified as ground mail, spends at least some time in an aircraft.
As for Boyle, he was given a second chance, ran out of gas, and nearly crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Fleet responded to the Postal Service’s request for a third chance by sending him back to flying school.
This upcoming week in New York City seems to truly mark the beginning of summer, with the return of Governors Ball, Figment art festival, Celebrate Brooklyn! in Prospect Park, Belmont Stakes, and Discovery Day at Staten Island.
How good are Upper West Side restaurants? Good, abundant, and public-spirited enough to support a three-evening annual food festival, New Taste of the Upper West Side, which opened with a soirée Wednesday night at the Museum of Natural History.
Run by the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, New Taste is also a fundraiser—the soirée donates its proceeds to Theodore Roosevelt Park and the three evenings support the BID’s sustainable landscaping of West Side streets, as well as Wellness in the Schools, Greenhouse Classroom, and CityMeals-on-Wheels. Participating restaurants and chefs donate their time, food, wine, cocktails, and beverages.
Here, we’ve highlighted of a few of our local favorites participating in New Taste of the Upper West Side, starting at the BID’s southern boundary, Columbus Circle.
Plaster-cast buildings that double as bookends, by Chisel & Mouse. Image via chiselandmouse.com
Hopefully some millennials out there still remember those rainy grade school afternoons spent building pillow forts and Lego sets. There was a simple joy in putting things together and playing make-believe. Thankfully, one can never be too old to make castles in the sand. Or plaster.
Robert and Gavin Paisley were once software developers. Now, the British-based duo run a company that designs plaster architectural models. The brothers call it Chisel & Mouse in reference to their mixing of traditional methods with 3-D printing and computer aided design (CAD) technology.
Explorers Club, photo via Narratively
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Peter Stuyvesant arrives in New Amsterdam as the new Director General of New Netherland. Image via allposter.com
New Amsterdam in the early 1640s was a mess. Trash was strewn about the muddy streets, drunken sailors and farm animals ambled about, and New Netherland’s small population was huddled up in Manhattan after a bruising war against local Native American tribes. Enter Peter Stuyvesant. On May 27, 1647, he took over as Director General of New Netherland for the Dutch West India Company, telling the assembled crowd that he would “govern you as a father his children.” He would play the stern father in New Netherland until 1664, when the Dutch surrendered control of the colony to the British. (New Netherland was the full New York-area colony, New Amsterdam was lower Manhattan.)