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1919: A Flying Ship in Columbia

By Mike Watson

One of the earliest airplanes to land in the vicinity of Columbia came in the year 1919, just months before the end of the Great War, World War I.

A Liberty Loan Drive was in progress across the nation and the drive for Adair County was scheduled to begin on the 21st day of April, 1919. The U.S. Government planned to send an airplane to town, expected to arrive on the 24th. Some predicted that the event would draw thousands of people to Columbia. Visitors were expected from all the surrounding counties, weather permitting.

The airplane was to depart Camp Knox--now Fort Knox--early on the morning of the 24th and arrive over Columbia in a short time. Arriving here, it was scheduled to make some demonstrations over the Fair Grounds, refuel, then go to Jamestown, then Liberty, before returning to Columbia and back to its point of origin.

A large tank of gasoline to be used for the airplane, to refuel upon arrival in Columbia, arrived the week before. Nothing but rain would stop the machine from flying, if the day was fair the plane would make the flight.

When the big day arrived, thousands were in town.


They gathered at the Fair Grounds by 10 a.m., and at that time the amphitheater and grounds were swarming with humanity. But the airplane was not on time, having met with an accident in starting from Camp Taylor, Louisville, and it was between 1 and 2 o'clock before it was observed approaching. When it came in sight all heads were up, and for some minutes there were continuous cries, "Yonder it is!" "Here it comes!"

It soared for some time over the grounds and town, and then on to the landing site--the R.F. Rowe farm, beyond the bridge. While the engine tank was being refilled the speaking commenced from a stand in front of the amphitheater at the fair ground. The first speaker was Sergeant Ben Worley, who was followed by Dr. Charles Welch, both being from Louisville. They were introduced by Judge W.W. Jones, of Columbia. The first speaker spent seven months in France and was often on the firing line. He told his story in an interesting and patriotic manner, and his praise of the heroic Americans who were in the thickest of the fighting were heartily cheered. His story of the dead, wounded and maimed was pathetic, bringing tears to many. At the conclusion of his speech Dr. Welch took the stand and began his address, but before he had spoken ten minutes, the airplane again made its appearance, and it was impossible for as good a speaker as he to hold the crowd, and it left the stand for the grounds. After a time the crowd again came together and the speaker concluded, though he could not speak for the confusion, with an degree of satisfaction to himself nor the audience. People were continuously walking upon the floor of the amphitheater and babies were crying.

Buying bonds and why they should be purchased were the principal themes of the speakers, and their appeals brought good results. The amount raised was sixty thousand dollars. To this add four thousand, six hundred that had been subscribed a day or two before the meeting and the total was sixty-four thousand, six hundred of the ninety-eight thousand that the county had to raise.

Quite a number of ladies were active during the day, and also fifteen or twenty gentlemen. It is impossible to get all the names of the solicitors, but they all did good work. Mrs. Mary J. Blakeman, of Columbia, was the largest subscriber. She purchased five thousand dollars worth of bonds.

The local officers of the bond drive were G.R. Reed, District Chairman; T.E. Jeffries, County Chairman; John Lee Walker, Sales Director; and J.C. Strange, Publicity Chairman.

The route laid down for the plane was from Camp Taylor to Columbia, Columbia to Jamestown and from Jamestown to Liberty, and from Liberty back to Columbia. When the machine left this place in the direction of Jamestown, it got out of commission and reaching the Montpelier section, it had to reverse its winds and sail back in order to reach Camp Taylor before night.

The missing of Jamestown and Liberty was a great disappointment, as thousands of people had gathered at these points.

The number of people in Columbia and at the Fair Grounds and in the field where the airplane refueled was variously estimated from 3,500 to 6,000. The people were so scattered that it was impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy.

Afterward, the U.S. Government briefly considered making Columbia a gasoline refueling station for airplanes.

Mike Watson, January 11, 2020


This story was posted on 2020-01-12 13:24:35
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