Airplanes at Fairs

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, September 29 –Wednesday, September 30, 1914: Guess I’ll have to commence writing about the weather. Well the weather should come in for its share of notice. You see this is fair week. I mean one with a capital F.

Picture Source: Ladies Home Journal (June, 1914)
Picture Source: Ladies Home Journal (June, 1914)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma dated this diary entry for two days—September 29 and 30. Fairs a hundred years ago were very exciting. For example, in 1912, Grandma saw an airplane at the Milton Fair:

 . . .Saw a flying machine whirling aloft in the air for at least 10 minutes. I think twas quite a sight to see.

October 3, 1912

Airplanes apparently were the fad de jour at fairs in the 1910s. Here’s part of a story in the June, 1914 issue of Ladies Home Journal:

Whether Pigs Have Wings: What Anne Found Out When Mrs. Stevens Flew to the County Fair

On the morning of the County Fair, Mrs. Stevens shortened the Scripture reading, and; and she put the Bible aside, she murmured: “Had I the wings then I would fly.”

“Well, Mother,” said her husband, “keep your eye peeled an’ you’ll likely see an airyplane goin’ over to the Fair. It seems too bad not to take you.”

“Well the buckboard only holds two, you to drive an’ Jed to lead Daisy. She’s got to go if she’s to the get prize as best milker, an’ I can’t hold onto her rope all the way. “

Mrs. Stevens gave the horse a lump of sugar and watched the buckboard slowly precede Dairy, the “prize milker” down the drive to the hedge gate. After Peter’s departure, she hied herself to the back porch to watch whatever might fly by. “Always there are birds and clouds, and today p’haps an airship,” she thought with a thrill and the enthusiasm that made her seventy years young.

Mrs. Stevens, shelling peas on the back porch, screened by hollyhocks, suddenly became all ears. The air was filled with a gigantic whirring.

“Bees swarming,” was her first thought, “or a new sort of auto; it must be coming over the roof then.”

It was and it did. A huge shadow fell, and Mrs. Stevens, placing her pan of peas on the settle, stepped out beyond the hollyhocks as an airship sailed over the garden trees and over the orchard, before she gasped at the wonder of it. Hovering over the meadow it half circled, lowering.

Gently it came to stillness on the green meadow grass. Mrs. Stevens hastened back to the porch and snatched her blue sunbonnet, hurried to the woodshed and took a tin can; then down the sloping path under the apple trees she sped as fast as her prunella shoes could patter.

When she came out of the orchard she could see a man leaning over the body of the aeroplane. As she drew nearer the man stood and shaded his eyes with his hand; in his other hand she would see a can like that she carried. Taking off his cap he said: “Pray give us some of your oil, Wise Virgin.”

“I am a married woman,” said Mrs. Stevens calmly.

“And all the wiser for that, Madam,” he replied, bowing. “But how do you happen to come with the one thing I wished for?”

Pauline Stevens had come closer to the wonder and laid a timid hand upon a wing. “It’s the first one I’ve seen,” she exclaimed, “and it’s just like the pictures.”

“It was the best landing field within reach while my oil lasted. How I ever forget to fill my cup I don’t know; but thanks to you I’m fixed now. What is your name, please, that I may return the oil tomorrow?”

“I’m Mrs. Stevens, but don’t return the oil. It’s some Horace Russell left two years ago when he kept his car in our barn, and my husband doesn’t want it.”

“If you don’t know about air machines, Mrs. Stevens, what inspired you to bring the can?”

“Oh, I read that one of ‘em ‘alighted to renew his oil supply.”

You were evidently born with that rare gift, gumption, Madam. How can I thank you?” He smiled whimsically. “Will you fly with me?”

“Is it an offer?” She demanded quickly.

“An offer? Surely! But—I think you mentioned a Mr. Stevens.”

“Now you’re a foolin’. But if you didn’t mean me to fly with you I wouldn’t be mean enough to take you up.’

“But I’ll take you up with pleasure if you would really like to try it.”

She nipped her seersucker skirt, exposing plump prunella-clad ankles. “It’s my chance to do what I’ve always wanted to do. Can I get right in?”

You’re a sport,” exclaimed Rodney warmly. “Here’s an extra coat; it’s cooler up there.” . . .

16 thoughts on “Airplanes at Fairs

    1. There were a huge number of changes. Things probably happened a little earlier in cities–but living on a farm when she was young there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. Cars and airplanes were both novelties when she was a teen–by the time she was an older adult there were interstate highways and major airlines/airports.

    1. One of the things I liked the best about this story was how it provided a window into how the genders interacted with each other a hundred years ago.

  1. I had to look up the “prunella shoes”. Prunella is a heavy woolen fabric used for the uppers of shoes. Great post.

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