Is there a history site you’ve wanted to visit for a long time? I finally managed a visit to one that had been on my list. I was doing research for my recent book, First Flight Around the World, and realized that the site in Seattle where the flight left and returned is Seattle’s second largest park, Warren Magnuson Park. And, a monument marks the feat.
The flight was big news in 1924 because five other countries (Great Britain, Italy, France, Portugal and Argentina) were making the attempt to circumnavigate the globe by airplane. The race was on! On April 6, 1924, four Douglas World Cruiser airplanes taxied away from their moorings on Lake Washington, and climbed into the sky headed toward Alaska. Each biplane was named for a U.S. city, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and New Orleans. Each held a pilot and a mechanic, Army officers ready to conquer the world. The Army Air Service flight was many months in the making and put the United States on the world aviation stage.
For more details about the flight, read this post I wrote about the flight for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s blog.
Needless to say it turned out to be a grand adventure. Three planes landed in today’s Magnuson Park on September 28, 1924 making headlines around the world and overcoming major obstacles. Two of the planes had left Seattle, the third was a replacement plane that joined the trip in Maine. The Seattle had crashed into a mountain in Alaska. The Boston is now at the bottom of the North Sea. Two made it back to Seattle and the Chicago is proudly on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. And the New Orleans belongs to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The wreckage of the Seattle is in a museum in Anchorage, Alaska. But each crew member miraculously survived.
In Seattle recently, I was determined to see the monument to the flight in Magnuson Park on the shore of Lake Washington in an area called Sand Point. Originally the Naval Station Puget Sound, the park serves a variety of functions today with picnic areas, beach access, boat access, ball fields, a playground and a dog park. A historic district of old Navy buildings represent a variety of architectural styles and recall the site’s days as a busy naval base. It’s named for a former U.S. Senator. The tall concrete column is topped with a pair of bronze bird wings and a plaque, but stands in the middle of the park’s entrance, surrounded by traffic.
Sadly, many or should I say most people do not know this story. I asked a person walking by if he knew what the monument was about – he didn’t. I asked him if he’s heard of the world flight, he hadn’t. Why do some events get lost in history? None of the pilots or mechanics on the flight are names that anyone would recognize. Some people might argue that the flight got eclipsed in history to Charles Lindbergh, who made his successful flight three years after the world flight. In fact, he passed through the Naval Station on his victory tour of the United States. I looked for a historical marker, but could not find one. Hopefully my book will help inspire a new generation with this amazing story.
The monument is located at the N.E. 74th Street entrance to Warren G. Magnuson Park.
Have you heard about this historical event? Why do you think it got lost in history?