It’s Columbus Day, 1910. St. Louis children are out of school, businesses have closed, crowds jam the roads to see former President Teddy Roosevelt.
Roosevelt left the White House last year. Now he’s going about the country campaigning for Republicans in the off-year elections. Still called Colonel Roosevelt for his wartime exploits, he is the most remarkable president citizens have seen.
He says things no president has said, done things none has done—including cowboying in the West, hunting in African safaris, and, most notably, leading his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. But those daring feats have all been on the ground.
On October 11 in St. Louis, he says he intends to remain on the ground. But his many appearances coincide with an air show at Kinloch Field, and he can’t resist going where the crowd is.
The papers today are replaying the results of yesterday’s flights by five aviators, four of them in biplanes made by the Wright brothers. One broke a record of staying in the air for three hours, five minutes, and ten seconds. Another wrecked his biplane on the St Louis air field when he let go of the controls for a split second. A wing touched the ground, and he ended up in pile of “broken wood and torn cloth.” He’s hospitalized today, but he’ll be fine. A third, the hero of our story, Arch Hoxsey set a record with a flight of 104 miles to get to St. Louis.
Roosevelt was supposed to leave the Jefferson Hotel in downtown St. Louis at 2:30 to visit the air show but is running late. To make up time, urges his driver to step on it, leaving a cloud of dust and the 10 mph speed limit sign behind him. No one has ever seen so many autos moving so fast in such an incredible cloud of dust. Several pilots fly escort overhead.
When Roosevelt arrives at the St. Louis Aviation Field at Kinloch, he sits in his filthy touring auto to shake hands with Arch Hoxsey, saying, “By George, I’m pleased to meet you.”
And Hoxsey replies, “I was hoping, Colonel, that I might have you for a passenger on one of my trips.”
Governor Herbert Hadley is not pleased. He has to be thinking of all that could go wrong—like Ralph Johnstone’s crash yesterday.
But Teddy is starting to grin. Hadley says, “You’re not going, are you, Colonel?”
And the Colonel says, “By George, I believe I will.”
He hops from the auto, pulling off his overcoat. He grabs Hoxsey’s arm and heads for the aeroplane. Governor Hadley follows nervously and behind him the crowd cheers. Roosevelt hands the slouch hat he always wears to the governor and puts on the golf cap a reporter offers him. TR crawls into the one passenger seat the machine offers and holds onto the wires tightly as Hoxsey tunes up the engines and gives the propellers a turn. Newspapermen with cameras are circling, and the moving picture men grind away.
Hoxsey asks if the Colonel is ready, and Teddy cries, “Let ‘er go!” The cameramen scatter and the National guardsmen begin to push the loaded biplane as fast as they can run.
Hoxsey is a slight man, as are several of the pilots. The crowd has gotten used to the speed and angle at which the aeroplanes rise. Teddy’s two hundred pounds make a difference. When the machine is finally airborne, a roar goes up from the grandstand.
Hoxsey may rush the trip because he’s concerned about Roosevelt’s survival. Not only is the Colonel an additional two hundred pounds, but he’s moving around, waving at the crowd. Hoxsey has to tell him to be careful; if Teddy hits the valve cord it will stall the engine. Hoxsey makes two turns around the field and then heads for the ground. Luckily, it’s as smooth a landing as anyone has seen.
The Colonel extricates himself, talking all the while, saying, “By George, it was fine,” over and over.
It’s only been twenty minutes since he stopped at the Air Field. The flight itself took four minutes.
The Aero Club and its president, Albert Bond Lambert, has a publicity coup—instead of a publicity disaster. In the years ahead, the Kinloch field will turn into Lambert International Airport. And Teddy Roosevelt will add to his achievements the fact that he is the first American president to go up in an aeroplane.
ARTICLES IN THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, OCTOBER 10-12, 1910.