Backtracking:The Early Years: Sidney enjoyed an aviation spectacle in July 1919

Mark SimonsonLooking east toward Sidney from Interstate 88 in late May, one might imagine a huge crowd and a biplane circling this area, as a first landing of an aircraft took place beyond the river and present-day Sidney Municipal Airport, near Riverside in July 1919.

 

Sidney residents were ready to witness history in their village, and all they needed to do was wait for the sound of a factory whistle.

What they were about to witness was a first landing of an aircraft and demonstration by the well-known aviator duo of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Burnside on Saturday, July 5, 1919.

The Burnsides were already in the area, as Frank was a native Oneontan, and was there to be a part of the city’s July Fourth celebration to welcome home the local troops from World War I.

Mr. and Mrs. Burnside were going to head back to their home in Ithaca, and decided to make the stop in Sidney. Frank was the brother of Mrs. George Yagel of Sidney, so you might call this a business and pleasure visit.

Advance preparations for the Sidney landing and demonstration were necessary. Sidney didn’t have an airport at the time, and wouldn’t have one until 1929. With aviation still in its infancy, aviators were very cautious of atmospheric conditions before making flights and landing.

As The Sidney Record of July 5 pointed out, “Arrangements are perfected for the aviators reception. The first and most important item was to prepare a safe landing place. Mr. Albert Kipp has kindly consented to the use of his Riverside flats for the purpose, which is ready and cleared of its hay crop by George Nutter. George Yagel was appointed to take charge of all arrangements and special police will be on hand to prevent people getting in dangerous places at the landing position. These machines land with high momentum and anyone in their path is liable to get mussed up.

“About 30 or 40 minutes before Mr. Burnside leaves Oneonta for Sidney, Supt. King will order the Kayser mill whistle blown for 15 or 20 seconds; then people will know what’s coming and govern themselves accordingly. The telephones will also do good work notifying neighboring localities. Just about that time all roads will suddenly lead to Sidney.”

There was no disappointment for onlookers that day, as the Record of July 12 reported.

“That morning was a daisy, bright sun, still air, not a cloud even as big as the hand of the prophet Moses. A blast from the Kayser whistle sounded the keynote, then followed a scurry for the river bank, bridge, and Riverside Drive. The plane left Oneonta at 8:44 a.m.

“At 9 a.m. something like a hawk, 6,000 feet high was detected in the eastern sky. It rapidly increased in size, then came the tell-tale buzz of the propeller. Two human beings were cradled in the frail craft overhead, two lives gamboling in the domain of the eagles and condors.

“Circling around about 400 feet over the ancient soil of Sidney, the biplane in the sun, as viewed from the Riverside, looked like a bird of jeweled feathers shimmering its silvery hues. The aviator gauged the exact location of landing, his trained eyes tell him just when to make a bee-line for his descent.

“Just as neat as a cat clears a three-foot fence, the machine gracefully glides over the corn patch, the under wheels touch ground and once more Mr. and Mrs. Burnside have joined the hosts below.

“No one ventured on the field of landing before arrival of the bird man, but once halted, safe at anchor, the big crowd made a break into the field for closer inspection, the boy brigade easily in the lead. Hemmed in on all sides, Mr. and Mrs. Burnside must have seen a sea of happy smiling faces, all eloquent in their welcome. The polite, cool-headed aviator was bombarded with questions, all of which, even the most simple queries, were readily and cheerfully answered, if he had to answer them all, genial Frank Burnside could well wish, in the words of the old Methodist hymn, ‘Oh, For a Thousand Tongues.’”

Once the crowds dispersed and the Burnsides got to socialize with the Yagels, the two aviators, after a job well done and appreciated, boarded their plane and headed home to Ithaca.

On Tuesday: A festive Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown 30 years ago.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Tuesday columns address local history 1950 and later.  If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.

Ask Mark... 

Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.

Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com