When Aviation Came To Panama
by George Chevalier
Be so advised that this story does not come from personal memories. In 1912 officials of the City of Panama established
a purse of $3000 for the first intrepid birdman to fly the skies of Panama. And so R.J.Collier of Colliers Magazine prepared
a team and his plane to come down to try to be the first. His pilot was A.L.Welsh, mechanic was O.G.Simmons and his staff
photographer James Hare boarded the SS Turrialba in Jan.1912 and soon arrived in Colon. The plane was a Wright Model 1910,TypeB
and they looked for a suitable site to land and take off but they found none on the Atlantic side. After touring the dry canal
line and talks with Col. Goethals revealed no suitable site along the line the mechanic stated that they could not expect
more than 15min. continuous running of the engine. That convinced them it was futile to go on so they packed up and returned
to NYC. While still in Panama Jesse Seligman, another early aviator arrived, to try for the prize. Jesse had been run out
of Jamaica for failing to fly and live up to his promises. He brought with him a Bleriot Monoplane and unloaded it on the
Cristobal Docks. Jessie again decided not to attempt flight and returned to the States leaving his crated plane behind in
Cristobal. It must be remembered that the hot humid weather played havoc with the materials in those early planes. The rubberized
wing fabric sagged at times destroying lift and the glue in the propellers wood pieces failed causing them to come apart.
Enters now Clarence DeGiers who has Jesse Seligman's plane brought over to the Pacific side and on Sunday, April 21,1912 he
flies at La Cabana in the Juan Franco Field in front of 4000 people to be the first and win the prize. One year later Robert
Fowler arrives to try to be the first to fly over the Isthmus, ocean to ocean. Using a plane with pontoons he launches forth
from Bella Vista Beach with a motion picture cameraman aboard and on Sunday, April 27th he successfully crosses following
the canal line. Landing in Cristobal the plane had its pontoon damaged by rocks in shallow water. Back in the states the movie
film was eagerly being shown in theaters about the country when Govt. agents swooped down and confiscated all the film it
could find claiming it revealed too much of canal and the new fortifications. Immediately laws were enacted which forbid any
flights over the Canal Zone without prior permission but aviation had indeed arrived in Panama.
The reports below taken from the Daily Gleaner in early
1912 give further information on Jesse Seligman's adventures in Central America
From these reports it seems clear that it was
in Costa Rica, not Jamaica, that Seligman had problems with people who were disappointed by his failure to make a significant
January 3 p. 1 col 6
AVIATOR AT COLON
TO CROSS THE CANAL
The Moisant Company, managers of Jesse Seligman, announce that the New York aviator has arrived in
Panama where he is to fly across the isthmus in about ten days or two weeks. Mr. Seligman, however, will first go to San Jose,
Costa Rica, where he will fulfil an engagement to give a flying exhibition.
In the flight of forty-seven miles through
the canal zone the aviator will use a Moisant monoplane, built in the factory at Winfield, in the Borough of Queens. The machine
is equipped with a 50 horse power Gnome motor and the planes have a spread of thirty-one feet. Mr. Seligman plans to fly from
Colon to Panama, making two stops for exhibition purposes on the way. He hopes to make the return flight without stop.
6 p4 col 3
Limon Notes: January 1 -- Mr. Seligman with his
monoplane arrived on Friday by SS Prinz Eitel
and left for San Jose immediately by special
train. Hundreds of Limonites have gone to San Jose to
see him fly today.
The batch left this morning at 4 am
by special excursion train returning to Limon at 12
January 20 p10
Failure of Mr Seligman to Fly at Costa Rica
AN INFURIATED CROWD
(From Our Correspondent)
Port Limon, Jan. 15 - The aviator, Seligman, was unable to fly in San Jose on 1st January as was arranged in consequence
of contrary winds which prevailed at the time. The crowd, disappointed at not fulfilling their expectations, got infuriated
and threw stones at the machine and threatened to destroy and burn it. Mr. Newman and his men had to call in six other friends
to help in protecting the machine. Even at the cost of their lives were they determined to keep off the intruders.
endeavour to appease the infuriated mob, however, Mr. Seligman resolved to attempt an ascent even at the cost of his life,
but he did not rise above about sixty feet when he fell to the ground with a crash, narrowly escaping death and with the wing
of the machine badly damaged. The abuses that blessed himself and his machine from a mad crowd who had come from every part
of the country to witness his attempt to conquer the air, may well be imagined.
He again attempted to fly on Sunday
7th inst. And did fairly well but not as expected. He therefore failed in his contract to fly around San Jose for nine thousand
colones. He was, however, awarded six thousand, of which the Government subscribed three thousand, the Municipality of San
Jose one thousand, the Northern Railway and U.F.Co one thousand and the Committee for the Fiestas one thousand. He leaves
today by s.s. Sarnia.
January 26 p13 col 3
Flight Postponed: Colon Jan. 22 - Some disappointment will be felt
by those persons who intended to witness the flight at Gatun tomorrow by Mr. Seligman, when they learn that in consequence
of an accident to the machine, the flight will not take place before two or three weeks time. This accident we learn took
place in Port Limon, during a flight in a strong wind.
February 2 p14 col 5
MR NEWMAN ON
HIS WAY TO NEW YORK
Mr. E DeB Newman, manager of the Moisant Aviation Co., who was here in December last with Mr. Jesse
Seligman, son of the New York banker, who made two flights at Knutsford Park, was an intransit passenger arriving here yesterday
on the United Fruit Co's steamer Sixaola from Colon for New York.
Seen by a Gleaner reporter Mr. Newman stated
that he was hurrying away to New York to procure certain parts for the monoplane, which was damaged by a fall while in flight
at San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Mr. Newman said he would leave New York on the 10th inst. on the return trip to Colon,
and that as soon as the machine had been repaired Mr. Seligman would make his promised flight over the route of the Panama
Canal, starting from Colon and finishing at Panama.
"Yes, we had quite an exciting time at San Jose," said Mr. Newman,
referring to the occasion on which an infuriated crowd, many thousands strong, tried their best to wreck the machine when
the aviator did not make the promised flight. "There must have been 35,000 persons on the ground, and the promised 200 policemen
did not put in an appearance. Yes, we had a pretty interesting time saving that machine,I can tell you."
man would have liked a little more of the story, but Mr. Newman only had half an hour ashore and he jumped in a 'bus and dashed
away to see some friends here.
Records of arrivals at New York show that Jesse Seligman (22) and his wife (21) arrived there on February 22, 1912, from Cristobal
in the Canal Zone, on the "Panama"
. . . and there the story rests for the time being.