Ohio trolls Connecticut’s continued attempts to rewrite history

An artist’s rendition of Gustave Whitehead’s allegedly successful 1901 flight.
An artist’s rendition of Gustave Whitehead’s allegedly successful 1901 flight. –The Bridgeport Herald

Connecticut’s war against aviation history has escalated. Now it involves books and baseball.

For the last several months, Connecticut and Ohio have exchanged harsh words and attempted to pass laws over who was the first person to achieve flight in a motorized aircraft. According to Ohio — and pretty much the rest of the world — the honor goes to Buckeye state brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose Wright Flyer took off on December 17, 1903.

Ohio is very proud of this fact, and has not taken kindly to Connecticut’s persistent claim that resident Gustave Whitehead achieved flight two years before the Wrights, 114 years ago today. The evidence, Whitehead supporters say, is some very blurry photographs that supposedly show Whitehead in flight, newspaper articles from the time claiming that Whitehead successfully flew his No. 21 flyer, and the foreword in the 2013 edition of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, in which the editor proclaimed that Whitehead was the first to fly.


With this, Connecticut passed a law in 2013 stating that Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly. This year, state Senator Kevin Kelly proposed a bill designating August 14 as “Gustave Whitehead, First in Flight, Day’’ to celebrate his supposed accomplishment. Ohio’s legislators responded by introducing their own bill effectively saying that Connecticut is wrong.

Now that the anniversary of the alleged event is upon us, independent baseball’s Bridgeport Bluefish will host a “First in Flight’’ ceremony before its game (Bridgeport is where Whitehead first flew. If he flew.) and the Bluefish will wear special jerseys decorated with sketches of Whitehead’s flyer and the words “first in flight’’ on the back. The team has also invited drone owners to fly freely “in the triangle between Webster Bank Arena and The Ballpark at Harbor Yard’’ during the pregame festivities.

Now, Ohio’s National Aviation Heritage Alliance is fighting back … with the gift of knowledge. On Thursday, NAHA announced that it is donating three books about the Wright Brothers to the Connecticut State Library, in the hopes that Connecticut’s legislators will read them and stop trying to make Gustave Whitehead happen.

In a delightfully snarky press release, NAHA chairman Frank Winslow called out Connecticut state senator Kevin Kelly, who has spearheaded the most recent Whitehead movement, saying:

Kelly’s difficulty in understanding aviation history may lie in the lack of material available in Connecticut’s state library, Winslow said. “We did an online search of the collection and found very few books on the subject. We think it might help Sen. Kelly and others in Connecticut to have better access to well-researched information gathered by eminent historians,’’ he said.


Kelly responded in kind, telling The Hartford Courant: “We thank Ohio for the publicity, and we hope public interest in this historic event will continue to soar.’’

Copies of The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright, by Tom D. Crouch; Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention, by Peter Jakab; and The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough, will be given to the library on August 19, which is National Aviation Day. The fact that the announcement was made right before the proposed Gustave Whitehead Day is no doubt a coincidence.

Connecticut state librarian Kendall Wiggin told Boston.com that while the library doesn’t have a position on the issue, it welcomes NAHA’s donation.

“The State Library makes itself available for all legislators and their aides when they’re researching any topic,’’ Wiggin said.

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