The wreck of the 1908 Wright Flyer that seriously injured Orville Wright and killed Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, the first person to die as the result of an airplane accident; September 17th, 1908
During flight trials to win a contract from the U.S. Army Signal Corps, pilot Orville Wright and passenger Lt. Thomas Selfridge crash in a Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia. Wright is injured, and Selfridge becomes the first passenger to die in an airplane accident.
After Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic first-ever airplane flight Dec. 17, 1903, they spent the next few years largely in seclusion developing their new invention. By the end of 1905 their interest in aviation had changed from curiosity and the challenge of flying, to the business of how to turn aviation into an industry: They were looking for a business model.
Unfortunately their first attempts to attract the United States government to the idea of using airplanes were turned down. The military just didn’t see how the airplane could be used in any practical way.
For two-and-a-half years the Wright brothers did not fly. They continued to work on their airplane, but put more and more time into building the business. Eventually they were able to attract interest from both the French and British governments, but by 1907 they still did not have any firm contracts.
But the Wright brothers were awarded two contracts in 1908: one from the U.S. Army and the other from a French business. The Army contract was for a bid to fly a two-man “heavier-than-air” flying machine that would have to complete a series of trials over a measured course. In addition to the $25,000 (about $600,000 in today’s buying power) bid, the brothers would receive a $2,500 bonus for every mile per hour of speed faster than 40 mph. No supersonic stealth fighters just yet.
Because they had not flown since October 1905, the brothers returned to Kitty Hawk to test their new controls to be used on the Wright Flyer in the Army flight trials. Despite some difficulty getting used to the new controls, both brothers managed to get some practice flying in during the stay in North Carolina.
Wilbur was in France during the summer of 1908 demonstrating the new Wright Flyer to Europeans (video). Orville remained in the United States and on Sept. 3 made his first flight at Fort Myer, where the Army trials were set to begin.
The flight tests set out by the Army required the airplane to carry two people for a set duration, distance and speed. There was a committee of five officers to evaluate the Wright Flyer’s performance, including the 26-year-old Selfridge.
Selfridge was a member of the Aerial Experiment Association and had designed the group’s first powered airplane. The Red Wing first flew on March 12, 1908, but crashed and was destroyed on its second flight a few days later.
During the first two weeks of September Orville made 15 flights at Fort Myer. He set three world records Sept. 9, including a 62-minute flight and the first public passenger flight. By Sept. 12 Orville had flown more than 74 minutes in a single flight and carried Maj. George Squier for more than 9 minutes in one flight.
On Sept. 17 Orville was flying Selfridge on another of the test flights. Three or four minutes into the flight, a blade on one of the two wooden propellers split and caused the engine to shake violently. Orville shut down the engine but was unable to control the airplane.
The propeller had hit a bracing wire and pulled a rear rudder from the vertical position to a horizontal position. This caused the airplane to pitch nose-down, and it could not be countered by the pilot.
The Wright Flyer hit the ground hard, and both men were injured. Orville suffered a fractured leg and several broken ribs. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull and died in the hospital a few hours later.
Despite the crash, and the first passenger death in an airplane, the Army was significantly impressed with the Wright Flyer and allowed the brothers to complete the trials the following year. They were awarded the contract. Along with success in France, the Wright brothers were well on their way to establishing what would become one of the most successful aviation companies during the early days of flying.
Because of the crash, the first Army pilots were required to wear helmets similar to early football helmets in order to minimize the chance of a head injury like the one that killed Selfridge.
Though the early days of aviation continued to be full of danger, airplane travel today is statistically one of the safest modes of transportation based on passenger miles traveled. Between 1995 and 2000 there were about 3 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles flown.
Here is the final shot, uncropped:
Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier was born in 1796 into a wealthy family in the Irish linen town of Banbridge, County Down. His father, George Crozier, was a prominent solicitor who acted for Ireland’s most powerful land-owning families, and he was named after Francis Rawdon, the Earl of Moira.
In 1810, three months before his 14th birthday, Crozier enlisted in the Royal Navy and was immediately thrown into the Napoleonic wars. On one of his earliest voyages, his ship became lost in the Pacific Ocean and unexpectedly arrived at tiny Pitcairn Island, where the crew met the sole surviving mutineer from the Bounty.
After the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Admiralty turned to exploration in an attempt to find work for its ranks of idle officers and to expand the British Empire. Arctic discovery was a key ambition during this energetic burst of exploration, which produced men such as Franklin, Parry, the Rosses and Crozier.
Crozier’s first polar expedition came in 1821, when he volunteered to join Parry’s attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage, a feat that had eluded sailors for centuries. They returned after two years without success, but Crozier went north again a year later when Parry took the vessels Fury and Hecla on another vain bid to locate the passage. Disaster was only narrowly averted when Fury was wrecked in Prince Regent Inlet, and the entire party limped home on board Hecla.
In 1827, Crozier joined Parry and James Clark Ross in an arduous slog to reach the North Pole. The party, dragging heavily laden boats, trekked for more than 1,000 kilometres, but advanced only 275 kilometres north because the remorseless drift of the pack ice carried them steadily south. It was akin to walking the wrong way up a fast-moving escalator, and the men survived thanks largely to the depots earlier laid down by the diligent Crozier. But the ‘furthest north’ record of 82° 45’ stood for almost half a century.
On successive journeys, Crozier demonstrated his reliability and an aptitude for the painstaking business of magnetic and astronomic readings. In 1827, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and was elected a Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in 1843. His prominent sponsors included the astronomer Sir John Herschel and Sir Francis Beaufort, creator of the Beaufort scale and one of the co-founders of the Royal Geographical Society.
Crozier’s most accomplished feat was the mammoth four-year journey to Antarctica in Erebus and Terror with James Clark Ross, which arguably ranks as the 19th century’s most outstanding voyage of maritime discovery. He captained Terror and never lost a man – a rare achievement at the time.
Setting out in 1839, the Erebus and Terror expedition was the last great journey made under sail, penetrating the pack ice of the Southern Ocean and discovering vast tracts of the Antarctic continent. It also bequeathed many of the now familiar geographical names to the Heroic Age of Exploration, including Mount Erebus, Ross Island and McMurdo Sound. The Great Ice Barrier, where Scott’s party perished in 1912, was so named because it presented a barrier to Erebus and Terror (it was re-named the Ross Ice Shelf in the 1950s). And Cape Crozier, the windswept headland on Ross Island that was later immortalised by Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s book on Scott’s expedition, The Worst Journey in the World, is now renowned for its emperor penguin colony.
However, the Antarctic journey took a heavy toll on both Crozier and Ross. On their return, witnesses were shocked at the way their hands trembled – the tremors so pronounced that they could hardly hold a glass.
Sadly, Crozier was also suffering from a broken heart. On the voyage south, the ships had stopped at the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), where Crozier fell deeply in love with Sophy Cracroft, the flirty niece of the old explorer Sir John Franklin, who had been appointed the island’s governor. His repeated proposals of marriage were rejected because Cracroft refused to become a captain’s wife. ‘She liked the man, but not the sailor,’ her aunt once confided.
Heartbroken and depressed, Crozier elected to head north again in 1845 when the Admiralty launched a fresh attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage in Erebus and Terror. Although Crozier was the most experienced polar captain still serving, the Admiralty gave command of the expedition to Franklin, an overweight 59-year-old who hadn’t taken a ship into the ice for 27 years. It was a snub that hurt Crozier, and he probably should have chosen that moment to retire from exploration. But in a vain attempt to appeal to Cracroft, Crozier volunteered to travel as Franklin’s deputy and assume command of Terror.
In his last letter home, a melancholic Crozier wrote: ‘In truth I am sadly lonely.’ More pertinently, he was worried that the expedition had sailed too late in the season and also questioned Franklin’s leadership, writing that ‘[Franklin] is very decided in his own views but has not good judgement’.
Erebus and Terror crossed Baffin Bay during the summer of 1845 and entered the treacherous Arctic waterways of Lancaster Sound with 129 officers and men aboard. They were never to return.
Disaster struck in 1847, when the ships became trapped in the ice in Victoria Strait. Shortly after, Franklin died and command of the expedition passed to Crozier. The ships were abandoned in 1848, and it was Crozier who inherited the hopeless task of leading about 100 starving survivors in a forlorn retreat across the ice. Men fell dead in their tracks; years later, examination of their bones revealed that some had resorted to cannibalism in the struggle to survive.
Crozier’s death march ripples with historical significance. At one point, the survivors reached the narrow Simpson Strait that runs between King William Island and mainland Canada. Unknown to Crozier, the strait was the last piece of the jigsaw that – at that point – made up the Northwest Passage. A little over 50 years later, the Norwegian Amundsen navigated the strait during the first navigation of the passage and graciously flew his ship’s colours in salute.
According to native accounts, a few desperate souls from the Franklin expedition clung to life for several years after the ships were abandoned, but none managed to find a route to safety. Crozier, the imperturbable and experienced commander, is thought to have been among the last to succumb.
Teddy and his son Kermit took the dangerous expedition together after his presidency. During the trip, a man was murdered, his escaped murderer was deliberately left in the jungle to die, and a third man drowned in the river rapids. Roosevelt himself nearly died of an infected wound and almost every person on the expedition was sick. There were not enough supplies and the boats were not adequate for the type of water they were traveling.
Born Edward Theodore Gein, “Ed” was an American murderer and body snatcher.
Gein was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His parents, George Philip Gein (1873-1940) and Augusta Wilhelmine (Lehrke) Gein (1878-1945), both natives of Wisconsin, had two sons: Henry George Gein (1901-1944), and his younger brother, Edward Theodore Gein. Augusta despised her husband, but the marriage persisted because of the family’s religious belief against divorce. Augusta Gein operated a small grocery store and eventually purchased a farm on the outskirts of the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, which then became the Gein family’s permanent home.
Augusta Gein moved to this location to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons.
Edward Gein left the premises only to go to school. Besides school, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta Gein, a fervent Lutheran, preached to her boys the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and the belief that all women (herself excluded) were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. She reserved time every afternoon to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting graphic verses from the Old Testament dealing with death, murder, and divine retribution.
A shy, effeminate boy, the younger Gein became a target for bullies. Classmates and teachers recalled off-putting mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he were laughing at his own personal jokes. To make matters worse, his mother punished him whenever he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading.
Gein tried to make his mother happy, but she was rarely pleased with her boys; she often abused them, believing that they were destined to become failures like their father. During their teens and throughout their early adulthood, the boys remained detached from people outside of their farmstead, and so had only each other for company.
Deaths of family members
After George Gein died of a heart attack in 1940, the Gein brothers began working at odd jobs to help with expenses. Both brothers were considered reliable and honest by residents of the community. While both worked as handymen, Ed Gein also frequently babysat for neighbors. He enjoyed babysitting, seeming to relate more easily to children than adults. As he matured, Henry Gein began to reject his mother’s view of the world and worried about his brother’s attachment to her. He spoke ill of her around his brother, who responded with shock and hurt.
On May 16, 1944 his brother Henry decided to burn off a marsh on the property.
The burn off escaped control and the local fire department was called to extinguish the fire and protect the family farm from flames. At day’s end, with the fire under control, the men returned to their homes when it was discovered that Henry had not come in with the others. A searching party, with lanterns and flashlights, searched the burned over area and in the evening, several hours after the search began, found the dead body of Henry Gein lying face down.
Apparently the man had been dead for some time when he was found, and it appeared that death was result of a heart attack, since he had not been burned or otherwise injured.
It was later reported, and possibly embellished in the Ed Gein biography, “Deviant” by Harold Schechter that he had bruises on his head.
The police dismissed the possibility of foul play and the county coroner later officially listed asphyxiation as the cause of death. Although some investigators suspected that Ed Gein killed his brother, no charges were filed against him.
After his brother’s death, Gein lived alone with his mother, who died on December 29, 1945, following a series of strokes. Gein was devastated by her death; in the words of author Harold Schechter, he had “lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world.”
Gein remained on the farm, supporting himself with earnings from odd jobs. He boarded up rooms used by his mother, including the upstairs, downstairs parlor, and living room, leaving them untouched. He lived in a small room next to the kitchen. Gein became interested in reading death-cult magazines and adventure stories.
On November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared and police had reason to suspect Gein. Worden’s son had told investigators that Gein had been in the store the evening before the disappearance, saying he would return the following morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. A sales slip for a gallon of anti-freeze was the last receipt written by Worden on the morning she disappeared.
Upon searching Gein’s property, investigators discovered Worden’s decapitated body in a shed, hung upside down by ropes at her wrists, with a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was “dressed out” like that of a deer.
She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations were made after death.
Searching the house, authorities found:
•Whole human bones and fragments
•Nine masks of human skin
•Bowls made from human skulls
•Ten female heads with the tops sawn off
•Human skin covering several chair seats
•Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag
•Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack
•Nine vulvae in a shoe box
•A belt made from female human nipples
•Skulls on his bedposts
•A pair of lips on a draw string for a window-shade
•A lampshade made from the skin from a human face
These artifacts were photographed at the crime lab and then were properly destroyed.
When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies while he was in a “daze-like” state. On about 30 of those visits, he said he had come out of the daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order, and returned home empty handed.
On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins to make his paraphernalia. Gein admitted robbing nine graves, leading investigators to their locations. Because authorities were uncertain as to whether the slight Gein was capable of single-handedly digging up a grave in a single evening, they exhumed two of the graves and found them empty, thus corroborating Gein’s confession.
Shortly after his mother’s death, Gein had decided he wanted a sex change and began to create a “woman suit” so he could pretend to be a female.
Gein’s practice of donning the tanned skins of women was described as an “insane transvestite ritual”. Gein denied having sex with the bodies he exhumed, explaining, “They smelled too bad.” During interrogation, Gein also admitted to the shooting death of Mary Hogan, a tavern operator missing since 1954.
A 16-year-old youth whose parents were friends of Gein and who attended ball games and movies with him reported that he was aware of the shrunken heads, which Gein had described as relics from the Philippines sent by a cousin who had served in World War II. Upon investigation by the police, these were determined to be human facial skins, carefully peeled from corpses and used as masks by Gein.
Waushara County sheriff Art Schley reportedly physically assaulted Gein during questioning by banging Gein’s head and face into a brick wall; as a result, Gein’s initial confession was ruled inadmissible.
Schley died of a heart attack in December 1968, at age 43, only a month after testifying at Gein’s trial. Many who knew him said he was traumatized by the horror of Gein’s crime and that this, along with the fear of having to testify (especially about assaulting Gein), led to his death. One of his friends said, “He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him.”.
On November 21, 1957, Gein was arraigned on one count of first degree murder in Waushara County Court, where he entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Found mentally incompetent and thus unfit to stand trial, Gein was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (now the Dodge Correctional Institution), a maximum-security facility in Waupun, Wisconsin, and later transferred to the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
In 1968, Gein’s doctors determined he was sane enough to stand trial. The trial began on November 14, 1968, lasting one week. He was found guilty of first-degree murder by Judge Robert H. Gollmar, but because he was found to be legally insane, he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital.
Gein’s house and property were scheduled to be auctioned March 30, 1958, amid rumors the house was to become a tourist attraction. The house was completely burned March 27. Arson was suspected but the fire was never officially solved. When Gein learned of the incident while in detention, he shrugged and said, “Just as well.”
Gein’s car, which he had used to haul the bodies of his victims, was sold at the public auction for $760 to carnival sideshow operator Bunny Gibbons. Gibbons later charged carnival goers 25¢ admission to see it.
On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer at the age of 77 in Stovall Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. His grave site in the Plainfield cemetery was frequently vandalized over the years; souvenir seekers chipped off pieces of his gravestone before the bulk of it was stolen in 2000. The gravestone was recovered in June 2001 near Seattle and is now in a museum in Waushara County.