An Encounter with Glenn Curtiss


January 10, 1995

Dear George,

Last night I read an article about Glenn Curtiss and recalled a story that your father told me more that 25 years ago about an encounter that he had had with the aviator.  I found myself wondering if you or your brothers had ever heard the story.

If memory serves me, I believe that Mac (as he was known to us) said that his father and Curtiss were friends.  Perhaps he said that they just knew each other, but the circumstances of the story suggest more.  As I recall, Curtiss was making one of his pioneering long distance flights and was due to land in the Cleveland area.  His arrival was anticipated by the press and other dignitaries, so he elected to land briefly in another location to freshen-up and take care of the basic bodily functions.

Apparently, Curtiss contacted your grandfather and suggested that he meet him at the designated “rest stop” (which I think was near the lake shore).  Your grandfather took your father (who was quite young at the time) along, and they formed the only reception committee at the stop.  I remember Mac describing the event  and saying that after the plane was restarted, Curtiss held him on his lap while he taxied the plane a short distance.  “He then turned me back over to my father and took off  for the main event.  That was the only time I ever saw Glen Curtiss, and while I can’t say I flew with him, it was the next best thing,” Mac said.

That is what I remember.  Does it sound familiar?

Of course, your father was great fun to travel with, and I always enjoyed the surprise developments that seemed to occur because of his wide ranging interests.  The story that I just recounted was told to me in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. while the two of us were looking at early airplanes.  He didn’t seem to be particularly interested in the subject, but he was a good sport.

We had gone to the Smithsonian that day to see the special exhibit treating the work of Frank Wilson.  It was an entire room that even had equipment that Frank and your father had used in developing the electrocardiogram process.  The equipment included the string galvanometer built especially for them by Professor Ernst Abbe at Carl Zeiss in Jena.  I had the world’s best guide for the subject matter that day.

All of that was a side trip, since our official reason for being in Washington was a meeting at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.  Even that produced an unforeseen premium.  Mac and I were in the office of Captain Cowart (I believe it was) who headed up the area with which we had business.  We were in the middle of a meeting when an employee burst through the door unannounced.  He apologized, but said that his news was so exciting that he knew Captain Cowart would want to hear it immediately.  He said that while renovating a building, contractors had broken through a wall and discovered that a collection of objects had been walled up many years ago.  “We think the items belonged to Walter Reed,” he said.

I remember that all that occurred on January 20, 1969 because it was the day of the presidential inauguration.  Mac had the good sense to return to Kalamazoo that evening while I stayed until the next day.  The last thing he said to me before leaving was that I was nuts for sticking around in that mess.  He was right, since I discovered that one of the presidential inaugural balls was being held at the hotel where I was staying.  I had the dilemma of not being able to get through a line of limousines that were bumper-to-bumper for several blocks.  I finally walked across the bumper of a limousine to reach the entrance.  Ted Kennedy was in the back seat.

Back in Kalamazoo, I told Mac that I had walked across the bumper of Ted Kennedy’s Linousine.  Mac’s reply was characteristic.  He smiled and said: “IT SERVES HIM RIGHT!”

Well, all of that is nostalgia, but I thought there might be some grandchildren who might like the Glenn Curtiss story.

Best wishes to all of the Macleods during 1995.


Larry Fites

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