“Everything Level, Toylike From Air”

From Looking north-east from First National Bank Building, Showing Warren County Court House on hill, Vicksburg, Miss. Sysid 90863. Scanned as tiff in 2008/11/07 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History

We like to think that technology is advancing faster today than it ever has before. But the early to mid-twentieth century could give us a run for our money, showing possibly even more consequential change in the period 1900-1930. Today’s newspaper clipping, when compared with a post a while back, shows how rapid this change was. In “The view from the roof of the building is magnificent in every direction,” the Vicksburg Post’s editor described the wonders of the state’s tallest skyscraper, completed in 1907, a 10-story-high building. It was enough of a marvel, that the view from its roof became worthy of several postcards, indicating that this view was a novelty that everyone wanted to share.

Fast forward only 15 years and the Vicksburg Post is running the following article describing the view of the city from much higher, via a new-fangled machine–the airplane–that had only become relatively safe for mass consumption during World War I. True to form, postcard vendors were quick to realize the potential for aerial views of cities, and over the next few months, we might start running a few of the aerial view postcards I’ve added to my collection over the years. Unfortunately I haven’t found a Vicksburg aerial to show off here, but the reporter’s description of the town he saw below should provide enough vivid scenery to paint a picture in your head. In 1907, First National Bank was the big guy on the block, but by 1923, from an aerial view, it looked like a “squat structure. . . . not much bigger than a respectable collection of cracker boxes.” 

Vicksburg Is City Beautiful As Seen From Big Seaplane

Applegate Takes Post Reporter for Aerial Journey


Drop Over Valley Smokestack Furnishes Single Thrill


The aerial circus flyers contributed another thrill to the life of the writer Saturday afternoon by taking him aloft for a ten minute spin over Vicksburg and vicinity.

Aviator Raymond Applegate, thoroughbred, was at the throttle and he was just as matter of fact in handling his steed as an old-time locomotive conductor.

With practiced eye he glanced at all the machinery and everything about the machine after he had concluded his circus performance and Aviator Crutkshank had again flirted with death and tossed away the red envelopes containing money orders.

The seaplane came down with a graceful glide into the Yazoo canal, when the circus performance was over, and charged up the steep, slippery bank.

The reporter was told to come aboard and walked over the bow and got his snug little seat just alongside the pilot.

There were few preliminaries. A trip through the air is just as matter of fact a performance to Applegate as eating eggs and bacon for breakfast, but he is not of the careless dare devil type, and it was with a practice eye that he viewed his machine, tested various apparatus, and carefully told the reporter just where to sit and where to place his feet and how to put on his goggles.

Third Journey Aloft

It was the writer’s third journey aloft, one trip being to Port Gibson–a thirty minute hop–and another in the Wrigley machine in Delta, when some thrillful falling leaf stunts were pulled off unexpectedly.

In the seaplane Saturday afternoon, the pilot nor the passengers were strapped in. The cockpit holds the pilot and two passengers.

The machine is credited with a speed of eighty-five miles per hour, and everything looks ship shape and sturdy.

Some of the kids on the bank are asked by the pilot to shove off the landside wing, which is hovering near the earth bank, and once the seaplane has a free channel, Applegate cranks up the propeller. He has a new cranking contrivance. He never touches the propeller, which has killed so many men and chopped off various arms in the process. Flying is being made safer, day by day.

One has absolute confidence when one steps in a big seaplane of the type that Applegate commanded. The boat looks sturdy. It responds instantly to rudder control. It moves along steadily, and it is hard for a passenger to realize that death may be a passenger.

Flight Gets Under Way

Saturday afternoon it was shortly after 3 o’clock when Applegate had his aircraft shoved out into the canal. It has been raining the afternoon, but the pattering raindrops had ceased even before the circus stunts, and everything was O.K. when the flight got under way.

Applegate headed his machine southward, down the canal. When the big propeller began whirring around several thousand times a minute, it made a big racket. One might talk, but could not be heard. The roar of the powerful gasoline engine is louder than a machine gun.

Going southward, the seaplane picks up momentum speedily. It skims over the water and the spray flies. Spectators, hundreds of whom had assembled, were speedily left in the rear. The big warehouses, one after another slide past, for the hull of the seaplane is gradually emerging from the water, and before one realizes it the water has been cleared entirely.

The machine appears to be a trifle of two or three feet above the water, and then in a moment, ten, fifty, a hundred, five hundred.

No Dizzy Feeling

There is no feeling of dizziness. The seaplane’s cockpit seems a mighty safe place. One doesn’t have time to feel uneasy, for the beautiful panorama that begins to unroll immediately attracts attention.

By the time the mouth of the Yazoo canal had been reached the seaplane had gained an altitude of approximately a thousand feet, and the machine was fighting its way through the atmosphere close on to a speed of a hundred miles an hour.

No longer is the Mississippi river a great stream. It is merely a commonplace body of water. The whole of De Soto island is a small affair. Vicksburg is a toy city. All the streets and hillsides seem flat. The bird’s-eye view shows only the roofs, and things look entirely different.

But Vicksburg is very beautiful. The green spots show up attractively. The splotches of sward and trees may be seen everywhere, and the tiny streets show as threads with an occasional toy automobile negotiating a street than seems absolutely level.

Vicksburg is a flat city just as level as any community in the delta–viewed from the air.

It is easy to pick out the thread that represents Washington street, Monroe boulevard, Cherry. And the buildings, although they bear a different aspect as seen from the top, are also easily recognizable.

Over the Mississippi

Applegate swops down and over the Mississippi river. He flies toward Delta, La., and then makes a graceful sweep back toward Mississippi.

He picks up a northward course and flies over the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroad shops. There is the sky-piercing smokestack at the shops which doesn’t seem to be much bigger than a lead pencil, viewed from a thousand feet in the air. We are about to pass over the stack from which smoke is lazily curling. Now the stack is immediately below, when Oh! Oh! we take about a twenty foot drop. We have hit an air pocket, caused by the rarified atmosphere due to the smokestack’s discharge. The drop is just like falling twenty or thirty feet in an elevator, but there is no shock. The big machine, never losing speed, sinks softly into air that is denser, more sustaining, and the thrill of dropping is speedily forgotten. The drop over the Valley shops smokestack was the only one experienced during the ten minute Saturday afternoon flight.

The seaplane, with its big boat attached beneath, moves along steadily, in the main, quite differently from the smaller plane like the one the writer traveled in to Delta and on his trip to Port Gibson.

On the first two journeys aloft there seemed numerous air pockets, many bumps, a number of sudden drops of from two to thirty feet apparently that caused a reciprocal heart jump upward. These thrills were lacking in the seaplane journey.

Sail Over Bank Building

But the Valley shops are quickly left astern. Now we are sailing over Washington street, and the squat structure we are about to sail far over is undoubtedly the imposing First National Bank, that daring “human flies” have scaled. Even from a thousand feet in the air the bank building doesn’t seem much bigger than a respectable collection of cracker boxes.

And now it is the court house, Warren county’s beautiful and classic structure. It doesn’t seem so imposing as viewed from its top side. And it looks like a mighty small edifice–this wonderful building where life and liberty battles are staged several times a year.

The court house splendidly situated on a majestic hill, seems from the air, merely to be set on a level plane with its neighbor buildings.

There aren’t any hills or ravines or bluffs from the bird viewpoint. Everything seems level, and much of the beauty, accordingly, is missed. Flying, therefore, will never furnish the beautiful thrills that a rugged country like that of Warren county presents to the automobiler who goes along the surface.

Dainty, Toylike Roads

Just a moment to view the national military park roadways, which seem dainty and toylike, but various monuments can easily be located in spite of the somewhat hazy weather. Fort Hill isn’t any hill at all. It is just a green-looking plain, for we are now passing over it, over Springfield, and heading again to the Yazoo canal after a graceful circle of the city.

Once again, a thousand feet aloft, we are spinning over the Yazoo canal.

Applegate shuts off the motor and we drop speedily, but it isn’t exciting. Down, down, down we go. It is tame as compared with the nose-dive or the falling feat that the Wrigley airplane flyer gave for my edification.

The seaplane seems about the safest plane in town, and the cockpit, undoubtedly would be a fine haven in a time of storm.

The Yazoo canal waters rise to meet us. Splash. We have hit the surface. But we are still speeding with our momentum, and the aviator again turns on “the juice.” We race through the waters and spray again flies high, but goggles protect.

Again we are nearing the landing, and we head inshore. It is all over. Goggles are removed. I clamber out to the bank after shaking Applegate’s hand and thanking him for his kindness.

Flying Thrillful Experience

The flight has taken a scarce ten minutes, but a life-time of experience has been crowded into this brief period, despite the fact that the writer had already twice been aloft.

Flying is the most wonderful invention of the ages–the most spectacular. Wireless and the whole train of inventions that have made the twentieth century wonderful and changed thought and living conditions, will mark new eras in the progress of mankind, but the art of flying will always remain the most spectacular.

From the time that man first came forth from caves, before he discovered the use of fire, before he knew how to combat wild animals, before he realized that he was superior to brute creation, he always envied birds, their majestic flights, and now Applegate and Crutkshank and their kind are daily flying and just taking it as a matter of fact.

Vicksburg Evening Post, Monday, May 28, 1923, p.1

Categories: Vicksburg

4 replies

  1. This is dramatic writing indeed.

    Vicksburg reporter/editor Frank Cashman’s later descriptions of the 1927 flood were notable enough to be cited in Pete Daniel’s book, Deep’n As it Come – The 1927 Mississippi River Flood. See http://www.theclevelandcurrent.com/index.php/news/122-a-day-in-history-a-look-back-in-time-to-the-disastrous-day-the-levee-broke.html The particular Cashman article cited in that review there can be viewed at http://newspaperarchive.com/cumberland-evening-times/1927-05-07/page-3

    A brief history of the newspaper and the Cashman family that owns it is set out here. http://www.vicksburgpost.com/pages/about_us Frank Cashman died in 1939.


  2. I completely forgot they had wireless in 1923. I guess it was the mass production of personal computers that was needed to tap into the information superhighway.

    In all seriousness, is the article referring to radio as “wireless”?


  3. Is it possible that this is a photo of Mr. Applegate and his float plane?


    By modern standards It doesn’t look nearly as sturdy as Mr. Cashman describes it. :)


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