Bakersfield Aviation Meet

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Bakersfield has played host to many spectacular events throughout its history, and having the second air meet in the entire United States was definitely one such instance.

The day was January 30, 1910, not much long after Los Angeles had wowed the world with the very first air meet. Charles K. Hamilton—affectionately known as “the crazy man of the sky” in those times—was slated to fly his biplane through the skies above Bakersfield, but, as with most great ventures, it wasn’t without a little drama.

Courtesy of the Michael J Semas Collection

Courtesy of the Michael J Semas Collection

In a bitter dispute about the legalities surrounding Hamilton flying in Bakersfield before Fresno, the two cities spared no jabs when reporting on the matter. In an article that ran in The Bakersfield Morning Echo the actual day of the race, “Despite the report that he would be enjoined from flying in his Curtiss biplane, Charles K. Hamilton, of Hammondsport, New York, will give his usual biplane program at Hudnut Field [in what was then the north side of Bakersfield] today in the first heavier than air flying machine to be seen in the valley. And incidentally the city of Fresno has a bad case of sour grapes, but it can’t be helped. The Raisin City must wait and take a back seat to Bakersfield, the best, liveliest and most up to date city in the valley.” Sour grapes, indeed!

Hamilton was under contractual obligation to fly in certain areas between an allotted period of time, and Bakersfield wasn’t on the roster. He didn’t pass up the opportunity to amaze residents with his passion for flying—all under the agreement that if he were to pass away during his show in Bakersfield, the city of Fresno could pursue legal action! Fortunately, no such suit was needed. A whopping 8,000 people attended to bear witness to Hamilton’s greatness.

While many were amazed at the spectacle, locals were not to be outdone, as an article from The Bakersfield Californian detailed that one of their own reporters, Donald MacGregor, had some fancy ariel work of his own that he showed off that day. MacGregor “made a balloon ascension and a parachute leap…the most sensational feature of the day.” According to his own account, “When W.G. Lutz…mentioned to me that there was a hot air bag and parachute in his cellar, and that he could get someone to go up in that, I immediately said: ‘I’m your man.’ …He seemed to think I was either joking or crazy, and scoffed at the idea of my going up…When I saw that he would never let me go up otherwise, I told him I had been up before. Then he fell for it.”

An air show for the ages, subterfuge, and feuding cities? How could anyone could top all that is still a question residents may ask themselves to this very day!

Bakersfield Aviation Meet, 1910

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