Author John Zobel Visits Martin Mitchell, Exploring the Bluemont Connection to Early Flight

By Susan Freis Falknor

Author John Zobel of Seattle visited Martin Mitchell December 5, 2016, to fill in his mental picture of Jerome Fanciulli, publicist of early flight, who worked for aircraft pioneer Glenn Curtiss from 1909-1912.

Zobel came to Bluemont in search of insights on Fanciulli--to better understand what went on at a personal level among the players in the ambitious, risky, fast-moving, acrimonious, lawsuit-riddled, small world of those who explored the development of man-guided flight.

By the time the Fanciullis came to Bluemont in 1943, Fanciulli was working as a Baltimore-area Ford dealer, landing contracts for fleets of trucks to the government.

As a young man, Bluemonter Martin Mitchell began by cutting Fanciulli's lawn and eventually became his trusted driver. Martin's daughter Sandy Cochran joined the meeting to share her own youthful recollections of Fanciulli, who died in 1986.

Zobel looked over Martin's collections of commemorative exhibition pamphlets, magazine articles, and post cards from Fanciulli. (For more on the Bluemont early flight connection, see our earlier story: "Bluemonter Jerome Fanciulli, Publicist of Early Flight," [http://bluemontva.org/article20151016Fanciulli.html ])

Zobel is writing a biography about early flyer Eugene Ely who, in on November 14, 1910, became the first to make a ship-to-land flight. The ship -- a U.S. Navy light cruiser, the USS Birmingham in San Francisco Bay-- was fitted out for the takeoff with a temporary platform across the bow. As Zobel relates in a follow-up email to his visit:

"I ran across Ely's name by accident six years ago while doing research for a novel. The centennial of his historic ship flights (1910-1911) happened to be coming up just then, so my father (Hiller B. Zobel) and I decided to write an article about it. Here's the link to the article: http://bit.ly/pFcGas ("Those Magnificent Men: 100 Years Of Naval Aviation: A century ago, a skilled and fearless stunt pilot landed a wire-and-wood aircraft on a ship's deck -- and introduced the era of naval aviation," by Hiller B. Zobel and John H. Zobel, American Heritage, Winter 2011).

"My forthcoming Ely biography is called Gods in Machines: Eugene Ely and the Road to the Sky. I maintain an early-aviation blog of the same name, which you can find at www.johnzobel.com. It has vignettes of many other early aviators; the 8/5/16 entry, "Air Mail," is about Earle Ovington, who sent the postcard to Jerome Fanciulli that's among Mr. Mitchell's items."

 
John Zobel (left) & Martin Mitchell, 12-08-2016  

Ely flew for Curtiss from the summer of 1910 to October 1911, when killed in a flying accident two days short of his 21st birthday. Although he performed in Curtiss's famous open-air demonstrations, Zobel pointed out, Ely was not among the daredevils like Lincoln Beachy who mainly "wanted to find out what a guy could do with an airplane."

Ely was trying to move over to the nascent manufacturing side of the airplane business when he died.