Immense Crowd Sees Genuine Aeroplane in Flight

William M. Evans
Mr. Evans will make flights daily during the progress of the punkin show and this feature alone will doubtless be the cause of many hundreds of people attending.
- Maryville Tribune, 21 September 1910, p. 1.

The main attraction of the whole affair, the star performer that played the leading role and occupied the center of the stage under the limelight, was the 'flying machine.'' It was the one topic and subject of all conversation,” said the Skidmore New Era.

Could such a thing really happen? Was it possible to see a man - one all the way from Kansas City, to be sure, but still only a man - fly as the birds do? The townspeople of Skidmore and the surrounding area had come together as one “highly skeptical crowd, who was loathe to believe from the first that Skidmore could sufficiently 'raise the wind' to launch a genuine aeroplane.”

“From the very start the managers of the Punkin Show realized that their greatest difficulty in getting the crowd here would be to convince the people that we would have on exhibition a real aeroplane and not a fake, but that was impossible to convince them of this fact before the machine flew, as the largest cities of the country had signally failed in this undertaking and it seemed the height of egotism in a town of 800 to announce to the people that they were undertaking to do what only a very few cities of the United States and Europe had actually accomplished.” - Skidmore New Era, 29 September 1910.

The Show-Me State residents were naturally skeptical, but the very first exhibition on Wednesday morning had fueled the fire of their doubt. Captain Evans had successfully launched his plane and made a flight of about 200 feet high for three-quarters of a mile, but a short turn brought the plane crashing to the ground, and the day's flying turned into a day of repairs. “Every telephone wire in the country” spread the word that “the flying machine broke down and couldn't fly.”

“Nevertheless,” the paper reported, “the people were here Thursday morning,” and “Thursday noon witnessed the largest crowd perhaps ever in town, estimated at all the way from 6,000 to 8,000 people.” Not bad for a little Northwest Missouri town of 800.

“Some came out of sheer curiosity, doubting in their own minds that they would really see a machine fly through the air; others to see the unlimited gall of a little city the size of Skidmore that had the nerve to advertise that they were going to give an exhibition equal to that which is now exciting the attention of two worlds.”

Crowds, it seemed, were fairly easy to get. Paying crowds were more difficult, and Evans would see that pattern at other exhibitions throughout his career.

“When 2 o'clock came Captain Evans announced that he was going to fly and the large crowd as one man, went to the aviation grounds, most of them stopped at the gate on the hill, where they could witness the flight from a distance without costing them a cent, preferring to save their 'two bits' to buy popcorn and red lemonade, rather than spend it to see a scientific theory demonstrated, besides that times were to hard to spend their money on flying machines and such trash and they anyway needed it to buy tickets to the minstrel in the big tent.” - Skidmore New Era, 29 September 1910.

The aviation grounds were ready. Evans and his mechanic, H. H. Boore, had reviewed the terrain before the start of the exhibitions and had pronounced it good for flying. The makeshift aviation field was actually a clover field, donated for free to the Punkin Show by W. J. Skidmore. M. A. Sewell had contributed free use of his pastures “for to place automobiles and teams” during the Punkin Show. Parking was an issue, even when some of the vehicles were still hay-and-oat-powered.

The crowd may have stayed back for financial reasons, “But when Captain Evans took his seat on his little craft, placed his hands on the steering wheel and pressed the button with his foot that turned on the current on the motor and set the great propeller in motion which caused a buzzing sound that could be heard a quarter of a mile, instantly the crowd that stood on the 'free line' broke through the fence like the rush of a mighty avalanche, and the guards who were stationed along in front of the line said that it would have taken an army ten thousand strong with gatling guns to have kept them back.”

Early aeroplane in flight. William M. Evans at Skidmore, Missouri Punkin Show, 1910. Evans and his aeroplane soared over Skidmore and astonished the crowd. "We should congratulate ourselves," the New Era said, "that he did what he did, and that we have had the rare pleasure of witnessing a heavier than air flying machine, an aeroplane of the most modern type."

Next: The Man-Birds Race