Apr 29, 2014
07:35 AM
Connecticut Today

Whitehead Possibly Flew Before Wright Brothers; His House Crashes, Definitely

Whitehead Possibly Flew Before Wright Brothers; His House Crashes, Definitely

Erik Ofgang/Connecticut Magazine

The remains of the Fairfield house once owned by aviation pioneer Gustave Whitehead, said by many to have flown before the Wright Brothers.

The Fairfield house once owned by aviation pioneer Gustave Whitehead—increasingly declared to have flown before the Wright Brothers—has crashed to the ground, victim of a demolition ordered by the property developer who owns the site, which took place Monday despite protests and attempts to save the house.

The battle over the future of Whitehead's house may be over, but the battle over whether he or the Wright Brothers can truly and rightfully claim the honor of being the first to make a powered flight is sure to continue.

See our 2013 story on claims that Whitehead flew before the Wright Brothers, which says in part:

The debate as to who achieved powered flight first—the celebrated Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 or the enigmatic German immigrant Gustave Whitehead (Gustav Weisskopf) in Bridgeport in 1901—has been raging for decades, coming to a head recently after Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, the accepted authority on all things aviation, supported Whitehead’s claim as the first to have flown in the foreward of its most recent edition. The article was based on the exhaustive research of John Brown, an aviation historian who uncovered significant evidence, including long-lost photos, to make a compelling case for Whitehead.

Meanwhile, the efforts to save Whitehead's house had never gotten off the ground, and on Tuesday morning all that remained was a pile of debris that workers were loading into a portable dumpster.

Many in the community had rallied in support of preserving the house, but early Tuesday morning Jim Salce—who had been part of effort to save the house—was the only one standing vigil across the street

“I’m here to see the end of it,” he said looking over the site. “It’s a part of a person’s great history.”

He added, “There might be some old motors buried there.”

Those who wanted to see the house saved hoped that they could prove it was built 100 years ago, which would have meant it qualified for a 60-day reprieve from demolition based on the town’s laws. This would have given preservationists time to find a place where the house could be moved and allowed them to raise funds to restore it.

However, this argument didn’t fly, as a review of town documents earlier in the week did not show that the house met the 100-year requirement.

Salce, who lives a few blocks away from where the house once stood, says he would have liked to see the town do more to preserve the structure. He and his wife got involved with the movement to save the house a few weeks ago and were surprised by how passionate about it they ultimately became.

“We hadn’t intended to be this active,” he said. He added that looking over the remains of the house was difficult. “It’s emotional, I got a little choked up yesterday.”

Salce said the laws regarding historical preservation should be changed, as in this instance what made the house special was not its age but its connection to an important figure in aviation and Connecticut history.

“I think the laws should be changed; it has to be less than 100 years when a famous person has lived in the house,” he said.

Before the house was razed, measurements of it were taken and there is talk of one day possibly building a replica, but Salce said that wouldn’t be the same. He repeated the words of a fellow protester who said, “I would have liked to walk on the floors that Gustave Whitehead walked on.”

 

Whitehead Possibly Flew Before Wright Brothers; His House Crashes, Definitely

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