Pacific Northwest | August 31, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineAugust 31, 2003seattletimes.com home
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COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
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NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

Tracking the Takeoff
Photo
COURTESY OF MARY RANDLETT AND DONALD WILLIS
Portions of Boeing Field and West Marginal Way now run through the site of the old oval center field of the Meadows Race Track south of Georgetown. In 1910, the track was temporarily converted into the airport for the first heavier-than-air flight over Seattle. Fittingly, the site is a little ways north of the Museum of Flight.

 
 Photo
PAUL DORPAT
FOR THREE DAYS running — March 12-14, 1910 — the early American barnstormer Charles Hamilton gave Seattle its first demonstration of heavier-than-air flying. The 29-year-old chose the Meadows Race Track for his airport, though its fluidity on demonstration day apparently necessitated the plank runway shown here.

The Meadows opened in 1902 south of Georgetown. It was surrounded on three sides by one of the many loops in the then-still-serpentine Duwamish River. Hamilton also chose the track because it had a gate and bleachers — for 10,000. The daredevil did not select the track for its wetlands, but when he crashed on the third day they were appreciated; he landed in a lake. Hamilton and his plane were soon patched to fly again only a dozen days later over Vancouver, B.C., where he used the Minoru Park Race Track as his airport.

Hamilton leased his racer in 1909 from Glenn Curtis, the pilot who made it and taught him how to fly. He got a winner, for his Herring-Curtis Model D had earlier that year won races in France and Italy, and had set a speed record of 55 miles an hour over the Dominguez Hills in Los Angeles before a crowd estimated at 30,000.

This photo of the pilot, his racer and a pack of admirers was taken by Cecil D. Willis, who began experimenting with his camera as a lad and went on to a successful career in optics and printing. His photography must pale beside the brilliant work of his prolific and prize-winning daughter, Mary Randlett, who began sensitively recording the region's art, artists and natural splendors soon after she graduated from Whitman College in 1947. The University of Washington library archives recently acquired her life work.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

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