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NSG Visit November 21,1999

Bully Hill and

The Glenn Curtiss Museum

Hammondsport, New York


Donovan A. Shilling

On Sunday, November 21, 1999, eighteen members of the New Society of the Genesee, met at the Bully Hill Winery Restaurant 500 feet above scenic Lake Keuka. Following lunch, we drove down a steep hillside road to reach Hammondsport and the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum on N Y Route 54, less than a mile outside the southwest corner of the village.

Our group had come to see the ninth annual dollhouse and miniature show that had just opened for the holiday season and continues through January 31. In the museum's large entrance lobby our attention was immediately taken by a miniature merry-go-round with prancing hand-carved horses and riders rising and falling as they revolved around and around beneath a striped top and painted medallions framed in tiny glistening lights. This was Carrol Burdick's one-twelfth-scale model of a 1928 Allen Hershel Carrousel. Nearby were other Burdick models: a popcorn wagon and a milk delivery wagon pulled by horses. Displayed in the same room were ten creches made of wood, terra cotta, porcelain, glass, metal, ebony, sandalwood, and papier-maiche collected from all over the world.

Passing on into the main exhibit area and following around the curved outer wall of the auditorium we viewed both vintage commercial and individually-built dollhousess, and beautiful dolls. In cases were miniature houses, some replicas and some fanciful, roomboxes depicting everything from a western saloon to general stores and antique shops. We saw tiny and exquisite Japanese village scenes, and one-to-eighty-seven-scale modules of Hawthorne Beach resort, Wegman's first fruit stand, the Ford's Kansas farm with the hands all costumed to Dorothy's wishes as a tin woodsman, a cowardly lion and a scare crow. There were model train layouts in a range of sizes from O down to Z gauge, two small train sets cased as coffee tables. On other tables there were: a model sawmill, a machine shop, an oil field pumping station, and a 67" long cruiseable model of the USS Antigone. Mr. Burdick who is now eighty years old had on display his working model of the famed locomotive, Jupiter, and his harvest scene featuring in miniature a 1904 Avery steamer belted to a Sawyer-Massey thresher with bundle and grain wagons alongside.

After we had saturated our senses with the miniatures we turned to the aeronautical exhibits of the museum and strolled among the full-size original and replicated airplanes. In the museum's theater we learned that Curtiss's interest in bicycles evolved from his early fascination with speed. He became a champion bicycle racer. Like the Wright brothers, he also operated bicycle shops. His first was in Hammondsport. Later others were in Bath and Corning. The Hammondsport bicycle shop was soon transformed into the Curtiss Motorcycle Factory where he developed his "Hercules Motorbike." It sold for two hundred dollars. A unique display of early motor bikes and motorcycles has been arranged within the museum. Recreated nearby is a mock-up of the Curtiss bicycle-motorcycle shop. Using his home-built V-8 powered motorcycle, Glenn Curtiss set a world land speed record flashing along Ormond Beach in Florida at 136.36 m.p.h. They called him the "Fastest Man on Earth."

His light-weight engines gained the interest of Alexander Graham Bell and brought Curtiss into the Aerial Experiment Association. Curtiss designed and flew the first American plane to fly successfully using ailerons and a landing gear. It was named the "June Bug." A full-scale replica that actually flew is displayed. Also exhibited is an actual-size reproduction of the "Silver Dart" which was another experiment of the Bell group and the first plane to fly in Canada. Its replica is a gift from the Canadian National Aviation Museum to the Curtiss Museum.

Society member Jane Davis told our group that her mother remembered watching when she was a high school senior the "happenings in the pasture lot," the early attempts to fly by the experimenters in Pleasant Valley. Not so long ago, really.

In January of 1910, Curtiss demonstratrd how bombs might be dropped from an airplane. By 1912 he'd produced the world's first "flying boat." A year later he flew his Curtiss "Hydroaeroplane" off a wooden deck constructed atop the battleship Pennsylvania. After he landed his plane in the sea next to the battleship and the plane had been raised to the deck then lowered to the water, he flew it away. That demonstration earned Glenn Curtiss the title "Father of Naval Aviation."

Among the museum's other exhibits: a 1960 copy of a 1912 Curtiss Model D pusher, a reconstructed Curtiss "Jenny" of the World War I era, a 1919 Curtiss "Oriole," and a Curtiss "Robin," the same model "Wrong-way Corrigan" flew across the Atlantic to Dublin, Ireland, in 1938 after filing a flight plan to fly west. There is a three-quarters model of a P-40 fighter and an original Link trainer. That's the one designed by Edwin A Link in the basement of his dad's piano company in Binghamton, New York. Completed in 1942, Link's "blue box" was an invaluable asset in training pilots during World War II.

The museum also displays a Curtiss "Aerocar," the fore-runner of our modern travel trailers. Built on a spruce wood frame covered with plywood and canvas, the nineteen-foot-long, "motor bungalow" or "land yacht" seats six, has balloon tires, pull-down sleeping racks, and in 1919, sold for $2500.

Glenn Hammond Curtiss died in 1930 at age 52 the victim, some rumored, of a botched appendectomy. A proud tribute to his legacy lives on in the Hammondport museum.

From the many exhibits and the competent knowledge of Director / Curator Kirk House and the museum staff, visitors can learn much about Glenn Curtiss and those legendary aeronauts who took part in the early days of flight.

© 1999, Donovan A. Shilling
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