This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Music on the Wing

08 February 2020

It's been a human desire
since the dawn of time.
A universal dream of mankind
that always seemed impossible
until suddenly it became possible.
A wonder so amazingly achievable that
even young boys might do it.

And if two children
then why not more?
Perhaps a sextet
of female musicians,
with chaperones too,
could experience this new marvel.

It was a triumph of human invention.
What was once absurd to imagine
was now so believable
that any man, woman, or child,
or even all three,
could indulge in the dream.

What was this dream turned real?

Human flight.

The first two lads sit apprehensively
in a flimsy painted canvas monoplane
that seems to be flying high above
a body of water while
looking down on a great metropolis.
The city is Zurich, identified alongside
the photographer's name Photo-Rapid in the lower corner.
The words Gesetzl. geschützt. means VAT. protected,
an apt phrase for a Swiss postcard.
Above the logo is the northern outflow
of Lake Zürich or Zürichsee
beginning the Limmat River .

Rudolf sent this card on 21 November 1911.
I think he may be one of the boys.

* * *

The second image comes from another postcard
depicting a similar imitation single-wing monoplane.
Seated comfortably in the plane's fake fuselage
are the Harzer Damen-Orchester,
a German ladies orchestra,
of six women directed by Herr Herman Ernst,
who looks as if he is standing on the far wing.
Painted on the side is a name, Rumpler – Taube.
Taube is German for pigeon,
and Rumpler was
an early German manufacturer of airplanes.

Like Rudolf and his young friend flying over Zurich
these musical ladies and gentleman, with their stalwart pilot,
are airborne above a sizeable town on a river.
This is Heidelberg, Germany on the Neckar River.
The postmark date is 6 July 1913
sent from Heidelberg.
There is also an imprint
for the Odeon-Palace in Heidelberg
which is presumably where
Herr Ernst and his orchestra were performing.

* * *

The third colorful image
comes from another Swiss postcard
which shows a cartoon of a happy family
in an open Wright brothers style biplane
high above a snow covered town.
Mother and father toast the new year, Bonne année,
while seated precariously on the nose flap
is baby, perhaps the designated pilot,
wearing cupid's wings
and holding a bow and quiver of arrows.

This card's postmark is dated 29 December 1911
from La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland,
a city famous for its watch makers.

* * *

Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first successful attempt at powered flight in a double wing machine on December 17, 1903 over the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Over the next two years they worked on improvements to their design, but made no flights in 1906 or 1907.  By 1908 the brothers had enough confidence in their biplane and sufficient experience as pilots to believe they could reliably demonstrate their invention in a controlled flight. 

In May 1908 Wilbur Wright took their flying machine to France in an effort to get a contract with the French military. He began public demonstrations on August 8, 1908, flying over a horse racing track near Le Mans, France. The first people who witnessed him flying seated on the open wing and managing the airplane with apparent ease were amazed. Soon thousands more people came to see for themselves. Not only was this a momentous feat of modern engineering, it was a mind-bending revolution in human imagination. Man could now fly.

The Wright brothers were not the only inventors pursuing the dream of powered flight. They were just the first, and contrary to the American myth, it was their success in Europe, not the United States that made them famous. By the fall of 1908 Wilbur was taking up single passengers in his machine. By February 1909 he began teaching three Frenchmen how to fly the Wright airplane.

During the summer of 1909, Orville Wright traveled to Germany where he demonstrated their airplane to the Kaiser in Berlin on August 30. Hundreds of thousands of people saw him fly. By October he set a new unofficial altitude record by soaring to 1,600 feet. Soon there would be a factories in France and Germany turning out Wright flyers.

The Wright brother's competition was not fixed-wing aircraft but Count Zeppelin's giant dirigibles filled with hydrogen gas. Zeppelin flew his first airship in 1900 but it was not until November 1909 that his improved designs became feasible and practical for constructing multiple airships suitable for commercial use.  Yet as history would prove in the following decades, the future of human flight would not be in lighter-than-air dirigibles. Birds flew with wings, not giant gas sausages. Mankind would soon fly with wings too.

The last two images depict single wing aeroplanes
very like the painted theatrical models used
by the Swiss and German photographers.
This one comes from a postcard photo of a monoplane
resembling a dragon fly hovering above
a busy city boulevard. It is captioned:
1140.  PARIS – L'Avenue de l'Opera   N.D. Phot.

It was postmarked 28 November 1910 from France,
and addressed to Emile Weber of Zurich
from his brother Hans.

* * *

The last image is a colorized photo print from a German postcard.
It shows a long line of Germany soldiers
with a birdlike airplane above them.
It is captioned:
Antreten zum Parademarsch ~ Start for the parade march

In the foreground is a fife and drum corp
playing next to a Germany military band.
All are wearing the distinctive Pickelhauben spiked helmets
of the Imperial German Army.
This postcard was sent from Hannover
via free military Feldpost
on 28 May 1915.

It was the ninth month of the Great War.
Zeppelins and aeroplanes

were now demonstrating
many new applications of flight
that were not part of the original dream.

Last year the world celebrated the 50th anniversary
of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.
It represents the pinnacle of human achievement.
But though we worried about whether it would succeed,
the science was never in doubt.
Throughout the preparation, planning, and testing
people around the world could follow the idea
toward the final goal of leaving a human footprint on the moon.

But what the Wright brothers achieved
inspired a very different sense of astounding wonder.
The ancient dream of mankind to fly like a bird
had become a reality.
Imagination was no longer needed
we could see it on a postcard.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where sometimes we like to pretend
we know what we are doing.


La Nightingail said...

A great take on the prompt - the first 3 postcards in particular going fakingly to the air! But I really liked your continuance with the history of flight. One of your observances in particular made me nod immediately in sad agreement: "Zeppelins and aeroplanes were now demonstrating many new applications of flight that 'were not part of the original dream'." Chilling and much too true!

Avid Reader said...

These prints are so charming!

ScotSue said...

What a wonderful collection of images! I have so many favourites - top the Damen Orchester and the illustration of the family with the child - you could not help, but smile st that.

JohnF said...

Great photo of the two boys

Molly of Molly's Canopy said...

Historically interesting post. I particularly like the Swiss postcards, since I have Swiss immigrant ancestors who lived in New York's Adirondacks region. I have long theorized that they liked the area because, with its tall mountains, lakes in summer and snow in winter, it reminded them of home. These two postcards appear to support that theory. I also love the postcard of the plane over Paris. As a city dweller, I got a kick out of the busy urban pedestrians totally ignoring what must have been a remarkable sight at the time!

Barbara Rogers said...

Those fake planes certainly looked scary the way people were perched above the ground. Perhaps the artists had never flown themselves. Loved your history of flight lesson...very interesting!

Wendy said...

I wonder if we will ever be amazed like that again.


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