History Nebraska Blog

A Birdman at the Fair

Walsh at Chadron 26459
Charles F. Walsh and his plane at Chadron, September 13, 1911. RG3340.PH3-49

The star attraction of the 1911 Dawes County Fair in Chadron, held September 12-15, was the twice-daily exhibition flights by barnstormer Charles F. Walsh (1877-1912)., a native of California. Walsh, flying a Curtiss biplane, was advertised by the Chadron Journal on September 15  to be “the first aviator to make a flight in Northwest Nebraska. Our skies are used to ducks and other birds but never before have they had bird men going and coming as gracefully as the eagle.” Walsh experienced only a slight mechanical problem with an engine switch during his flights at Chadron.

But he wasn’t so lucky at Kearney, where during a previous exhibition flight on August 4, the plane ran into a telephone wire and crashed into a cottonwood tree. Walsh, unhurt, arranged for another plane to be shipped to Kearney and on August 9 made six successful flights before a crowd of about four thousand people. From Kearney Walsh traveled to Fremont, where he ran into legal difficulties after his exhibition flight’s emergency landing damaged a farmer’s cornfield.

Walsh Plane in the Air
Walsh flying at Chadron, September 13, 1911. RG3340. PH3-50

Shortly after his appearance at Chadron in mid-September, Walsh was in Neligh, where “after the first flight the machine was wrecked and the driver thrown out.” Fortunately, the aviator wasn’t hurt. In October Walsh made exhibition flights in Beatrice at the Gage County Fair, October 2-6, where he told the Beatrice Express on October 5 that he had been flying for a year and a half and that “ there is very little danger in a straight-away flight. It is cutting the fancy stunts that has caused the death of so many of the birdmen.”

Walsh’s words now seem prophetic. His flying career came to an abrupt end scarcely a year later,  when he plunged to his death on October 3, 1912, during an exhibition flight in Trenton, New Jersey. He was reportedly attempting his crowd-pleasing “dip of death” stunt at the time. 

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