A Father’s Journal: It’s not Wright! Fairfield right to claim ‘First in Flight’ laurels
Updated 11:44 am, Monday, September 7, 2015
While talking with my daughter, who is back at college in South Carolina, she casually dropped the line, “I met a girl who went to First Flight High School in North Carolina.” She knows I would be interested in it, as I have been following the recent developments of a group in Connecticut that claim Gustave Whitehead was first in flight, over two years earlier than the Wright Brothers who flew in Kill Devil Hills, just a few miles south of Kitty Hawk, N.C.
North Carolina claims First in Flight on their license plate. And in the small town of Kill Devil Hills, there is a First Flight Elementary School, First Flight Middle School and First Flight High School.
According to Jane's “All The World's Aircraft,” the Connecticut legislature, the Connecticut governor and just about any other Connecticut-elected official, it was Gustave Whitehead who first flew in Fairfield, Conn., in 1901. We have flowery proclamations, yet no schools named after him and no big monuments. Bridgeport has that one monument near the McDonald’s, on that center median, just off the highway. Every time I see it, it has been dinged up either by motorists taking the turn too tight, or by disgruntled North Carolinians.
If we Nutmeggers are right, then maybe Kill Devil Hills should change the names of their schools. Caroline’s friend could have gone her entire pre-college life to a school named First Flight. I have some ideas for new names for the schools. How about Buzz Aldrin Middle School (second man to walk on the moon) or perhaps Pete Best Elementary, or maybe Liar, Liar High School with a mascot someone with their pants on fire?
We also have a middle school and high school named after the same guy, Roger Ludlowe. Ludlowe was one of the founders of Connecticut, Fairfield and Norwalk. Just like the First Flight schools, it has a connection to our license plate (from a tourist perspective North Carolina’s license plate kills us). In addition to being a founder, he was also a framer of a document called the Fundamental Orders, which we claim on our license plate is the world's first written constitution for a self-governing people. My daughters, one who has graduated and one who now attends Fairfield Ludlowe High School, did not know that. They could also not tell me why we in Fairfield spell it with an E at the end of his last name, but most everyone else spells it without.
So, if we are to be taken seriously we need a big monument and maybe we need to change a school name. I understand Fairfield has established a monument committee, and that committee has submitted ideas to the first selectman. Good start. May I suggest that the monument be erected away from vehicular traffic and in a conspicuous area? Funding it may be trickier. While they like to unanimously make flowery declarations, the legislature may be harder to part with a buck. Maybe we need a public/private thing. I am sure the committee has already figured that out.
Now for the school. We have an extra Ludlow(e) and they have three extra First Flights. I suggest an even swap. We get one First Flight and they get a Ludlowe. We could probably specify that they leave the (E) on. Maybe that could be a bargaining chip. They could even lay claim then to the Constitution State. It has done nothing for us in terms of tourism and most of us don’t know anything about it.
Roger Ludlowe would love to be in a place with a “devil” in its name. As a Puritan, he saw the devil behind almost every hill. He ran into a bit of trouble here in Connecticut over it. He was tried for slandering Mrs. Mary Staples of Fairfield. He claimed she was a witch.
So, even trade on the school, work on the monument. I would like to propose one last thing — when we enter Connecticut state lines, maybe change the welcome sign to say First in Flight. We change part of the sign every time we have a new governor. Does the fact that the governor welcomes you mean anything to a visitor? “Oh look dear, Dannel P. Malloy welcomes us! I feel special. I would like to spend some money here.” Next time we get a new governor, maybe make their name a little smaller and put in First in Flight. It would cost us nothing. If we do nothing, it makes us look like our pants are on fire.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday. Email him at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.