kATE cAREW'S iNTERVIEW
 

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[Ed. -- Kate Carew was the first woman journalist to become famous for her interviews, the forerunner of Barbara Walters and Katy Couric.  She was born Mary Williams in 1869, trained at the San Francisco School of Design, and went to work for Joseph Pultizer’s The New York World in 1890 where she contributed interviews of the rich and famous.  A talented artist, she drew playful cartoons of her subjects to put them at ease and then signed these sketches “Kate Carew.” A list of the people whom she interviewed and caricatured reads like a Who’s Who of the Gilded Age: Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Gish, Jack London, William Butler Yeats; Pablo Picasso; Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, D. W. Griffith, J. P. Morgan, Charles Schwab and countless others. For Wilbur and Orville Wright to have been included in this pantheon marked them as men of considerable accomplishment and public stature.

 Kate met Will and Orv for their interview and drew their caricatures in early 1910. It was a busy time for the Wrights. Orville had just returned from Germany where he had flown for the Crown Prince and his court. On this side of the Atlantic, Wilbur had concluded negotiations with a group of high-powered investors (some of whom Kate had interviewed) to set up the Wright Company to manufacture airplanes. They had filed the first round of law suits to protect their patent, were preparing to start a flying school, and were recruiting potential pilots for an exhibition team. It’s no wonder that Kate begins her interview by telling her readers that the Wright brothers had only managed to squeeze her in.

Although rushed for time, Kate nonetheless worked the magic she was famous for and got Wilbur and Orville to reveal something of their private selves. She drew out their humor and their wit. They were playful, even giddy as she talked with them. They put aside the serious persona that they projected to the world and showed her that they in no way took themselves seriously. As delightful and as revealing as this interview was, it was forgotten soon after it was published in The World. Wright scholars were unaware of its existence until Kate Carew’s granddaughter, Christine Chambers, sent us a photocopy of a tattered, deteriorating page from the January 23, 1910 edition of The New York World. We immediately recognized it for the historic treasure it was and are proud publish it again. Our thanks to Ms. Chambers for allowing us to share this with you.]

       
 


Kate Carew

Kate Carew Interviews

the Wright Brothers

 

And asks whether flying is healthy,
whether it is more dangerous than motoring,
how much a perfectly good “Flyer” costs, 
whether woman passengers are hard to manage,
what happens when the motor stops, 
which was the first to think of flying –

And here are the answers.
 

 

wo of them – gracious! Could I manage it? Would they speak together or separately? Should I look at one as I asked a question of the other? Were the Wright brothers to be regarded as a single being or could I charge the Sunday World  for TWO interviews? (What ho, a brilliant thought!)

They were to leave for Boston at 8 and had made hurried arrangements to give me a few minutes between dinner and train time – a flying talk with the flying men, so to speak.

'Twas a brave background for the interview – lots of marble and onyx and sweeping palms with troops of well-fed hotel guests marching and countermarching digestively to the strains of an embowered band.

By and by they came up from the grill, MM. Wright frères, as they say in France, and ambled unhappily in my direction, keeping close together for moral support and looking as if they devoutly wished the roof would open and let them fly away in a Wright biplane–indeed, I believe they’d have strapped themselves to a monoplane or even a sufficiently large skyrocket.

I know that feeling so well my heart fairly ached for those young men, but just the same it gave me a malicious satisfaction for once to see the other side do the suffering, leaving me to play the self-possessed part.

And I did. My dears, you should have just seen me. I’ve long suspected, and now I’m perfectly sure that if destiny had been decent enough to make me a duchess I’d have –

One of the Wright brothers dropped his hat and the other very nearly dropped his, but I rose to the occasion with that exquisite tact which – well, anyhow we got ourselves settled without further accident and made a nice little triangle, me on a sofa and the Wright brothers on two chairs. I had hoped they would sit on ONE chair, which would have made it easier for me, but perhaps they feared it might attract too much attention.

We attracted a good deal as it was, for this was in the main corridor of the Hotel Manhattan. Many a head was turned our way, with many a whispered word and nudging elbow, but – would you believe – it was all on account of the fame of those two Wright brothers – no, dears, not a word or glance at your Aunt Kate, though she looked as duchessy as she could.

The Wright brothers by this time had stopped being frightened and started to giggle – especially the one on my left. I had never assisted at a giggling interview and didn’t know how it would work, but obviously the first thing to do was to get them separated and identified, so I should know which was which, and I hastened to call them to order with this proposal, whereupon the one on my left – the giggler of the two –exclaimed:

“Oh, it doesn’t matter in the least.”

To which the one on my right added facetiously: “There are only a few hairs difference.”

Both chirruped and crowed in chorus, and I observed that while the left Mr. Wright was quite bald on top, the right Mr. Wright still had a fluffy topknot, jutting out like a peninsula between his ample and ivoried temples. Also, he looked younger and more sentimental. Item: One dark, neat little mustache.

“Your sure to get us mixed up anyway and put our names under the wrong pictures,” said the first one, who was the taller of the two and had a fight face, rough-hewn, as if with an axe, on the old Uncle Sam model. And oh, how he laughed! I looked appealingly at the younger one and he instantly sobered down and tried to catch the big one’s eye, failing which he enlightened me with:

“He’s Wilbur and I’m Orville.”

Tag them while you think of it, please. Wilbur is the bald Wright brother, Orville the Wright brother with a mustache; Wilbur is all action, Orville looks as if he has affections as well; Wilbur is a family cut-up, Orville you’d go to with your troubles.

“Is flying a healthy sport,” I demanded, trying to look them both in the eye, but making such a wobbly performance of it that I ended by settling my wistful gaze on Wilbur.

“That all depends,” said Wilbur, choking back a fresh crop of chortles, “on how slow you fly.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it mightn’t be at all healthy if you flew too fast” – and he cut loose so explosively that again my eyes flew appealingly to Orville.

“He means,” translated Orville, chivalrously suppressing his own chuckles, “that you might get a fall, and, of course, that wouldn’t be healthy.”

And then Wilbur then controlled his risibles long enough to say:

“Why, yes, I guess it’s healthy enough. You get away from the dust and microbes, and mosquitoes.”

“And then,” added Orville, “you can get up high enough to get a mountain climate.”

“Have you ever been up that far?”

“Oh, yes,” he murmured in his modest way, and I had to drag from him the fact that at Potsdam, Germany, he climbed the sky 1,000 feet, which is a good elevation in the Adirondacks. It was in the presence of the German Emperor and Court, but he didn’t think it worth while to mention that.

“Did you find it wonderfully stimulating?”

“I didn’t have time to think about that.”

He looked uneasily across at Wilbur, struggling to keep a straight face, and I became aware that Wilbur was trying to upset his gravity by making mouths. Master Wilbur should have been stood in a corner or packed off to bed without any supper, but as both courses seemed impracticable, I tried to keep him out of mischief with a question.

“Have you ever felt afraid up in the air?”

“No more than on the water,” grinned Wilbur. “There are not so many rocks up in the air, and there’s certainly no more danger.”

“Is flying as safe as motoring?”

“Safer. You’re not always wondering what’s going to come round the corner ahead.”

“Are there any signs of our young millionaires taking up flying as a sport?”

“Yes, I think there are.” 

“Are you manufacturing any racing machines?”

“Not just now, but we intend to.”

“How much can I buy one for?”

“Seven thousand five hundred-dollars.”

“Is that all? It doesn’t seem like an outside price for a perfectly good airship?”

“Airship!” shouted the Wright brothers indignantly.

“Is that the wrong word?”

“An airship,” said Wilbur contemptuously, “is a big, clumsy balloon filled with gas.”

“Well, I don’t see why your biplane shouldn’t be called an airship, too.”

“It’s a flying machine,” said Wilbur.

“The name we prefer is ‘flyer,’” said Orville.

“An airship would cost $50,000,” said Wilbur.

“More like $150,000,” said Orville, and they argued the question.

“How long will it take you to build your flyers,” I asked.

“We expect to have some on the market be June,” said Wilbur.

And of course, dears, I tried my level best to find out who among our gilded youth had ordered flyers for the next season at Newport, but those unfeeling Wright brothers wouldn’t mention a single name, so you’ll have to keep on guessing.

Neither would they say a word about the law suits they’re brining right and left against other flying men to stop them from using devices which other flying men say should be free to all flying men, inasmuch as they were used by pioneer experimenters long before the Wright brothers stopped mending their bicycles and took to the air.
 


Kate Carew's first impression of the dynamic duo.

“Isn’t wind a danger to the flyer?”

“Our flyers can fly in any wind,” said Orville rather rashly.

“Really? Even a gale?”

“That depends on what you call a gale,” said Wilbur. “I should call the flyer as safe as a ship.” (I know somebody who doesn’t like the water and his name begins with a “W” – tra-la!) “Our flier is built on the principle of a bird and you don’t see many birds out in a gale.”

“Is flying good fun for women?”

“Best thing in the world for them,” declared Wilbur. “You ought to –“

“Please don’t invite me, I begged. “I won’t go!”

“Oh, you won’t be a bit frightened when you’ve seen our machine go up once or twice.”

“Our sister has been up two or three times and she’s crazy about it,” said Orville, encouragingly.

“We’ve taken other women passengers, too,” said Wilbur.

“Have you found them hard to manage?”

“They’re much better than men,” said Wilbur warmly. “They don’t fidget and jump around at the start, as men always do.”

And yet they deny us the suffrage, dears.

“What would happen,” I asked anxiously,” if you were away up in the air and the motor suddenly stopped running?”

“Oh, that would be all right,” put in Orville eagerly. “We’d just coast down.”

Whoop! I almost grabbed my hat. COAST down – on NOTHING.

“Why, that’s the way we always come down when we want to land,” added Orville.

And I decided then a there that the old rocking chair was sport enough for me.

Which reminded me that I wanted to find out just what flyers were likely to be good for besides sport.

“Will they ever be transporting large numbers of people as railroads are?” I asked.

“No,” said Wilbur. “That would be too expensive.”

“Or for carrying freight?”

“Nope.”

“They could be used for first-class mail,” put in Orville, hopefully.

“That’s about all in time of peace,” added Wilbur.

“And in war?”

“Chiefly for scouting, reconnoitering the enemies position, and so on.”

Not for transporting troops?”

“No – you’d need too many of them.”

“Or for dropping bombs and things on people?”

“Of yes – you never can tell,” said Wilbur cold-bloodedly.

“Would they make forts and battleships useless?”

“No, I guess not.”

“So, to come back to the realm of sport, they’ll be the automobiles of the air?”

“With no tires to burst,” said Wilbur.

“And when every respectable family in Fifth Avenue and the upper west side has one or two flyers, and the air is full of them in pleasant weather, what will be the possibilities of a summer trip to San Francisco?"

There was a pause, then:

“That’ll be practicable enough,” said Orville quietly. “By that time there are sure to be stations in every town for landing a launching of flying machines and the supply of gasoline. And so you could make the San Francisco trip in stages of say 500 miles, flying, say, ten hours a day. The figures are only approximate, but they are well within present possibilities. That would make it an easy six-day trip, and, of course, you could shorten the time by flying twelve, fourteen or more hours each day.

The thought of gliding as swift and as straight as the wild geese over the Rockies and the Sierra, prairies, canyons, deserts, by sunlight or starlight, was a breath-taking one to be launched so confidently by a harmless looking young man under the drowsy glances of well-fed perambulating hotel guests.

Wilbur didn’t seem to care. He even yawned.

“It seems to me,” said I, “that your flyers might prove very useful for reaching inaccessible places like Death Valley?”

“Very,” said Wilbur sententiously.

“And the tops of unexplored mountains.”

“Why, Dr. Cook could climb Mount McKinley with one of our flyers,” said Wilbur with a grin.

“But to come nearer home,” I went on, “what is the best you can do for the plain business man after an exhausting day downtown.

Wilbur looked to Orville as the authority on that sort of thing, and Orville looked embarrassed, but did his best.

“If he didn’t want to make a trip to any particular place he could fly up to a great height, shut off the motor and soar about on ascending currents of air as the great birds do.”

“But, good gracious,” I exclaimed, “that’s far too beautiful for business men – that ought to be reserved for poets.”

“Poets!” drawled Wilbur with a fine scorn. “I guess that poets will do most of their soaring in their minds.”

“As of old,” I assented. – though I knew he didn’t mean it in that way. “They don’t really need the Wright flyer, and perhaps business men do.
 

And straightaway I had a vision of Mr. Morgan, Mr. Stillman and a Gould and Vanderbilt or two climbing cloudward after business to drink in the ozone far above the Metropolitan tower, swimming lazy spirals in the pink and blue sunbeams and planning Wall street coups for next morning, while below on a bench in Madison Square already overtaken by night –
 


Wilbur's and Orville's reaction to an embarrassing question from Kate.

Well, you know that sort of thing I mean – tattered poet munching on a crust and dreaming and immortal dream of empyrean. Yes, I think it is a rather pretty idea, thank you.

“Your $7,500 flyers,” I said to the Wright brothers, “will prove very useful, I should think, to establishing a safe and somewhat aloof aristocracy. At last we shall learn to look up to our betters. I only hope they don’t take to dropping things on our faces.”

“I don’t approve of flying over cities,” said Wilbur. “It’s dangerous.”

It was odd to think of the noblest sport man has ever attained to – or ever will, perhaps – having been perfected and well-nigh monopolized by these very matter-of-fact young men.

“Which of you was the first to think of flying,” I asked.

Wilbur – I don’t know.

Orville – I guess we both thought of it together, didn’t we?

Wilbur – It kind of developed.

Orville – You said one day that you’d like to fly.

Aunt Kate – But which of you –

Wilbur and Orville – I dunno. It just grew.

“Does it give you any emotion,” I began, but Wilbur looked so bewildered that I changed that form of question to: “How do you like being the Kings of the Air?”

But it was really cruel. Orville clutched at his brow and grabbed the leg of his chair for support. Wilbur’s grim gaiety congealed into a ghastly smile. Remorsefully, I hastened to ensure them that they needn’t answer and to prove my good faith, I took my leave, saying as we shook hands:

“I’m afraid this has been quite an ordeal for you.”

“Oh, it might have been worse,” said Wilbur with cautious gallantry – and they stood watching me as I marched away.


The brothers watch as the embarrassed Ms. Carew beats a hasty retreat.

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