life took several turns for the worse in the Great Depression. In 1931, his wife Letitia
died. A year later, Charley was admitted to the National Soldiers Home (now the Veterans
Administration Hospital) on West Third Street in Dayton, Ohio, suffering from
tuberculosis. He spent nine years at the Home, eventually becoming bedridden. During this
time, he researched his genealogy and painted huge mural of his family tree on
oilcloth. That painting now hangs in the Hale-Sarver Funeral Home (the old Furnas
homestead) in West Milton.
After his long absence from the airplane business, few people knew of his important role in early aviation. In 1938, 30 years after his historic flight, Charley was briefly honored by the postal service. During "Air Mail Week" (May 15 through 21), the post office used a special stamp to cancel airmail letters, designating Charley as the "first airplane passenger" and the "Wright Brothers' second mechanic." It's the one and only time his accomplishment has ever been commemorated. It's interesting to note that the West Milton Record, Charley's hometown newspaper, ran a story on Air Mail Week in its May 16, 1938 edition without a single mention of Charley or his historic flight.
However, those who flew with him never forgot. During his long illness, Orville Wright visited Charley several times. When Charley died on October 16, 1941, Orville attended his funeral, paying homage to his courage, his gumption, and his contribution to aviation.
Charley Furnas Aviation Firsts
The Wright Flyer 3, in which Charley rode, was rescued from Kitty Hawk in 1914 and temporarily stored in Massachusetts. It was returned to Dayton in 1948 and restored to its 1905 configuration. Today it is on display at Carillon Park in Dayton, Ohio.
Charley Furnas near the end of his life.
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