Today is a momentous occasion, Portland. One hundred years ago today, a man won glory. Silas Christofferson was an early aviator, and on June 11th, 1912 he made history. Armed with little more than a tiny plane and a jaunty hat, he soared mightily over the streets and citizens of early 20th century Portland.
Silas’ plane was little more than a lawn chair attached to an engine with some wings coming out of it. The Curtiss pusher plane (so named because the propeller was on the rear of the craft and pushed it forward) weighed a bit over 850 pounds and in kind, it was closer to Leonardo’s imagined ornithopter than the mighty airships of today. Christofferson and his various compatriots disassembled the craft, and brought it, in pieces, to the roof of the Multnomah Hotel (better known today as the Embassy Suites by Voodoo Doughnut). Upon that lofty perch they reassembled the contraption, and constructed a plank runway that extended a paltry 175 feet. The whole stunt was part of the Rose Festival which, a century ago, featured approximately 100% more death-defying acts of badassitude than it does today.
On the afternoon of June 11th, 1912, Christofferson strapped his potentially squishy body into a piece of unproven aviation technology. He revved the engine on his small craft, accelerated down the short runway. Every inch he moved forward Christofferson crept closer to either doom or glory. Then suddenly, he came to the edge of the Multnomah Hotel’s rooftop, and slipping the bonds of Earth, Christofferson told the force of gravity to go fuck itself.
He flew. He flew over Portland and the Rose Festival and the assembled throngs of agawk onlookers. He flew over the Columbia river and presumably said “Hey, fuck you, birds, I can do this, too!” Nine years prior, the Wright Brothers’ tiny craft flew for a mere twelve seconds. Christofferson's flight lasted for twelve glorious minutes. After gazing upon the mighty metropolis of Portland, Oregon and crossing the great waterway known as the Columbia River, Christofferson safely landed in Vancouver, Washington.
Sadly, Christofferson’s brief flame would expire some three years later when, like Icarus of myth, he crashed toward the Earth during a different flight. However, the indomitable spirit of his giant flying balls lives on. We live in a world where normally flightless humans routinely clamber into metal tubes that are shot through the stratosphere and deposit them on far-flung continents. Journeys that once took days and months and weeks now take mere hours because of the power of flight. We have conquered the sky. We mock the gods. We have interposed our will to that band of clouds that lays ‘twixt Heaven and Earth. And we owe such things to men like Christofferson, crazy motherfuckers who dared to be among the first.
Also, here's a video about it, and the lobby of the Embassy Suites has a little replica of Christofferson's plane that's kind of neat to look at.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!