Grass Valley, CA — For over a hundred years, many Grass Valley locals have maintained that the Wright Brothers famous 1903 flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina was the second time in humans flew in an airplane. Many historians are quick to dismiss claims from Nevada County sleuths and history buffs that Lyman Gilmore beat the famous duo’s achievement by over a year.
However new evidence uncovered by a Grass Valley researcher is suggesting that Orville and Wilbur’s iconic December 1903 flight was not only eclipsed by the eccentric and reclusive Lyman Gilmore, but even more astonishing, Mr. Gilmore’s supposed May 15, 1902 flight last eight times longer and achieved altitudes as high as 500 ft over the skies of Nevada County.
“This is one of those finds that will rewrite the history books,” said area handyman and part-time historian Hank Snow of Grass Valley. “Everyone around here knows the story, but not many beyond that. Every time someone bring it up, you know, like in a History Channel show or something, we get called a bunch of quacks. Well this photo changes all of that.”
Lyman Gilmore was a flight pioneer who worked out of a hangar just outside the city limits of Grass Valley, CA in what now is the site of his namesake Lyman Gilmore Middle School. In his early 20th century workshop, he built what he claimed was the world’s first steam-powered airplane and claimed that he flew it on May 15, 1902.
Due to the requirement of a heavy boiler and the dependency on coal as a power source, the flights would have been unsustainable according to many aviation experts. Records and evidence regarding his claim were lost in a suspicious 1935 hangar fire. Many believe the hangar fire was no accident.
“Mr. Gilmore was in contact with the Wright brothers,” continued Mr. Snow. “They all knew what each other was doing. The Wright Brothers knew they were beaten, but they also knew Gilmore was weird. This gave them a jump on their marketing. Wilbur knew of the power of movies and he knew if he could get their flight filmed, everyone would forget about ‘loony Gilmore’ as he referred to him in his diary. And I have reason to believe that operatives from the North Carolina government torched his hangar for obvious reasons.”
Alternative Flight History
For decades, “alternative-history” flight buffs had no proof other than oral tales that Mr. Gilmore indeed made the world’s first airplane flight. That all changed last week when 5th Generation Nevada County resident Mary Shilling of Penn Valley shared some of her family photos from the early 20th Century with Mr. Snow.
“Well, I had just arrived at Sierra Presbyterian’s yard sale with a box of old photos,” said a tidily dressed Ms. Shilling speaking with the Beacon.” And then this Hank Snow fella asked if he could look through them, and of course, I didn’t see a problem with that. That’s why they were there. Then he asked me about one my great-grandfather took of Mill Street back in, I don’t know, maybe 1901 or something? He pointed to Gilmore’s plane in the sky, and I said, “yes, that’s his [Gilmore’s] plane. Everyone knows that.’ He became very excited. He was waving his hands around in the air. He ever hugged me and gave me a big kiss, which I found inappropriate, to be honest.”
Mr. Snow immediately contacted Nevada City Electrician and amateur forensic photograph researcher Phil Meadows for his opinion on the photograph.
“Here’s the thing,” said Mr. Meadows speaking of the 1902 photo featuring Lyman Gilmore in flight, “It’s very difficult to forge these old photos even with modern technology. There’s the aging, the chemical processes, the shadows. I mean, it’s damn near impossible to simulate the noise of the aperture issue they had back then. About the only thing I can say about this sample, is I wish it weren’t so blurry because skeptics are not going to be satisfied with this.”
As for Mr. Snow, he’s more convinced than ever that this is the proof that Lyman Gilmore was first to the skies.
“I was already convinced before this. I mean, this is just the icing on the cake. But now I have evidence to take to world, you know? Seeing is believing. I wonder if North Carolina will change their license plates to something like ‘Second in Flight,’ eh?”