Ruth Elder’s oversea hop is acclaimed by the daily press as a triumph, although she fell more than six hundred miles short of her destination, and seems from the headlines to have accomplished nothing much beyond saving her lipstick. Flying over water is a commonplace, and Miss Elder was not the first woman to undertake it; but her adventure is described as “sheer daring,” and herself as “the prettiest, bravest of girls.”
In view of the stories as cabled to the American newspapers, my allusion to the lipstick may seem ill-natured. Let us see. The Associated Press vouched for this daredevil feat:
Before their descent to the sea . . . her courage was tested in a breath-taking manner. The fliers had been driving their plane, even then slowed down by a defective oil line, through a sleet storm. The tail of the plane, on which a heavy coating of sleet had formed, became too heavy for the machine to be kept on an even keel.
Something had to be done to right this. There was some gasoline stored in the tail of the plane—a reserve supply to be used in an emergency. Haldeman and Miss Elder consulted each other regarding what should be done. They decided the reserve supply of gasoline would have to be jettisoned. They then took their turns at the stick while one or the other crawled along the icy fuselage of the plane and threw overboard some of the reserve supply.
Miss Elder took her turn at crawling along the fuselage without a tremor, it was related, and, this chore accomplished, returned to do her shift at the stick.
How ungallant to call it a chore! You get the picture: a dauntless heroine buffeting icy midatlantic blasts as she crawls over a sleety, sloping surface, with watery wastes yawning beneath her. How thin and sterile the ten-twenty-thirty melodrama in comparison with such a situation! Who shall say Miss Elder doesn’t deserve the pulpwood encomiums heaped upon her? Well, let “Bill” Brock and “Ed” Schlee, who actually flew across the Atlantic, in a plane precisely like Miss Elder’s—let them say it.
“Once you are in the cabin of that plane,” they explained to the New York Evening Post, “you can’t get out on the fuselage as long as you are in flight. It simply can’t be done. Silly to talk about it.” They added that there was no aperture in the plane making it possible to get out of the cabin to the top of the wing and thence to the tail. It seems a pity that mere physical fact should interfere with a story so romantic that the Associated Press and its member newspapers swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. Romance and peril was what was wanted, to build circulation. For the sake of circulation, a heroine is still being made of a young woman.
The flight is another in the chain stimulated by the successful journey of Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, which was arranged as a publicity stunt to put St. Louis, Missouri, on the map, and succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its promoters. The chain has included an aerial derby to Honolulu, to advertise a “pineapple king,” which cost seven lives. The majority of these events, encouraged by the press because they help sell papers, have left tragedy in their wake.