Monday, November 17, 2008

Early Bird, Part 1

A wind whipping the air into a static of snow flurries rattled the windows of the clapboard house at 86 West Beau Street on the morning of Saturday, January 29, 1949. At 11 o'clock, Mary Patterson answered her telephone. It was George Herd, owner of the drug store on Main Street, wondering why his employee had not shown up for work.

Mary, who had rented out a room after the death of her husband, told George she would wake her boarder. It was not unusual for the man upstairs to sleep late, because in addition to working at Herd's (and running the poker game in the back room there, or so it was said), he also tended bar at night at the Green Tree on North Main Street, also owned by George.

Mary entered the man's room and found him in bed, ashen, apparently dead for several hours. As distressing as this sight was, it did not come as a great shock; her boarder was not in the best of health, walking with a pronounced limp, suffering from the effects of a bad car accident several years earlier and laboring for breath from a bad heart. Still, it was such a shame for him to die alone like that, poor man.
Mary rushed downstairs and called George and told him to come down the street right away. Mr. Thompson had passed away, she said.

Born 60 years earlier just a few miles west of the rented room in Washington where he died, DeLloyd Thompson's sad and quiet demise was in ironic contrast to much of the life he led: flamboyant, daring, adventurous and punctuated by great fame and fortune. An aviation pioneer, he made sensational headlines from coast to coast as he smashed speed and altitude records, and outlived most of his fellow stunt pilots in the early, crazy days of flight. An idol to millions of children and adults alike, he thrilled crowds at air shows and speedways, amassed great wealth, and convinced a nation of the dangers and advantages of air warfare.

His rise was meteoric, and his fall a long glide that ended on a cold and windy January day in a town where his very name once caused shivers of pride. In the great technological rush that was the 20th century, his reputation and fortune would dwindle and his memory would be left by the side of the road.

This is the story of "Dutch" Thompson, the bird man, and the spectacular arc of his life.


Brant said...

Now that's good writing. You have us all salivating for the rest of the story. It's a shame you have to spend so much of your time administering over the rest of us ink-stained wretches and can't spend more time on pursuits like this.

Anonymous said...

I cant wait to hear more of his life and times.