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Rewriting history

July 28, 2007 |  8:20 am


From left, Times reporter Bonnie Glessner, Tiny Broadwick and Glenn Martin, Jan. 9, 1914

Tiny_broadwick_1912 This was supposed to be an upbeat story about the early days of aviation--a nice change of pace from crime and death.

And it is--but not the kind I imagined. Instead of a story about a person, this turned into a story about a mistake.

On July 28, 1957, The Times published  Harry Nelson's feature about Georgia "Tiny Broadwick" Brown, a petite great-grandmother who was famous in her youth as a parachutist, appearing at balloon ascensions and air shows from about 1908 to 1922.

In the course of the story, Nelson said that Broadwick made history June 20, 1913, in an exhibition over Griffith Park, with one of the first parachute jumps from an airplane.

A bit of background: Broadwick was born in North Carolina in 1893 to a family named Thompson and when she was about 14, she met George Broadwick, an inventor and traveling aeronaut.  Tiny Broadwick joined the show and performed parachute jumps. Her specialty was  jumping with a parachute, discarding it and opening another one in what she called a "cutaway." If she had enough altitude, she might make up to four cutaways, she said.

Her first jump to be recorded in The Times occurred in 1912, during the second air show at Dominguez Hills (the first, in 1910, is a story unto itself and far too complicated to get into here). She was later said to have appeared at the 1910 show, but I can't find any record of it so far. 

Two years later, The Times sent reporter Bonnie Glessner aloft with Broadwick and pilot Glenn Martin, who was at the controls of his newest biplane. As they were flying about 80 mph at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, Broadwick climbed out of the plane and positioned herself to jump using Martin's aerial "life vest."

"When she was ready to drop, Martin touched my shoulder," Glessner wrote, "I faced about and turned my eyes on the face of the child. She was clambering over the side of the machine as though it were stationary. Once over, she clung tenaciously, her eyes fixed on Martin, who was just then looking down over the side of the aeroplane. The signal came while he watched below. Just the slight movement of his hand but the girl understood  and her lips formed a 'goodbye' which I sensed rather than heard. Smiling at me, she stepped off into space, not even a tremor of the machine showing she was gone."


Note that I said "two years later." The story is dated Jan. 10, 1914, and deals with an incident that occurred the day before: Jan. 9, 1914.

Not June and not 1913.


So how did a Jan. 9, 1914, parachute jump become June 20, 1913, and later June 21, 1913?

Unlike Nelson, we have Proquest, so we can trace the mistake, which has quite a pedigree.

An unsigned  Jan. 31, 1949, story changes the year, saying that the jump occurred over Griffith Park on Jan. 10, 1913, "and got a three-column write-up in The Times."

It is apparently Nelson we have to thank for changing the date from Jan. 10, 1913, to June 20, 1913. And by the time of a 1966 story by Dorothy Townsend, June 20 has become June 21. This date appears in Broadwick's 1978 obituary and, of course, is all over the Internet.   

I'll go fix the Wikipedia entry and see how long it lasts before somebody tweaks it.

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