June 5 will see the return of the Homestead’s new history book club, The Edge. Here to give us a taste of what’s in store is Public Programs Assistant, Craig Chyrchel. Few spots remain, so if the following teaser inspires you to run out to your local library or favorite bookstore, consider joining this energetic group of readers. More details about the club can be found on the Homestead’s website.
As we transition from spring to summer, the Homestead’s book club will be penetrating the upper atmosphere to explore aviation. It is fitting that the first book, Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies, examines the birth of manned flight in America and Europe and the subsequent heated competition between the Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and pioneers you may not be familiar with including Henry Farman, Louis Blériot, and Octave Chanute. While these men spurred the innovation and painstakingly developed the technology, the young test pilots of the day such as Eugene Ely, Lincoln Beachey, and Ralph Johnstone, generated the drama as they pushed biplanes and monoplanes to their outer limits, and in the exhilarating process, lost their spirits to the heavens.
Early adventures in flight took place in the 1900s and 1910s and inspired the likes of the stunning Harriet Quimby and Julia Clark to secure pilot licenses before plunging to their deaths. They were followed in the twenties by a local girl raised in San Marino, Florence Lowe Barnes, otherwise known as Pancho. Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes, our second book, reads like a novel. A very successful aviatrix, she hobnobbed with the likes of Amelia Earhart, Bobbi Trout, Chuck Yeager, General James Doolittle, Buzz Aldrin, and the younger set in Hollywood. Many of these luminaries frequented her Happy Bottom Riding Club, also known as Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch located in the desert near Edwards Air Force Base. Like the Wright Brothers, she spent a chunk of her life entangled in legal wrangling with dire economic consequences.
Some of you may be familiar with Mt. Lowe, a 5,600’ mountain in the San Gabriel range above Altadena named after Pancho Barnes’ grandfather, Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who built both an incline railway and an electric traction railroad that wound around the mountain and became a huge tourist attraction. However, Lowe’s notoriety was first established at the beginning of the American Civil War when he created the Union Army’s Balloon Corps, the subject of The Edge’s third book, Above the Fray, a two-volume historical novel. This high-flying adventure tale, thoroughly grounded in historical facts, follows General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and then the hydrogen-fueled espionage moves further south to Richmond, Virginia, and Atlanta, Georgia.