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McCurdy in Art

9 August 2013

McCurdy in Art

26º 42′ 46″ N / 80º 03′ 47″ W

blog WPB Bus Depot Sculpture crop edit

Sculpture at the Palm Tran transfer station on Clearwater Drive, across from The Edge Condominium (background), in West Palm Beach FL — photo by Joseph May

There is a soaring sculpture on the west side of the Palm Beach Transit bus transfer station parts of which are photograph reproductions in metal and one is of an early aviator. The sculpture is easy to get to though not along paths traveled by most but the choices are to either park along Clearwater Drive and walk a few blocks or park at the Tri-Rail/Amtrak train station then take the pedestrian bridge west to the bus transfer station and walk an additional (though short) way west to the sculpture.

— photo by Joseph May

One of the transportation images in the history of the Palm Beach area memorialized on the sculpture. It is of J.A. Douglas McCurdy” and a Curtiss Pusher taken in the year 1911 — photo by Joseph May

The 1911 vintage image is of J.A. Douglas McCurdy with a Curtiss Pusher in West Palm Beach. McCurdy was a Canadian destined for fame and importance. He was a party to Alexander Graham Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association (AEA) as early as 1907 and greatly assisted Glenn Curtiss in his early days. He was Canada’s fist pilot, the first British subject to fly and flew from Florida to Cuba in 1911 (no mean feat given aircraft reliability of the day). He was awarded the McKee Trophy in 1959 for his 1909 flight with the AEA Silver Dart (one of the first successful aircraft of the AEA).

— photo by Joseph May

Detail of the sculptor’s signature though I could not find the name or the title — photo by Joseph May

Our thanks to Catherine Dowman for discovering this sculpture for us 🙂

We have contacted the County as well as Tri-Rail for the name of the sculpture as well as the sculptor — when more information arrives it will be amended here 🙂


From the Nova Scotia Archives we have, regarding McCurdy’s McKee Trophy accomplishment:

J.A.D. McCurdy and the Silver Dart: Canada’s ‘First Aerial Navigator’

On 23 February 1909 at Baddeck, Nova Scotia, J.A.D. (Douglas) McCurdy became the first person to successfully fly an airplane in the British Empire. To celebrate the centenary of this achievement and to honour the memory of McCurdy, whose personal papers have recently been donated to the Nova Scotia Archives, we are pleased to present here a brief retrospective of his life and career, through a selection of photographs and documents.

John Alexander Douglas McCurdy was born in Baddeck in 1886; at an early age he caught the attention of Alexander Graham Bell, famed scientist and inventor, who from the late 1880s spent part of each year in the small Cape Breton community. After graduating in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto in 1906, McCurdy joined F. W. (‘Casey’) Baldwin and Lieutenant (USN) Thomas A. Selfridge in the Aerial Experiment Association — a group of brilliantly inventive young men who coalesced around Bell to explore the potential of tetrahedral kites and ‘heavier-than-air’ flying-machines.

Working initially in Hammondsport, New York, with the American ‘aeronaut’ Glenn H. Curtiss, the AEA built and successfully flew the Red Wing (Selfridge), the White Wing (Baldwin), the June Bug (Curtiss) and the Silver Dart (McCurdy). No one had yet flown an ‘aeroplane’ successfully in what is now the British Commonwealth, however — until the AEA brought the Silver Dart to Baddeck in the winter of 1909 and McCurdy climbed aboard. In his own words,

“It was a brilliant winter day and the ice of Baddeck Bay was completely free of snow. We wheeled the aircraft out of its shed on the shore amidst the incredulous stares and remarks of a couple of hundred spectators who had gathered to witness the event. I having taken my seat, the machine was released and after a run of about a hundred feet, took to the air. I landed on the ice about half a mile away and taxied back to the starting point, and I think the thing that impressed me most was the look of absolute astonishment on the faces of the spectators.”

McCurdy became Canada’s first licenced pilot in 1910 and continued flying until 1916, when vision problems grounded him. He went on to become a pioneer in the Canadian aviation industry as an officer of the Reid Aircraft Company (1928) and the Curtiss-Reid Aircraft Limited (1929-39). During World War II, he was Assistant Director General of Aircraft Production in Canada. In 1947 he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, serving until 1952.

McCurdy died in Montreal, 25 June 1961, and was buried the following month in Baddeck, overlooking the bay where he had flown into aviation history. February 23, 2009 marks the 100th anniversary of that first flight — a proud moment for Baddeck, for Nova Scotia and for Canada.

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