Asheville Archives: Henry Westall takes flight over Asheville, 1919

STARTED AT THE BOTTOM: Henry Westall sits in the cockpit at Baird's Bottom, the site of present-day Beaver Lake.
STARTED AT THE BOTTOM: Henry Westall sits in the cockpit at Baird's Bottom, the site of present-day Beaver Lake. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

Editor’s note: Formerly “Tuesday History,” the new “Asheville Archives” is now available in print, as well as online. Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

On June 15, 1919, The Sunday Citizen featured a drawing of an airplane, high above the clouds. Below the image, the advertisement announced:

FLYING EXHIBITION
ASHEVILLE’S OWN AEROPLANE

HENRY WESTALL, Pilot
(Former Flying Instructor U.S. Army)
WEATHER PERMITTING

The announcement went on to note that the event would begin at 5 p.m. Thursday, June 19, at Baird’s Bottom (a field that would later disappear, when in 1923, the area was reconstructed into Beaver Lake). Tickets were $1 and available “at all drug and cigar stores.”

An article featured in the same day’s paper offered additional details about the upcoming flight:

“Mr. Westall states that he will give the people who attend the exhibition flight Thursday, their full money’s worth, for he purposes to do the tail spin, believed to be most dangerous of all the stunts the flyers do, loops, Immelmann turn, barrel roll, falling lead and side slips. These in addition to the straight flying will be the thrills he will give.”

WING MAN: A portrait of Henry Westall in uniform. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

According to the article, the machine was a former Canadian training plane, used during the Great War. Westall had purchased it in Toronto in May of 1919 for $3,000 on behalf of the Asheville Aerial Corp.

On June 20, The Asheville Citizen offered highlights of the exhibition. The paper reported that an estimated 15,000 people watched, “including those who crowded the tops of store and office buildings in the center of the city and houses in the residential sections.” Westall, the paper continued, delivered on his promises, leaving “thousands of people on the ground looking on in amazement, as they saw an airplane for the first time and actually realized that the flyers would do all the things they claimed.”

Throughout the year, Westall continued to make headlines for his stunts, as well as his quest to find a location for a municipal landing field. On Aug. 27, 1919, The Asheville Citizen reported:

“Asheville is to be subjected to an air raid late Thursday afternoon. Warnings have been issued that the homes and business districts of Asheville are to be pelleted with — not bombs, but bulletins.

“Henry Westall will be the attacking party in his recently decorated plane, which will be seen in flight for the first time since the brilliant colors were placed upon the body with ‘Asheville’ in gigantic letters that can be read for a great distance.

“But Westall is not entirely to blame for the attack, for the hustling proprietor of Cadison’s store on Biltmore avenue is the instigator of the raid. As it is planned the start will be made from the hangar on Baird’s bottom at 6 o’clock and coursing its way over the city the plane will pass over Cadison’s store at a moderately low altitude, when an exhibition will begin.

“This step, modernely progressive is to let the folks know about Asheville and Cadison’s store where a hustling and growing business is under the direction of a progressive proprietor, who has planned the air raid for Thursday.”

Two days later, The Asheville Citizen followed up on the actual event. The article, titled “CITY BOMBARDED WITH BOMBS FROM THE SKY” stated:

“With thousands of people crowding Pack square, Biltmore avenue and Broadway, to say nothing of residential streets and other business streets of the city, Henry Westall yesterday did stunts over the city in ‘The Asheville’ the airplane of the Asheville Aerial corporation. During this time he dropped from the sky for the first time over Asheville thousands of handbills, on which Cadison’s the well known Biltmore avenue store, sent a greeting to the thousands of people and urged that Asheville have an airplane station.

“At 3,000 feet above the city Mr. Westall did a tail spin to 2,000 feet, which was witnessed with thrills by the thousands who saw it. He did steep banks and spirals galore and many other stunts. The exhibition was one of the best Mr. Westall has yet conducted in Asheville and it was a great treat to thousands of people, hundreds of whom had never seen an airplane before.”

The article went on to share the bulletin written by Leo M. Cadison. According to the paper, the handbill read:

“This flight again proves the possibilities of the aeroplane. Asheville should have an aeroplane station. Mail is being delivered regularly from city to city in parts of the east by aeroplanes. Some day the same method will be employed here. How soon depends upon the enthusiasm you display.

“Let Asheville progress. Always alert to boost Asheville, Cadison’s 14 Biltmore avenue, arranged with Henry Westall to make this flight for the entertainment of its thousands of visitors, as well as our own homefolks. Hope you have enjoyed the spin as much as Henry Westall and Cadison’s have in planning this exhibition.”

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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