It was not initially a noteworthy day, but for 8-year-old Clyde Smith, Friday, Sept. 5, 1924, would certainly become one. What happened came, literally, out of the blue.
Clyde’s father was John Smith, an English expatriate with the good fortune to have barely missed his reserved billet to America aboard the ill-fated Titanic. He had met and married Louise Rhinehart of Basel, Switzerland, upon eventually arriving in New York, and subsequently relocated his young family to Brunswick. He had secured employment as driver-handyman for one Capt. Turner, to whose cottage on Mere Point Clyde had accompanied his father that day.
Clyde now sat on the Turners’ dock, his feet trailing in the cool sea. Soon, his father would be finished, and would return him to Mrs. Armstrong’s boarding house where supper would be waiting. He stayed there with his brothers while his mother was working in Bar Harbor for the summer. His father had a room over Capt. Turner’s garage in town.
Suddenly, there was an unmistakable noise. Looking up, Clyde saw three seaplanes swooping down out of the eastern sky and coming in to land right in Maquoit Bay. These were the Chicago, the Boston II, and the New Orleans, the U.S. Army’s team of World Fliers, who had been on a circumnavigation of the world. They had begun on the western shore of the country, and their arrival at Mere Point was their first return to America in five months.
Young Clyde was all but hopping up and down with excitement, and the feeling among the residents soon took on a festive tone. Clyde’s father was one of several men who rowed dinghies out to the planes to fetch the weary airmen. By the time flight Cmdr. Lowell H. Smith was brought into the post office, a sizable crowd had assembled.
This 6-foot specimen of health, grit, and brains stood at the telephone, one of those that you had to turn a crank to get “central,” trying to get word to Boston, Washington, and the West Coast that the mission had landed on American soil. Eventually the lieutenant managed, from this unknown hamlet along the rocky Maine coast, to speak to such august personages as Secretary of War John Weeks and Gen. Mason Patrick, to whom he explained the reasons for his premature landing. They had been expected in Boston, where grand preparations had been made for their welcome, but fog and bad weather had decided them upon the safer first stop. When he finished shouting into the instrument, he quipped, “I won’t need any wires if I talk much louder.”
The next morning the airmen spent servicing their planes, readying them for the triumphant return to Boston. The locals made a holiday of the occasion, picnicking on the beach and basking in a festive feeling of national and local pride, as the arrival of the fliers placed humble and unassuming Mere Point squarely upon the world’s stage. Clyde and his brothers went with their father to watch, along with people from as far away as Auburn. Lt. Smith’s plan was to take off late that morning, but gasoline suitable for the airplanes had to be trucked overland from Bath. The 75 gallons then had to be loaded onto boats and rowed out to where the fuel was finally pumped into the airplanes’ tanks.
While this was happening, a squadron of planes arrived from the south, the leader of which carried Gen. Patrick. Unfortunately, this new group did not have pontoons, but wheels. They flew terrifyingly low and saluted the world-flying planes, but were unable to actually land. They flew around the bay for a bit, but soon resumed their flight formation and headed south.
It was another hour before the small boats scattered and the airmen started spinning the propellers. The engine noise grew to a roar and the propellers became invisible as the planes began moving forward. Young Clyde hoped they would pass close by his position on Capt. Turner’s dock, but Lt. Smith was not playing to the crowd as the planes headed straight out across the bay. Soon the white spray ceased erupting around the pontoons and they were airborne, heading south and away. The intrepid sky-riders had come unannounced and unexpected, leaving an indelible mark on history and taking with them strong sentiments concerning the hospitality of humble Mere Point. Soon the surface of the bay settled down as though the planes had never been, and the engine noise faded into the sky.
Almost 87 years later, Clyde Smith has moved from the family home in Durham to Freeport Place retirement home. He remembers the World Fliers vividly and still tells the story to anyone who will listen. The feelings of excitement and national pride have not diminished, even though the actual achievement has long since been surpassed. A monument in the shape of a metal plate commemorating the occasion was affixed to a large boulder overlooking the bay, and it is to here that now 95-year-old Clyde still occasionally makes pilgrimage, reliving from his boyhood the pride and national triumph of the masters of the air.
Durham resident Michael A. Smith is Clyde Smith’s grandson.