Almenia Rice And Her Human-Lifting Kite – 1902
Little is known about Almenia Rice other than she was married to Daniel Rice, Jr., and both were circus performers; he a clown, she a tight rope walker, trapeze artist, and balloonist/aeronaut. What made her famous was her claim in 1902 to have made ascensions over the city of Boston in a kite capable of lifting a human being.
The story first appeared in several newspapers around the country as early as December of 1901, and then in various magazine articles, beginning in 1902, and was still being referenced as late as 1977. What became of the Rice’s and their kite us unknown.
The idea of kites capable of lifting a human being was being researched in earnest in the 1890s primarily by the military as an alternative to balloons as a way to observe enemy troop movements. The advent of the airplane and mechanized flight led to the discontinuation of this program. However, in 1901-02, before the Wright brothers had made their historic flight, there were still those hoping to perfect this form of aerial ascent.
The kite used by Mrs. Rice was built by her husband sometime in 1901, and christened the “Dan Rice Junior” It was built with a wooden frame covered by canvas, 14 feet tall, 14 feet wide, and open in the middle, with a 5 foot long bar on which Mrs. Rice stood upon while making her flights. The first test-flight was reportedly made in October of 1901 from the roof of a hotel at 144 Tremont Street, across from the Boston Common. Subsequent ascensions were also made there.
In an article that appeared in a magazine known as the Current Opinion, Mrs. Rice described what took place during the testing phase of their research: “Next we attached weight to the kite – 50, 100, and then 125 pounds. It carried all of these easily. Several times the kite broke its line, but instead of collapsing and pitching down zig-zag as most kites do, it floated away like a balloon and settled down as lightly as a bird.”
The following newspaper article appeared in The Plymouth Tribune, (Plymouth, Ind.) on February 13, 1902. (For those not familiar with New England, Boston is sometimes referred to as “The Hub”.)
SOARED HIGH OVER BOSTON
Plucky Woman Views The Hub From A Kite
Boston, Feb. 11 – Supported 500 feet in the air by a kite, a daring little Boston woman has taken a birds-eye view of the Hub.
Mrs. Rice enjoys the distinction of being the first woman in the world to navigate the air with a kite as a craft. The man who built the kite – her husband – knew full well the sustaining power of this instrument, he says he felt no thrill when he launched her forth from the roof of the building at 144 Tremont Street. The woman lay prone in a frail wooden frame, buoyed up by a few square yards of canvas, floating horizontally and guided only by a slender cord, with her husband at the windlass far below.
“It was just like flying,” said Mrs. Rice after the feat had been accomplished. “Never in my life have I experienced so delightful a sensation as that when the big kite went up above the streets and buildings of Boston.”
“The kite went upward just as easily and evenly as a bird takes flight. That’s all I can compare my trip – a bird’s flight and nothing else. There was no jerking, no terrible rushes to take one’s breath away, just a push over the edge of the building, a sinking sensation for a moment, and then a delightful gliding through space with the creatures of the air.”
During the proceedings Mrs. Rice’s life actually hung on the cord by which the kite was flown. Had the kite “string” broken she would have been hurled to her death on the pavement of house tops.
As to being hurled to her death, one account related how Mrs. Rice took the precaution of wearing a parachute.
The following newspaper article appeared in the Willmar Tribune, (Wilmar, Minn.), on July 9, 1902.
THE WOMAN WHO FLEW
How A Boston Lady Won This Title, By Which She Is Known Among Her Friends
To mount into the air upon on of the bars forming the frame of a huge kite is a feat which would seem too perilous to be undertaken, and yet it has recently been done by a woman, Mrs. Almenia Rice, of Boston, has the unique distinction of being the first to use a kite as an aerial vehicle, says the Metropolitan Magazine. What is more, this daring woman enjoyed the experience so keenly that she declares her intention of making this her chief pastime in the future. The kite upon which she made her venturesome flight was built for her by her husband, Mr. Dan Rice, Jr.
“I’ve never had such a delightful sensation” declared she, “as I experienced when my kite was given its freedom and I rose gently into the air. The ascent was made gradually and evenly as a bird wings in flight. There was no jerking, no terrible breath-taking rush, but just a delightful glide into space, away from the noise of the city into the mystery of the ether.
“people said I was foolhardy when they first learned of my intention to take the trip, and they declared that one experience would satisfy me, for if I ever reached earth alive I would be content to live in the lower regions with the rest of mortals. Before the kite was set free I though possibly public opinion for once was correct, for I am naturally a little fearsome of the unknown and untried, but once well on my way upward I knew that my life on earth would, in the future, be miserable unless I could occasionally take my kite and fly away from the dull level of the city.”
Mrs. Rice says that when Santos-Dumont crosses the ocean in his airship she will meet him above the clouds in her strange vehicle. She has already been up 200 feet above the business districts of Boston, and in the depth of winter, without experiencing any discomfort, so that she feels confident that she can go upward to a height of 3,000 feet in summer time without any danger.
Mrs. Rice’s monster kite has wooden strips running from the top to the bottom, 14 feet in length; the little bar at the bottom on which she stands measures five feet in length. The two big white wings for the sides of the kite are 14 feet long. The line is three-eighths-inch bell rope, made of Italian flax, and will withstand a strain of 1,000 pounds.
dressed as a boy, so as to attract as little attention as possible, Mrs. Rice made her first ascent from the top of a building in Boston. She has made balloon ascensions, walked a tight wire far above the ground, and swung trapezes, “but the kite sensation was not at all like these,” she says.
“As I walk up the wire the earth seems to fall away from me and a feeling of weakness comes over me. When you go up in a balloon it is quite the same feeling of the earth falling away from you, but as I went up with the kite the sensation was different altogether. There was no shock, no nervous tremor, but just a peculiarly delightful sensation of flying. As I rose above the mist and fog of the city, Flying along through the sky, I felt that I could float on forever in happy forgetfulness of all below.”
The Plymouth Tribune, (Weekly Edition) “Soared High Over Boston”, February 13, 1902
Willmar Tribune, “The Woman Who Flew”, July 9, 1902
Current Opinion – A Magazine of Record and review, Vol. 32, January to June, 1902, page 607
Pearson’s Magazine, Vol. 15, January to June, 1903, Page 114.
Cassell’s Magazine, Vol. 24, December 1901 to May 1902, page 606
Library of Congress, “Letter From Alexander Graham Bell To Samuel P. Langley”, February 15, 1902.
Kitelines Magazine, “Person-Lifting Kites”, Summer, 1977