Talcott Mountain, CT – December 19, 1884

Talcott Mountain, Connecticut – December 19, 1884

    

Zephaniah Phelps

Zephaniah Phelps

     If the following story is to be believed, it is perhaps the first mechanically involved aviation related accident to occur in the state of Connecticut, and possibly New England. 

     Zephaniah Phelps, age 75, was said to be an inventor whose main interests focused on perpetual motion and aerial flight.  He lived in a hut in the woods near the town of Avon, Ct., and reportedly wasn’t taken seriously by those who knew him.  Undaunted, Mr. Phelps built a flying-machine of his own design, and by the early winter of 1884 he was ready to test it. 

     On December 19, 1884, Phelps carried his invention to the top of Talcott Mountain where a tall wooden observation tower stood.  His flying-machine was designed to be worn on his back, and according to the Weekly Saratogian, “consisted of a strong but light gas generator, a combination of cog-wheels and pulleys and two light pitch turbine wheels, both arranged at a slight angle to the vertical.  The whole contrivance, including two tri-angular wings, weighed about sixty pounds.”       

     While standing atop the observation tower, Phelps donned his machine and secured himself to it with a rope.  After starting the small engine, he leaped into space. 

     “For a moment the machine rose a few feet and then began to drop.” the Weekly Saratogian reported, “Phelps found his generator losing power with every second and attempted to discover the cause.  By some mistake he opened the discharge valve and instantly was falling rapidly, with his turbine motionless and useless.  The only check to his descent were the two triangular wings.”

     Phelps dropped into some trees about 700 feet below the tower breaking several bones.   

     The newspaper account goes on to state he was found by a hiker who happened to hear his groans, which would seem to indicate that there hadn’t been any witnesses to the whole affair.  Phelps was reportedly carried to a house about a mile away for treatment of his injuries.

     “I do not care so much for my hurts,” Phelps was quoted in The National Police Gazette, “But I had hoped to make my name immortal, and now I am so crippled that I am afraid I can never fly.  It was not the fault of my principles or my machine.  When I got on top of the tower I strapped myself to the cylinder and tied on my turbine attachments.  Then I stood on the side and stared my gas machine.  The turbine wheels revolved as well as I had expected, and carried me clear of the tower and some feet away.  I was going finely when the wind caught me and turned me downward.”     

     Sources:

     Weekly Saratogian – Saratoga Springs “A Flying Machine Crank”, December 25, 1884

     The National Police Gazette, “Like A Falling Star”, January 17, 1885    

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲