The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Five

February 15-22, 1917 

Throughout Kate Shippen Roosevelt’s diary she many times mentioned taking her grandsons, Langdon, Jr. and Shippen Geer to parks, museums, exhibits, school and dentist appointments. Their mother, Dorothy Roosevelt Geer, was a young widow with many cultural commitments and social soirees to attend.  She traveled in circles and went places that two little boys would not be interested in.  Dorothy never remarried, but certainly had her share of men friends and flirtations. Her husband, Langdon Geer passed away in 1915 from a blood clot on the brain, never having the opportunity to meet the newest addition to his family, Shippen Geer, born shortly after his death.

Maybe the boys were sad reminders of her husband or just too much responsibility for delicate Dorothy, but not for her mother, the multi-tasking matron, Kate Roosevelt.

On February 15, 1917, while Dorothy was away visiting her in-laws, the George Jarvis Geers in Milburn, New Jersey, leaving baby Shippen with his governess, Kate took the eldest, Langdon Geer, Jr. “To see the Aero Show at Grand Central Palace.”

1. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, grand central palace, dirigible over building, santos-dumont...public domain, 1904

Santo-Dumont Dirigible

The year 1917 was just beginning, but word of an impending war with Germany had been echoing throughout the country since 1914 and most everything happening the United States was related to revving-up to join the fight.

Fledgling flying machines, called aeroplanes were ready for war along with the rest of the country and their prowess was being promoted by Pan-American Aeronautics and the Aero Club of America with presentations such as the one Kate and Langdon, Jr. attended at the Grand Central Palace on Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets.

The Grand Central Palace provided the perfect staging for such an expansive show. For more than forty years, from 1911 until 1953, it was New York City’s principle exhibition hall, hosting events like: The International Flower Show; the Greater New York Poultry Exposition; the Westminster Kennel Club Show; the Sportsman and Vacation Show; the International Beauty Shop Owners Convention; the Frozen Foods Exposition; the International Textiles Convention and New York City’s Golden Anniversary Gala in 1948.

3. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, grand central palace, wright brothers kitty hawk, loc

The Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk

Designed by architectural firms, Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Shaw in the Beaux Arts style, the Grand Central Palace rose thirteen-stories high and was so large that for a log-rolling competition in 1936, it had a pool installed in the first floor exhibit space.  The shows it produced brought in so much tourism, the area surrounding it was called “Hotel Alley.” Springing up in its shadow were hotels with the names, Winthrop; Lexington; Shelton (now the Marriott East Side); Montclair and Barclay.  The Waldorf-Astoria is the only original still standing. The cavernous four-floor exhibit space was able to duplicate an airplane hangar and at the 1917 exhibition there was space to hang from the ceiling the Wright Brothers historic plane, the “Kitty Hawk.”  It is now in the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution.

4. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, grand central palace, santos dumont in plane public domain

Santos-Dumont Flying Exhibition in France

Mixing business with pleasure, the exhibit that Kate took little Langdon to was said to be, “Not just an aeronautics show, not merely a display of aircraft, but part of the National Preparedness Movement.” Hosted by Pan-American Aeronautics, its mission was to promote patriotism as well as its place as the premier airplane manufacturer in the world.   To accomplish this they invited noted pilots to make guest appearances.  Alberto Santos-Dumont, one of the most famous aviators of the day came from France and with him the legend that the jeweler, Louis Cartier invented the wristwatch on his behalf.  In 1904 when the Frenchman, Santos-Dumont complained that it was difficult to check on his flight times using a pocket watch, Cartier presented him with a watch that allowed him to keep both hands on the controls while flying. Called “The Pilot Watch,” it is still sold by Cartier along with the Santos-Dumont Line of sunglasses.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, grand central palace, ruth law arriving in new york from chicago, 1916, loc

Ruth Law landing in New York City, 1916

Ruth Law, a pioneer female aviator was one of the attractions.  In November, 1916, she broke the air speed record for flying non-stop from Chicago to New York.  Her fuel cut out while flying over Manhattan and she glided to a safe landing on Governor’s Island.

Newly-designed airplanes and ageless aviators made the show a big success.  The world was watching as the war unfolded.  The European conflict pushed ahead strides made in aviation and transportation was being transformed for commercial, private and war-time use.  “All eyes were on aviation.”

Caught up in the romance of flight were many young men and even some women.  The “Queen of Speed,” stunt pilot, Ruth Law protested when women were not allowed to fly military aircraft.  During World War I females were excluded from such duty, but not the sons of the former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.

6. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, grand central palace, quentin roosevelt in plane, public domain

Quentin Roosevelt

Archie, Ted, Kermit and Quentin Roosevelt all signed on for active duty.  Quentin, the youngest, had “flying fever” and on September 10, 1917 he was assigned to the 1st Aero Squadron and was sent to France and the planes once on display in New York City became coffins for many, including Quentin Roosevelt.  The New York Times quoted on July 18, 1918, “The semi-official French news agency, Havas reported that Quentin Roosevelt had indeed been killed in an airborne fight and that an American patrol was working behind German lines to find the wreckage of his plane.  He appeared to be fighting up until the last moment.”

From a care-free outing with her five-year-old grandson in 1917 to a condolence call on her cousins, Theodore and Edith Roosevelt in 1918, Kate Roosevelt was growing into a formidable woman ready to put more on her plate than a leisurely lunch at the Colony Club.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Grand Central Palace
postcard, public domain

Photo Two:
Santo-Dumont Dirigible

Photo Three:
The Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk
Library of Congress

Photo Four:
Santos-Dumont Flying Exhibition in France
Public Domain

Photo Five:
Ruth Law landing in New York City, 1916
Library of Congress

Photo Six:
Quentin Roosevelt
public domain