Rerun From February 14, 2007
It’s the early 1900’s. Imagine that you are alone in a remote small field in Jackson County. Without a sound, a strange machine comes down from the sky and careens to a crash landing. A figure resembling a human slowly emerges and looks toward you . . . finally, he calls out: “Where am I?” Shortly, you’ll understand the answer! This incident actually took happened in our county almost a century ago, and deserves to be documented.
The story begins in Dothan, where a young “daredevil” of the time had acquired the first airplane in this entire area. A friend of mine, the late Paul Anderson, was also a Dothan native. In later years, the then-elderly pilot shared this experience of his first “long-distance” flight with Anderson. The Alabama flier had been contacted by Marianna officials to bring the first “flying machine” in for a landing at the annual Jackson County Fair. This history-making event was slated to be the highlight of the week-long exhibitions. In those times, the fairs were held in the block now occupied by the former Marianna High School.
Now we must acknowledge that none of our citizens had ever seen an aircraft, and many others refused to believe that any man-made machine was capable of flight! In those pioneer days, there were legions of “non-believers”.
On the appointed afternoon, the crowd gathered at the fair. Horses, mules, and oxen were securely tied to the hitching racks. Meanwhile, the Dothan pilot checked his watch and cranked the small engine. He estimated an hour’s flight time to Marianna, and strapped into the exposed seat in front of the engine. All went well until he flew past the village of Campbellton. The engine began to sputter and eventually went out as he passed over the former location of Webbville. Spotting a small field carved out in the woodland, the pilot banked into a landing approach. Gliding down in silence, he braced for a rough landing.
Shaken and disoriented, he remained in his seat for a few minutes, trying to remember his bearings. Removing his leather helmet and goggles, he climbed out of the damaged craft and sees a man standing motionless and awe-struck across the field.
“Where Am I?” he called out. The old man shouted”
“Lord Jesus, you are back on EARTH! If I hadn’t seen you coming, I wouldn’t have known who you are!!... Then, he fell to his knees. . .
Meanwhile, at the fairgrounds the natives were getting restless. The officials had no way of knowing that the downed pilot of the ultra-light aircraft was trying to explain that he was not on a divine mission! It was the next day before the word filtered down to Marianna.
Another year would be required to bring the first plane in for a local landing! The pilot which made this attempt did not re-apply for the job . . .