The Saga of S.F. Cody, the Flying Cowboy

Ben Ruhe
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After the plane he was flying came apart in midair and he fell 500 feet to his death on Aug.7, 1913, Samuel Franklin Cody was accorded a hero's funeral at Aldershot, England. A procession viewed by fifty thousand people delivered his body to the military cemetery there and Cody was interred with Great Britain's heroes, the first civilian and the only American cowboy ever to be accorded such an honor.

This spontaneous outpouring of national grief by the public as well as the British establishment, led by King George V, for a upstart Yankee who had previously been the subject of derision and even contempt was the fitting end to a strange, flamboyant career that British author Garry Jenkins now convincingly sorts out in 'Colonel' Cody and The Flying Cathedral: The Adventures of the Cowboy Who Conquered Britain's Skies. Two earlier volumes on Cody took him pretty much at his own word, a serious mistake, particularly as far as his early life goes, as Jenkins discovered.

Using shrewd guesses and new evidence, some of it made available by the Cody family's sale at auction of historic Cody archives as well as the release of previously classified official documentation in the United Kingdom, Jenkins recreates Cody's life from birth and and teenage years in American, to Wild West showman fame in Europe, through pioneering man-lifting kite experiments, which led Cody directly to the first sustained, controllable manned flight in Britain in 1908. Following this great triumph, Cody-a mix of P.T. Barnum and Orville Wright-did five year of aviation barnstorming which led to a complete turnabout in his reputation. "The British public's chief and best showman of flight" was how a periodical summed him up. Then came his tragic, preditably dramatic death and ascension to a kind of sainthood. Cody would have approved the whole script. Judging from the current interest in early aviation, can a movie be far behind?

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