On Monday, September 12, 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974) lands his Spirit of St. Louis in Spokane during his nationwide tour of 75 cities following his epic trans-Atlantic flight of May 21. Dignitaries from the city, state, and the military, as well as hundreds of ordinary admirers greet him at the airport. Only the grandstand at the fairground is large enough to accommodate the larger crowds waiting to honor him and hear his speech. The day’s festivities culminate in a banquet at the Davenport Hotel.
Before landing at Parkwater Aviation Field (soon to be renamed Felts Field) at 2:04 that rainy afternoon, Lindbergh swooped “so low” over the old Interstate Fairgrounds (later Playfair Race Track) to greet the 20,000 awaiting his arrival “that one actually could read Spirit of St. Louis on its aluminum cowling” (Lemon). (The plane, built by the Ryan Aircraft Company of San Diego, was named in honor of St. Louis boosters who financed it.)
When the Spirit of St. Louis came into view, the welcoming committee at Parkwater/Felts Field had to clear the runway of the surging crowd so Lindbergh could land. The dignitaries on hand to greet him personally included Washington Air National Guard Commandant Major John T. “Jack” Fancher (1892-1928), Governor Roland H. Hartley (1864-1952), Mayor Charles A. Fleming, and Harlan I. Peyton (1894-1958), a Spokane investment tycoon who had been a flight instructor during World War I. The local men were prominent supporters of the National Air Races to be held in Spokane during the week of September 21.
Lindbergh on Aviation
A limousine soon whisked Lindbergh to the fairgrounds, a few miles to the west, to the waiting throngs that included school children let out for the day. Fortunately, the heavy rain and wind moderated to a drizzle in time for Lindbergh’s speech, in which he asserted that aviation had come of age: “We have today advanced to a stage where the airplane is entirely practical. Commercial aviation compares in safety with all other forms of transportation.” He emphasized that air mail, freight, and passenger service were now “proven uses for the airplane” and that commercial aviation, which was safe, should not be confused with stunt flying, experimental, and “pioneering aviation,” as well as “distance flights,” which were still inherently dangerous (“Lindy Said”).
That evening, a banquet in the elegant Marie Antoinette Room of Spokane’s Davenport Hotel was packed with 525 guests invited from the city and the Inland Northwest to honor Lindbergh while dining on “roast stuffed imperial squab.” Harlan I. Peyton gave the welcome speech preceding Lindbergh’s address. The celebrated aviator spent the night in the State Suite at the Davenport before resuming his national tour. Newspaper writer Ellsworth French recalled 25 years later that “Lindbergh did everything anyone asked him to do while here, including a low-level flight past St. Luke’s Hospital so that crippled children in the Shrine Hospital could see the Spirit of St. Louis” (French).