From The Collected Writings of Art Smith,
The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Michael Martone

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This image and the ones to follow capture what is thought to be the first experiments in the “sky writing” by Art Smith, The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, in the air above Reservoir Park in the aforementioned city.

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Not that many months previous to these events, Art Smith had mastered the ability to “stall” his homemade airplane in its near vertical climb, the powered flight overcome by gravity only to have the ship slide backwards in its previous wake until it magically rights itself into a perilous though now controlled dive to earth.

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Before the actual “writing” could commence, Art Smith also needed to command other techniques of aerial maneuvering, operations now known as the “loop,” the “bank,” and the “barrel roll.”

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Art Smith, himself, learned to write in the more traditional manner via the Palmer Method as a student in the St. Joseph Center Township school where he was thought to demonstrate a fairly average hand in the subject of penmanship.  The Palmer Method achieved a Gold Medal at the Panama Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco, in 1915, where Art Smith demonstrated the feasibility of the “sky writing” in darkness.

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At the time of these early attempts in the “sky writing,” Art Smith, its innovator, had already crashed several airships severely injuring himself upon occasion.

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The “sky writing” demanded that Art Smith operate both his aeroplane and the complicated mechanism of generating and damping the “ink” of the colored exhaust.  Such dexterity was, at times, difficult to master.

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It has been said that between the various initial attempts at the “sky writing,” Art Smith, The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne, landed his contraption on Calhoun Street.  There, emerging from the cockpit, he watched with a gathering crowd of curious citizens his work dissipate and disappear during which was discussed the quality and the readability of the script vanishing aloft.

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Art Smith practiced for hours, refueling many times and making adjustments to the mechanism.

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The pilot of an aeroplane must think, even when he is not attempting to write in the sky, in a manner that can only be thought of as dizzying. Retaining one’s equilibrium is essential for the pilot of an aircraft.

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Art Smith, at the end of that day, must have been giddy with the sense of mastery he acquired from his many test flights, inventing the “sky writing.” Expertly adding the pure ascender stroke through the swerve of the final S he drew with vapor he himself dreamed of and concocted, he disappeared over the horizon on a bearing that would take him into the vicinity of rural New Haven, Indiana.





About the Writer
Michael Martone Split Lip Magazine

Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he learned at a very early age, about flight.  His mother, a high school English teacher, read to him of the adventures of Daedalus and Icarus from the book Mythology written by Edith Hamilton, who was born in Dresden, Germany, but who also grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Martone remembers being taken by his father to Baer Field, the commercial airport and Air National Guard base, to watch the air traffic there.  He was blown backward on the observation deck by the prop-wash of the four-engine, aluminum-skinned Lockheed Constellation with its elegant three-tailed rudder turning away from the gates. At the same time, the jungle-camouflaged Phantom F-4s did touch-and-goes on the long runway, the ignition of their after-burners sounding as if the sky was being torn like blue silk.  As a child growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Martone heard many stories about Art Smith, “The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne,” and the adventures of this early aviation pioneer.  In the air above the city, Martone, as a boy, imagined, “The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne” accomplishing, for the first time, the nearly impossible outside loop and then a barrel-roll back into a loop-to-loop in his fragile cotton canvas and baling wire flying machine he built in his own backyard in Fort Wayne, Indiana, whose sky above was the first sky, anywhere, to be written on, written on by Art Smith, “The Bird Boy of Fort Wayne,” the letters hanging there long enough to be read but then smeared, erased by the high altitude wind, turning into a dissipating front of fogged memories, cloudy recollection..