Connecticut’s House of Representatives is seeking to unseat North Carolina as the state with a claim to “First in Flight.”
The House amended a bill Thursday with language to change Connecticut’s statutes to recognize Gustave Whitehead each year on “Powered Flight Day,” rather than the Wright Brothers.
Whitehead, according to a March article published in the CTPost, is credited by some as successfully piloting an early powered aircraft in 1901, about two years before the Wright Brothers’ famous 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Rep. Larry Miller, R-Stratford, offered the change Thursday as an amendment recognizing Whitehead, a Bridgeport native.
“This is to correct an injustice that’s been around for one century,” Miller said. “The fact of the matter is, the Wright Brothers were not the first ones in flight. Gustave Whitehead, in the city of Bridgeport, on Pine Street and Colorado, was the first guy to fly a powered airplane.”
Miller added that Whitehead also flew in the towns of Fairfield and Stratford.
“The Wright Brothers, I don’t know, they went a couple of hundred feet and that’s it, but Whitehead, he was a pioneer and a very bright guy,” he said.
The amendment was adopted on a voice vote with only Rep. Dan Carter, R-Bethel, saying he would not support it. Carter grew up in Dayton, Ohio, a town which also claims to be the “birthplace of aviation” because the Wright Brothers designed and built their aircraft there.
“While in good conscience I may not be able to support this amendment because of the controversy from the early 1900s, I certainly will not speak ill of it,” Carter said.
Following the bill’s passage, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey took to Twitter to lobby both the Senate and the governor to support the legislation using the hashtag #ActuallyFirstInFlight.
The bill also denotes certain months to honor different groups of Americans. For instance, the bill calls for the governor to “proclaim the month of March of each year to be Irish-American Month to honor Americans of Irish ancestry, their culture and the great contribution they have made to this country.”
The legislation would also designate the ballroom polka as Connecticut’s state dance and “Beautiful Connecticut Waltz” as the state’s second song. Those types of provisions led to a joking exchange between House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield.
“Do I read this correctly that the ‘ballroom polka shall be the state polka?’” Cafero asked.
Morin said that was correct.
“How does that go?” Cafero said.
Asked if he cared to respond, Morin said he “would love to.”
“If the minority leader would like to join me, I’m sure we could do [the ballroom polka] right there in the well of the House,” Morin said. “Just watch his toes.”
Cafero declined, saying he couldn’t dance.
“But I’d be glad to sing the ‘Beautiful Connecticut Waltz,’ which has now become our second state song,” he said.
The bill and its various provisions were not popular with everyone in the chamber. Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Haddam, said there were more serious matters to debate.
“I just want my constituents to know that we’re waiting to debate some serious things here and I look forward to representing my constituents in that manner,” she said.
Moran said he understood Ziobron’s point but did not think the bill was unimportant. He said “maybe some will call this a silly bill” but he thought it was important to recognize the cultures that built the state.
“People 75, 100 years ago that toiled in our factories and built these buildings we are in and really formed the culture that we live in today, I think it’s nice to recognize them,” Morin said. “… I respectfully disagree that we are not debating something of importance.”