Although the controversy of whether or not Fed J. Wiseman’s air mail flight on February 17-18, 1911 was “official,” continues to this day and will probably be debated for some time; however, the facts remain – as stated on his monument, now located in Petaluma’s Wiseman Park – “It was the first recorded airplane flight sanctioned by a local post office and available to the public.” In addition, his airplane is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution, National Air Museum, Washington, D.C.
As readers of this blog have learned, the Centennial Celebration of this event in 2011 has been in the planning process since 2006 and is gaining momentum with celebration activities in other Sonoma County communities: Cloverdale, Windsor, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, and Cotati. However, over the years, the significance of this historic event has been kept “alive” with earlier celebrations. For example, searching through various file folders located in the Petaluma Museum & Library, the Sonoma County Library, Sonoma State University Library, and the Bill Soberanes Collection reveal these dates:
February 17, 1961: Two commemorative envelopes with a First Air Mail Flight graphic, and addressed to Ed Fratini and the East Petaluma Booster Club, dated and mailed on the 50th Anniversary.
August 17, 1968: The Fred J. Wiseman Monument Dedication ceremony was held at Kenilworth Park. Columnist Bill Soberanes reported that Fred Wiseman stated to the Argus-Courier that, “If a celebration commemorating my air mail flight is held, my choice of places would be Petaluma’s Kenilworth Park, because that’s where my flight originated.”
February 17, 1979: On this date, the citizen’s group that formed the Donald Douglas Museum and Library in 1974, officially opened its doors with a commemorative Fred Wiseman first airmail envelope designed especially for the occasion.
February 17, 1986: On its 75th Anniversary, another commemorative envelope was designed to recognize “A Flight Into History, Fred J. Wiseman, Pilot.” A Committee for the Wiseman Commemorative Stamp Project was unsuccessful in its request to the U.S. Postal Service, in 1985, for an official First Airmail Flight stamp to be issued in 1986.
January 12, 1995: Opening day of the Sonoma County Museum in the old Post Office building, Santa Rosa, featured a first airmail flight exhibit honoring Fred J. Wiseman.
April 26, 2003: The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, flew “the first powered, controlled, heavier-than-air airplane” at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903. The B&E Days parade theme –Take Flight– commemorated both the historical significance of Fred Wiseman’s airmail flight and the Centennial Anniversary of the Wright brothers initial flight. A parade poster was designed by graphic artist Janet Ramatici, and the Petaluma Air Pilots Association (PAPA) entered its replica of Wiseman’s plane, made out of wood and wire (just like the original) as a float.