Dawn of naval aviation exhibit opens
A new exhibit at the National Naval Aviation Museum pays tribute to earliest days of Naval aviation through a replica penny arcade from the early 1900s.
The Dawn of Naval Aviation exhibit features hand-cranked Mutoscope movie players with images of early aviators and their planes.
Buddy Macon, the museum’s deputy director, said the exhibit, which opened to the public Thursday, took years of research and planning.
“So much work and craftsmanship went into the whole project,” Macon said.
The museum replicated four Mutoscope movie players from an antique Mutoscope owned by a Louisiana museum. The machines, which used a hand crank to flip through a series of photographs, were popular at the turn of last century. Arcade visitors deposited pennies in the machine to watch the movies.
Naval museum researchers found two photographs of aviator Eugene Burton Ely, the first man to land an airplane on a ship. They used the 1911 photos to build a minute-long Mutoscope film about the pioneering flight. They used other rare photographs to create two additional films about the earliest days of aviation.
The museum’s Penny Arcade includes replica advertising mirrors from the period that encourage visitors to “Experience Daring Feats of Airmanship.” The arcade also features a model of the USS Pennsylvania, the ship that Ely flew onto in 1911. Black and white tiled flooring that was popular during the era, theatrical lights and 48-star American flag complete the display.
Hill Goodspeed, the museum’s longtime historian, said the new exhibit helps to set the scene for the museum’s World War I displays while providing a glimpse into the infancy of Naval Aviation.
Ely wore a full suit with a bicycle helmet and a rubber inner-tube around his waist when he flew onto the USS Pennsylvania. A canvas tarp on the ship prevented the plane from running into the mast.
“This was the time of the earliest daredevil aviators,” Goodspeed said.
Among the museum visitors who checked out the new exhibit Thursday were Christine and Jack Rutter. The couple laughed as they cranked the Mutoscope machines to watch the old-time movies.
“This is a lot of work to see a movie,” Christine Rutter said.
The machines were a big hit with a group of elementary school students from Robertsdale, Alabama.
The kids took turns watching the movies and laughing at the old images.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said 11-year-old Annastasia Lilptak.
Her friend, 11-year-old Trekaiya Richardson, said it was her first time to see a black-and-white movie.