The First Flyer?
May 15, 1902 - On this day, a year and a half before the Wright Brothers' famous flight at Kitty Hawk, an eccentric character named Lyman Gilmore took off in his steam-powered plane - or so he claimed. Unfortunately for Gilmore, there were no witnesses.
A gifted inventor, Gilmore had secured patents for impressive inventions including an 8-cylinder rotary engine and a motorized snow plow. Aviation was one of his greatest passions, and he described himself as the "aerial Fulton," a visionary who would open the skies the same way Fulton's steamboats revolutionized shipping.
Gilmore was by all accounts an odd bird. He rarely bathed and never cut his beard or hair. Legend has it that Gilmore believed his hirsute appearance would ward off diseases. He preferred to wear a long and tattered trenchcoat, even in the dead of summer.
Two of Gilmore's flying machines and many of the inventor's drawings and designs were destroyed by a hangar fire in 1935. In his later years, Gilmore balanced his time between tinkering with his aviation experiments and searching for gold in one of his two mines.
A heart attack sent him to the hospital in 1951. Shortly before he died, Gilmore was very upset to learn that the nurses had shaved off his beard and burned his beloved coat. He claimed there was $15,000 sewed into the lining.