Tag Archives: American history

William Hazelgrove Re-Writes The Wrights: There’s a Lot More To the Story of the First Flight Than You Might Think

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Imagine taking on two of America’s most cherished icons and suggesting that, “Freud would have a field day” with them — that one was a prissy, fastidious “metrosexual” with “small hands” (Yes! How timely!) — and, oh yeah, by the way, their sister was probably a lesbian.

The icons are Orville and Wilbur Wright, hallowed American heroes who cracked the code of manned flight, bringing to fruition a cherished dream the human race had nurtured with deep longing for thousands of years.

The achievement was so monumental — and that fact that two humble bicycle mechanics pulled it off without fancy college degrees, support from powerful people or big money backing — made the Wright brothers the quintasensual American archetypes. Pure, conquering, unstoppable, modest.

Wilbur (left) and Orville Wright

But just as we’ve come to a time when we must stop believing that George Washington refused to lie about chopping down a cherry tree — author WILLIAM HAZELGROVE thinks it’s time we put some authentic flesh on the bones of what history has handed down about the Wrights. That being: The brothers as sanitized stick figures who were the personification of the good old American values of hard work, midwestern ingenuity and moral purity.

I have no doubt many conservative types who read this will wail: “Revisionist history! It’s sickening! We’ve had enough revisionist history!”

Some liberal types might moan: “Who really cares if Orville Wright was effeminate and possibly gay, and his sister a lesbian? How is that relevant? Stop making a big deal out of gayness!”

But Hazelgrove has a bigger fish to fry in his latest offering, WRIGHT BROTHERS, WRONG STORY. The 132-pound flounder he spends 334 pages filleting is poor Orville Wright himself. Not-so-subtly suggesting that Orville was a repressed homosexual is the least of the historical makeovers the author has in store for the junior first aviator.

Because Orville outlived Wilbur by 38 years, Hazelgrove argues that it was Orvillle who actually committed the original sin of revisionist history — as in portraying himself as the full equal of his brother in their triumph. Upon Wilbur’s death of typhoid in 1912, Orville was left in sole possession of the grist mill of history. At every turn, in every book article and letter, he made sure that his contribution was presented as equal, if not sometimes superior to that of his brother.

Hazelgrove argues that it was Wilbur who deserves 90% if not 100% of the credit for cracking the code of flight, rendering him as a special kind of genius. Orville, on the other hand, was barely more than a second-rate bicycle mechanic who would have been pleased to live out his life in comfortable obscurity as long as he made a buck in the bike business.

But wasn’t Orville Wright the first man — in all the ages and in the history of mankind and the planet — to actually perform powered flight? That’s true, but Hazelgrove would even strip him of this honor. He writes off Orville’s seminal lift-off as a mere 12-second hop that cleared just 120 feet. Later that day, Wilbur took the Kitty Hawk aloft and flew for 59 second and traveled 852 feet. That, Hazelgrove contends, was the real first flight.

Newsman and Wright biographer Fred. C. Kelly

Whatever the case — Hazelgrove has made a decent enough argument here with a lot of facts, research and document-based evidence. He puts it all out there and let’s the reader decide — except perhaps at the end of the book when Hazelgrove goes into full editorial mode. He forcefully states that Orville did a lot of illicit hijacking of the historical record, especially through his Byzantine editorial control over the first major biography of the Wrights by compliant and hungry journalist FRED KELLY.

Does Hazelgrove go too far in smashing Orville down to size while elevating Wilbur to the lofty status of a virtual Icarus? I’ll say, very mildly, that he does go too far. I’m not saying I’m right and that Mr. Hazelgrove is wrong, but I think there are lot of intangibles that need to be considered. I think every Don Quixote needs a Sancho Panza, every Batman needs a Robin, every Frodo needs a Sam Gamgee.

Katharine Wright. Lesbian?

Certainly, Orville repeatedly and willingly risked death in the early test flights. He also suffered the deep privations on the brutal sands of Kitty Hawk as he supported his brother’s “crazy dream.” Orville was there for his big brother! He could have happily been devoting his time to his own successful bicycle business, building wealth and a local reputation for himself. Also, both men battled broiling heat by day and bitter cold by night — and tortuous mosquitoes, hurricane winds, choking, smoke-filled tents, isolation and boredom, scarce food and the wicked, cloying sands of the Carolina beach.

On the other hand, stirring the pot of controversy makes this a more juicy, enjoyable read. Add to that Hazelgrove’s marvelous ability to turn a fine phrase. He makes a work of history read like thrilling fiction. Mr. Hazelgrove cut his chops writing mainstream novels. Now he brings his flare for fiction to factual history that makes it come alive with colorful “characters” who are working through a complex plot among exotic locations — except these plots, places and situations  are real.

NOTE: The following links will take you to the other William Hazelgrove books I have reviewed on this site:

AL CAPONE AND THE 1933 WORLD’S FAIR by William Hazelgrove

MADAM PRESIDENT by William Hazelgrove.

ROCKET MAN (Fiction) by William Hazelgrove

THE PITCHER (fiction) by William Hazelgrove

JACK PINE (Fiction) by William Hazelgrove

REAL SANTA (Fiction) by William Hazelgrove

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Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS


Chicago-based Author William Hazelgrove Delivers a Spellbinding Narrative on the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Think of some of the most incredible achievements of human ingenuity – the construction of the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the digging of the Panama Canal, landing a man on the moon …

… well, after reading AL CAPONE AND THE 1933 WORLD’S FAIR I’m tempted to put what the city of Chicago pulled off in the depths of the Great Depression right up there with some of the most stunning accomplishments in human history.

At the very least, I had no idea about what an extraordinary undertaking Chicago’s Century Of Progress was, how enormous were the odds against its success, and how this event should today be viewed as a pivotal achievement that shaped the future of our country.

Not only did Chicago find a way to fund a multi-million (billions in today’s dollars) fantasy project when the American economy was gutted and on its knees, it did so while de-fanging the most organized, entrenched and deadly crime syndicates America had ever known – the murderous empire of Al Capone.

The confluence of ridding Chicago of Capone with the creation of the 1933 World’s Fair makes for a narrative so rich, intriguing and full of plot twists and turns, this work of historical fact is as much fun to read as an work of audacious creative fiction.

William Hazelgrove

All that’s needed to create an absorbing, fascinating book to tell the story is one of America’s hardest working writers, and preferably a Chicago-based author with excellent gut feel for the soul of the Windy City — enter WILLIAM HAZELGROVE.

I’ve read six or seven of this author’s work, both fiction and nonfiction, and I’ll say this is his best work to date.

In Al Capone and the 1933 World’s Fair, Hazelgrove finds a rhythm on the first page and proceeds to weave together a gigantic amount of information – including the biographical stories of the real people who lived these events – into an enthralling narrative that makes for a mesmerizing whole. Its historical fact transformed into compelling entertainment.

While giving us the overall scoop, Hazelgrove deftly highlights key characters of the era, from the people integral to building the World’s Fair from the ground up, to those individuals who found their lives pivoting around Chicago’s mind-blowing party of the century.

Sally Rand, born Helen Beck, performs the ‘Bubble Dance,” a version of her famous feather dance.

Among the most fascinating was Sally Rand, the small-town Missouri girl who found early fame in Hollywood silent films, only to be washed out of Tinsel Town at the advent of the “talkies.” Rand’s lisp abruptly jettisoned her career as a film star. She retained her most potent weapon, however – great physical beauty and an uncanny aura of sensual sexuality that made leering at her lithe body an irresistible draw for a nation of sexually repressed men.

Rand would ride her famous feather dance to future fame and fortune. It was her semi-legal, glorified peep-show at the 1933 World’s Fair that made it possible. It’s pure Americana: Even a washed-up starlet’s tawdry burlesque shtick illustrates a central element of the American Dream — absolutely anyone can rise from rags to riches to become “somebody,” and a self-made success.

With a certain matter-of-fact, blunt irony, Hazelgrove points out – that’s what Al Capone did too!

Finally, Hazelgrove’s take on the Chicago World’s Fair provides us with an overarching sense of sociological context and a greater appreciation for the lasting implications the Century of Progress delivered for American society – but he does so without lecturing his readers, or resorting to preachy opinionating about what (or should) make America the great social experiment it is.

Yes, certainly, I have some quibbles with this book, but these pertain to a bit of dicey editing here and there and some problems with fact checking (what year did Sally Rand die?) – however, these are minor factors that don’t meaningfully detract from what is an overall fine and fascinating read that I can strongly recommend.

NOTE: Here are some of my other reviews of William Hazelgrove books:






Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS


Follow @KenKorczak