Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand




Marilyn Slater

Looking for Mabel

May 30, 2011

Mabel Normand’s Instructors Meet Tragic Ends in Machines.

New Orleans Times-Picayune

December 3, 1916

 Five times has death interested in discouraged Miss Mabel Normand in her pet desire to own and operate an airplane.  Five aviators, each of whom would have taught the adventurous star how to fly have been killed within less than two years.  They were Lincoln Beachey (1), Frank Stites (2), Charles Niles (3), Silas Christofferson (4), Joseph Boquel (5).

     Boquel, who had earned the name of Sky Dragon because he exceeded all of his predeceases in daring aerial feats, gave Miss Normand a lesson in the handling of an airplane just prior to his death, November 4, 1916.


     The last photograph of the aviator was taken with Miss Normand at the termination of this lesson.


     When after Boquel’s death, Miss Normand was asked whether she had abandoned her intention to own and operate an airplane she said:

 “Just now, with the shock of poor Joe’s death upon me, I feel that it would be taking too much of chances.  But I felt the same way after Beachey died and the desire came back; and I felt the same way after Stites died and after Niles died and the desire came back.  Christofferson died just a few days before Boquel and the two deaths affected me very much.

“It seems to me, however, that this desire to fly has always been in me.  I have always loved the freedom of motion through air; I don’t care nearly as much for swimming as I do for diving.

“Long before I ever saw an airplane I had dreams of flying through the air.

“When you are handling an automobile or when riding a horse or swimming in the ocean you feels the operation of contending forces. You have to flight the ocean but the flying in the air is entirely different.  You feel a wonderful freedom of sense, a tremendous exhilaration and you mean to be the mistress of the universe; down beneath you survey, the controller of your destiny, the master of your fate.

“It seems to me that the airplane represents the biggest thing for, which human beings are striving, that it embodies the aspiration for freedom from all the petty thoughts that belong to life: that it carries us away from all these things into the away from all these things into the star depths and brings the illimitable universe close to us.

“At the present time with Boquet’s death of Beachey, Stites, Niles and Christofferson, I feel afraid, but the fascination of flying still possesses me.  The moth does not dash into the flames must represent to it some joy, some delight, which is superior to death.  If I am to judge by my own feelings despite the examples of the hazards of airplane flight, I will some day own and operate my own airplane.”


(1) Lincoln Beachey dead at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco on March 14, 1915, eleven days after his 28th birthday

(2) Frank Stites died on March 15, 1915 at Universal City, California in a plane crash at the studio, he was only 23.

(3) Silas Christofferson was killed in a crash, October 31, 1916 at  25.

(4) Charles Niles, thousands witness his fatal drop June 26, 1916, he was just 26.

(5) Joseph (Boquel) Bocquel’s airplane drove into the ground, November 4, 1916.  He died at the age of 32, five minutes before he was to have been awarded a San Diego Exposition gold medal.

(6) Other images of the era

LFM pages


There is some information on Mabel’s Peace Day


Linton Wells and his wonderful wife are worth reading about at a page, titled Suzanna by Linton Wells


Colonel Art Goebel, a flying friend.




Lincoln Beachey dead at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco on March 14, 1915, eleven days after his 28th birthday. The Beachey family was part of the San Francisco community even before Lincoln was born March 3, 1887 in the City by the Bay; his father was a blind Civil War veteran, who with the help of his two sons was able to support the family with a bicycle shop and by repairing motorcycles Lincoln at the age of 16 was working full time. The Beachey brothers were fascinated with heavier-than-air flight in that same year that the Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight took place, December 1903. 

By 1905 when Lincoln was just 18, he was already operating airships with the Thomas Baldwin’s balloon troupe using of gas balloons. It only took a couple of years for him to become one of the most successful balloonists in the United States. He helped build the dirigible, California Arrow with Baldwin. His brother, Hillery was particularly adapted in the rigging and mechanical aspects of the airships. Lincoln and Hillery flew the dirigible, as part of the Beachey-Knabenshue Company around the Washington Monument and landed on the White House lawn


The 1910 Los Angeles International Aviation Meet, was held at the Dominguez Field in Compton, California. The Beachey Brothers moved from balloons to planes, building of flyable aeroplanes was part of the meet. Operating a Beachey-Knabenshue Racing Airship came to an end when Lincoln became an aviator, taking lessons at the Curtiss Flying School.


Lincoln’s career as a professional aviator was making him famous. He had figured out how to conquer the spin.  He simply climbed until he ran out of fuel and then glided back to earth with a dead engine. In February 1911, he flew over Niagara Falls and under the International Bridge. Within months, he was setting world records for altitude and speed. His signature stunt became the vertical climb until his plane's engine stalled, then diving toward the ground, pulling up at the last possible minute.   

     At the Chicago International Aviation Meet he was able to charge large fees for his exhibition of death defying stunts. He was the first to fly upside down.

     It is uncertain why he stopped flying, although he himself understood how dangerous it was to push the edge of the possibilities of flight. He just stopped at the beginning of 1913.  So many of his fellow aviators tried to emulate his maneuvers and had died.


     However, he loved the freedom of the air and went back to the flying, like movies was thought to be a new ‘art.’  It was called Aviating. One school held that aviators should fly straight, level, ‘safe and sane’ and then there were the ‘flying fools’ with their high altitudes, steep banks and speed.  When the higher altitudes were reached aviator’s “volphane” long glide were created, which evolved into the spiral glide.  Some berated Lincoln for encouraging this dangerous spiral dive in exhibition.  Lincoln did the first loop done in an aerophone.  It is reported that between November 1913 and November 1914 he looped over 1,000 times. His plane was reliable, well-built and maintained, which was not always the case with others.  A skilled mechanic or “mechanician” as they were called were rare and highly valued.

     Mabel Normand made “Barney Oldfield’s Race For A Life” in the early summer of 1913. It was a single reel but it is considered a daring adventure, with “Dare Devil” Oldfield racing a train to save Mabel, tied to a railroad tracks.


Lincoln Beachey, partnered with Barney Oldfield to race each other before tremendous audiences, they were said have made $250,000 (about 6 million in today’s dollars) Barney drives the racecar on a track, and Lincoln usually beat the car and ending with a loop.  As other stunt pilots increased the number of loops, Lincoln increased his loops.    

     Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle visited with a unit from Keystone Studio to make “Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World Fair at San Francisco” in March 1915.  At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, March 14, 1915, Lincoln was diving over San Francisco Bay in a new plane performing exhibitions of flying when the wings broke away and he fell into the bay at full speed; he was killed.

























“It is simply the dancing along life’s icy brink and the attendant excitement that makes life worth while” – Lincoln Beachey.

Civilian exhibition flying came to an end during World War 1 when flying had entered a second phase.  Sadly the proponents of ‘safe and sane’ flying were shot from the sky while aviators utilizing the banks, tight turns, steep claims of Lincoln Beachey faired better. 



 Frank Stites crashed while performing a staged bombing at the opening ceremonies of Universal City. A shockwave knocked out the control of the aeroplane caused by a badly time explosion’s. He was taken to hospital with a broken leg and internal injuries; he died March 15, 1915 at 23.  Frank Stites, a native of Southern California had turn to the new “art” of aviation early made danger part of his “art.”


In 1912 at 20 years of age at the Dominguez Field he narrowly escaped death as he tried to execute a loop-the-loop. After he recovered he continued to perform stunts in Los Angeles. In a free exhibition at Sunset and Coronado for the grand opening of the Olivedale housing tract, he dropped a shower of coins and certificates on the heads of the crowd gathered; this stunt was filmed.  

At Venice Beach, California June 20, 1914, he lost control of his aeroplane. Frank bumped a brick building and was seriously injured. His biplane was wrecked and the building was partly demolished. He prevented swooping down on bathers, who were unaware of the emergency.


“The Girl of Yesterday” was a Famous Players silent film made in 1915; with Mary Pickford and Jack Pickford in the movie there were a number of advanced aerials scenes made in San Diego and also some footage at the Raleigh Studio.  This is believed to be the first integration of the US military aviation in the movies. With civilian aviators Glen Martin, Lincoln Beachey and Frank Stites preformed.

At the Opening of Universal City, Carl Laemmle sat with Frank Stites in the aeroplane, the founder of Universal Pictures recognized the potential of aviation in movies and Frank was given the opportunity to work for the studio.


Frank had worked with Lincoln Beachey. The men were good friends.  Lincoln had died in San Francisco, and Frank crashed his plane in Universal City.  It was reported that Frank was greatly depressed over his friend’s death.  Frank Stites fell 200 feet with his airplane on Tuesday and was fatally injured, dying half an hour later in a hospital. Frank apparently lost control in flight and too close to ground, to regain it, was dashed to earth.     




 Silas Christofferson killed in a crash, October 31, 1916 at the age of 26; he was the man who is credited with “bombing Seattle”, on July 18, 1914. Of course, it was only a demonstration. Born near Des Moines, Iowa in 1890; he came to California at seven with his parents.  His family owned a ranch near San Diego. 

Silas saw Lincoln Beachey fly in 1910 at the age of twenty and after watching him, he went home, built his own airplane and began to fly, a meachanic and consulting engineer, Silas believed that the air was as safe as the ground, if one flew with good judgment.

He was the first to fly between San Francisco and Los Angeles over the Tehachapi Mountains. The most dramatic feat of Christofferson's career, flying off the roof of the Multinomah Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon during the 1912 Portland Rose Festival; he had built a 170-foot wooden runway on the roof of a hotel and flew to the military barracks at Vancouver.


The daring young aviator commented on his flight from the rooftop of the Multnomah Hotel     "This is an age of do it first. Be original; don't copy. When a feat has once been performed, the people tire of it and expect the next performer to give something entirely new. That is the only reason I have decided to make a flight from the top of the Multnomah Hotel building on Tuesday afternoon. It will be the first exhibition of the kind in the history of aviation."


The young aviator only the year before his roof top flight he had set a world's altitude record climbing to nearly 20,000 feet.  1915 he followed American aviators to Mexico; he was shot down by rifle fire. Silas Christofferson, Charles Niles, and others flew on various sides during the Revolution aerial activity. He was at Monterey, Mexico, with two Wright B's and a Wright HS fuselage tractor, he was flying for Poncho Villa. 

He designed and built 2 “flying-boats” for Roald Amundsen to be used for scientific exploration of the Northwest Passage, they were referred to as “two wheels” - dual control.

   Silas was flying several hundred feet over the aviation field on Halloween 1916 in Redwood City, California when his engine went dead. He ‘volplaned’ but could not regain control of the aeroplane and was hurled to the ground. His plane overturned in a 100 feet fall during a trial of a new military biplane with a new innovative control system.  His wife and two brothers watching the flight with a pupil of the Silas Christofferson Aviation School rushed to his aid; he was taken to a hospital were he died from his injuries.









 Charles Franklin Niles, a true international daredevil flyer, born in Rochester, New York in 1888 but as restless as the wind that lifted his aeroplane’s wings. He flew in the Philippines despite the war in Europe at the Paco Carnival in Manila in April of 1916. He preformed aerobatic stunts for his hosts in Japan and made a favorable impression of aviation on the Emperor, The Japanese military showed a keen interest in aviation. Charles had been trained by Glenn Curtiss and was a member of the famous Class of 1913.  Right after his short flight instruction, he was performing death-defying stunts in both the US and in Central America.  


In 1913 a mire 10 years after the Wright Brothers flight, the Aeronautical Society held a meet five aviators completed a circuit of Manhattan Island starting from Oakwood Heights, Staten Island, Some flew biplanes and others monoplanes. The winner flew the same style of machine as the Wright Brothers made famous.  Charles Niles in his 100 horse power Curtiss biplane finished in second place (winning $750) and the winner was W. S. Luckey (his prize was $1,000).


April 18, 1914 in Hempstead, New Jersey, Charles flying upside down in a south-west gale blowing more than 35 miles an hour. Charles bucking the wind until he reached an altitude of about 2,000 feet with his aeroplane twisting in the blast in a monoplane thrilled the spectators. In a second attempt when the circle was half complete, the plane slipped earthward nearly 1,000 feet when an unusually heavy guest struck it. Charles ended his day by flying upside down for nearly a half mile. 


Charles was one of the aviators who had thrilled Panama-Pacific Exposition crowds in 1915 with his sensational loops. He had come from Mexico to San Francisco during the latter part of the exposition. Charles task at the Exposition was to make daily ascents and perform aerial feats for the delighted crowds.


Before his demonstrations in Japan and the Philippines, he had already demonstrated his risky loops and dives in Shanghai, Peking and Hong Kong.  He had two aeroplanes with him; the Christofferson Biplane and a stress engineered monoplane built for him by the Huntington Aircraft Company.


As part of his exhibition Charles performed the “French loop made famous by Adolph Pegoud, He also flew upside down and did other risky stunts.  He was a sensation a real crowd pleaser and dare devil even when his mechanics warned that they were having engine trouble, he flew. 


In Manila he met and married an American girl in May 1916. One month after his marriage June 25, 1916. Charles was performing in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, his looping the loop, when his aeroplane fell 200 feet. Ten-thousand people thrilled by his looping the loop and flying upside down, saw the fall.  His wife was among the spectators.


The aeroplane was 1,000 feet in the air when the plane leapt forward a few feet and shot down.  It was only when it dropped on its side did anyone see that the right wing was burning.


Charles Niles was much like the moth, whom Mabel Normand saw as the symbol; “The moth does not dash into the flames once as it must represent to it some joy, some delight, which is superior to death.




Joseph G. Bocquel (Joe Boquel) drove his airplane into the ground near Cabrillo Bridge, causing his death, November 4, 1916 at thirty-two. The accident happened five minutes before he was to be awarded a San Diego Exposition gold medal.


Joe was born in Normandy, Frances in 1884. He was almost unknown before July of 1915, when he suddenly appeared in the sky.  He had been a pupil of Silas Christofferson at the Christofferson School in 1912 and experimented with trial flights on the ocean beach.  At Redding, California, Joe gave an exhibition that the local papers, reported as his stunts were equal to any famous aviators were of doing.  Though the crowd was pleased, Joe himself was disappointed because engine trouble prevented him from giving a longer flight than he planned.  During the flight one cylinder failed; by the time he got back to the Redding field three cylinders were dead.  In landing he struck the ground hard and several minor parts of the Christofferson plane were broken.  July 24 Joe in his Christofferson looped the loop twenty times in the sky above San Francisco.


In San Francisco, August 1, 1916, the “Sky Dragon” came to the city with his dare-devil air feats.  He thrilled the citizens of the City by the Bay with a night flight in an illuminated biplane far above the tops of the downtown buildings.  His life was saved that August night by his cool-headedness when his engine went dead in the middle of a loop 1,500 feet above hundreds of spectators. The aeroplane was completely destroyed.  He had been in the air about fifteen minutes and was in the midst of a long string of loops when those below him ceased to hear the hum of his motor.  Although upside-down at the time, Joe attempted to volplane to the sandy beach, but was blinded by the headlights of hundreds of automobiles on the highway.  The plane was falling rapidly.  Joe in unbuckled the straps which held him to his seat and a short distance from the ground, hurled himself from the tumbling plane. 


The crash as the aeroplane struck was heard; spectators rushed to the crumpled empty plane.  They found the aviator unconscious a few feet away.  Joe had fallen on the sloping side of a large sand dune and rolled to safety.  The wrecked plane was less than 100 yards from his cottage where his wife was watching the flight.  When Joe regained consciousness he walked home.


His daring performance that night marks the first time that someone had looped the loop over the business portion of an American city. 


The Seal Beach letterhead was used for official city correspondence in the early promotion of the city. Almost the entire 1915 San Francisco Panama Pacific Exposition was going to be rebuilt on the beach of the city formerly known as Bay City, and this artwork probably reflects that “sky’s the limit” optimism of early Seal Beach boosterism

One of the expo’s stunt fliers, Joseph Boquel, became a popular regular attraction in the skies above Seal Beach. 


A years later, Joe began an engagement October 28, 1916 at the San Diego Exposition by doing evolutions above the Tractor-Aviation Field. Before taking off the next night, he had engine problems. A dozen times Joe looped the loop, made a “dippy twist” and a series of spectacular dives in one of the most perfect flights ever seen on the coast. His engine was dead when he started for the ground, forcing him to volplane into a street in front of the Exposition auditorium.  Joe dodged the tops of building and a maze of wires and poles, landing safely.

 Mabel Normand at the Exposition on October 30, 1916 with fifty schoolchildren buried arms of war in Montezuma Gardens as part of the Peace Day celebration, while Joe was performing.



After Joe’s death theatres, showed newsreel photos of “Mabel Normand’s during Peace Day at San Diego Exposition” with Joe Boquel, just before his death.


While doing a "corkscrew" he was unable to gain control he drove his aeroplane into the ground near Cabrillo Bridge, causing his death. Saturday was the last day of Joe’s engagement at the San Diego Exposition and in the presence of hundred of spectators he was killed instantly when his biplane crashed. The plane was seen to shake violently and fell like a stone in the exposition grounds just north of the Cabrillo Bridge, Joe’s body was found crushed under a tangle of wreckage.

San Diego paid military honors to daring Joe Boquel, the intrepid aviator, who fell to his death at the Exposition Saturday while doing the hair-raising “falling leaf” stunt.


A military escort accompanied the body from San Diego on the train to San Francisco, where his wife, Mary and young daughter waited at their home at 316 Hollaway Avenue, San Francisco.  Exposition officials were in attendance at the impressive ceremony.

Joseph Boquel was laid to rest at the side of Lincoln Beachey and Silas Christoffson in Cypress Lawn Cemetery.  Lincoln, Silas and Joe were warm friends during their flying days and yes, Joe shared his love of the freedom of the air with his friend of Mabel Normand.








Los Angeles Fair