Q: Why did Byrd get such a huge reception when he returned to the United
States? What did his victory represent to Americans in the '20s? |
RG: His victory once again represented the superiority of American
technology, American ambition and Byrd entered the growing pantheon of
American heroes in the 1920's. Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Richard Byrd.
People named their children after Richard Byrd because he was such a heroic
figure and in this era of motion pictures, he looked good on camera. A
very dashing figure and the news media just absolutely fell in love with this
very athletic, good looking officer and to make it even better, he's from a
very distinguished family. So just an absolute prize as a heroic icon.
Q: Byrd said he entered the hero business with the North flight. What did
he mean by this and do you think he expected it?
RG: Byrd has a curious chapter in "Skyward", entitled "the hero business".
And he talks in that chapter about all the parades and the lecture tours, the
news media, etc., and it's a telling phrase because he refers to it as a
business. He recognizes that this is a business that he needs to cultivate and
he cultivates it very well. He cultivates it in terms of creating a public
image that makes people want to buy stories and this cash is the foundation,
along with donations, for the next expeditions. That's really the whole
history of private polar exploration. You draw some publicity, you gather the
cash, lecture tours, whatever, Byrd was able to do it on a scale never
achieved before, in large part because of the nature of the mass media.
Q: Why does he get such a big reception?
RG: Despite the inglorious ending of the transatlantic in the water, the
flight is still viewed as a significant accomplishment. After all, it had a
very happy ending. The drama was there for all the newspapers to pick up. The
National Geographic published an article in its popular magazine about the
flight and everybody comes back safely, that certainly is a trade mark of
Byrd's expedition. So, even though coming in third, it really hasn't lost any
luster and he also can make the case that after all, he's the first to fly a
three engine aircraft and make the point that this is where aviation will go,
not the one engine plane.
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