Peoria Landmark #316
I am not going to even attempt to write a encyclopedic entry for Octave Chanute, but I will give an overview for those who are not familiar, along with a few personal notes. For the record, I was only vaguely familiar with the name Octave Chanute until I visited the Smithsonian’s Air & Space museum in Washington D.C. a few years ago.
Paris born Octave Chanute moved to the United States at the age of six. He did not have a formal education but learned engineering through a series of apprenticeships and built his first (rail) bridge across the Illinois River at Peoria in 1856. He also designed the Chicago and Kansas City stockyards., along with the first bridge to cross the Missouri River.
Interesting to me is the story I have always been told about St. Joseph and Kansas City, Mo. The story goes that the high falutin’ citizens of St. Joe, (“where the Pony Express began and Jessie James ended” so goes their official slogan) weren’t real thrilled with the idea of a dirty black smoke blowing railroad going through town. Kansas City, which had approximately the same population and resided about 50 miles to the south, had no such objections. The rail was routed through KC and Octave Chanute built the first bridge spanning the Missouri River and opened rail to the west.
Octave Chanute is most well known for his contributions to aviation. The Wright Brothers “Kitty Hawk” was based on Chanute’s earlier built glider.
Wilbur Wright: “If he (Chanute) had not lived, the entire history of progress in flying would have been other than it has been, for he encouraged not only the Wright Brothers to persevere in their experiments, but (his) private correspondence with experimenters in all parts of the world was of great volume. No one was too humble to receive a share of his time. In patience and goodness of heart, he has rarely been surpassed. Few men were more universally respected and loved.”
To answer commenter jl’s question of why he is buried in Peoria, all I could find was that he married Annie Riddel James, of Peoria, around the same time he built the rail bridge here. They had three children together, so while he seemed to have projects going on all around the east and midwest, I would surmise that Peoria may have been his home and where his children were raised. I cannot confirm this. I will also add that there are other family members buried at Springdale, but I did not think to notice who they were or take pictures at the time.
Notice the little thing stuck to the top of the gravestone? That’s a tiny compass attached a piece with of gum. The only reason I know it’s gum is because there was another piece of gum stuck on the left-hand side, but with nothing attached to it. I was annoyed and pulled it off before realizing it was being used as glue. I don’t know what was attached on the left, but it tickles me to think someone might have driven from a long distance to visit and pay respect to someone that most Peorians, including me until a few years ago, had no idea had roots and is buried here.
Octave Chanute, the “Father of Aviation.”