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1919::The Calgary Stampede's Unexpected Attraction

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

The plane that fell from the sky.

1919::The Plane That Fell From the Sky

"1919::The Plane That Fell From the Sky"

Photo: Glenbow Archives (NA-1451-27)

On July 5, 1919, the final day of the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition, young veteran pilot Fred McCall was forced to make a crash landing when his craft's power supply suddenly shut off mid-air. He had to make a lightning-fast decision, and his options were thin. Either he could land his plane in the Motordome where thousands were watching world-renowned racecar drivers zoom around the track at breakneck speed, or he could land in the midway where thousands were enjoying the fair. Either way, casualties might be numbered by the score. In a hair-raising decision, he chose to somehow land his plane on top of the pole of the midway's carousel and hope for the best. Thousands watched as his powerless plane fell from the sky, but McCall skillfully guided it towards the carousel below. He took out two poles with the tips of his wings but landed plum on the centre of the carousel's pole... and not a single person was hurt.

1919::Climbing out of the plane.

"1919::Climbing Out of the Plane"

Glenbow Archives (NA-463-44)

"How are you kids... are you alright?" "Yes, we're fine." - Pilot Fred McCall to his two young passengers moments after landing.

1919::The Marvelous Escape

"1919::Marvelous Escape"

Clip: Calgary Herald (1919) Calgary, Alberta

When McCall landed, the skilled pilot immediately assessed the care of his two young passengers, both sons of the Stampede's manager who had asked the young pilot to take his sons on a short flight around the fairgrounds. After watching the plane come down, the manager raced through the crowd of thousands to reach the aircraft, only to hear his oldest son say, "We're all right, Dad!" It was later reported that his two uninjured boys were unfazed by the incident.

1919::Motorcar vs. Airplane

"1919::Motorcar vs. Airplane"

Clip: Calgary Herald (1919) Calgary, Alberta

The last scheduled attraction at the 1919 Stampede was a race between McCall in his plane and one of the most outstanding speed demons of the auto world, 'Wild Bill' Endicott. Theirs was a much-anticipated event that thousands had travelled to Calgary to see. Unfortunately, the race was forced to cancel with McCall's broken airplane. To keep the audience distracted and entertained, Wild Bill and a few racers drove stunts around the track. They didn't disappoint the crowd.

1919::Calgary Stampede's New Grandstand

"1919::Calgary Stampede's New Grandstand"

Photo Clip: Calgary Herald (1919) Calgary, Alberta

A record 12,000 people showed up at the Stampede Motordome to watch the world-class auto racing events. Calgary had anticipated a large turnout for the first post-war event and had built a new grandstand to accommodate the crowds. But it wasn't near enough. With the new grandstand filled to capacity, they filled up the old grandstand with paying customers. When that was full, they allowed spectators to line the track. When there was no more room around the track, they opened the infield for spectators willing to have an inside view.

1919::The Coincidence

"1919::The Coincidence"

Clip: Calgary Herald (1919)

In a crazy coincidence, while thousands watched pilot McCall crash land his plane on the carousel of the midway, thousands in the Motordome watched in horror as racecar driver Dave Koetzla crashed his car at a turn and came within an inch of losing his life. Koetzla walked away from the crash and would have kept competing if only he had a car.

1920::Dave Koetzla

"1920::Dave Koetzla"

Photo Clip: Bloomfield Monitor (1920)

Bloomfield, Nebraska

The auto racers had brought out large crowds at the Stampede that year. Koetzla was a young crack driver from Detroit who had overtaken the world when he broke a record in 1916 for the World's One-Hour Race. The following year, he put his budding career on hold to join the American Army. When the war was over, he jumped back into a top position on the auto racing circuit and built his own Maxwell racecar. He called it his 'Lorraine Special' and he smashed it up almost beyond repair at the 1919 Calgary Stampede. He joined Essex the following year, in 1920.

1918::Lieutenant Fred McCall

"1918::Lieutenant Fred McCall"

Clip: Calgary Herald (1918) Calgary, Alberta

Pilot Fred McCall was barely 22 years old when he earned his merit as a 'Flying Ace' in the First World War, and 23 when he crashed landed his plane in front of thousands at the 1919 Calgary Stampede. He continued his stellar reputation as a pilot in the following years and flew as a Squadron Leader in World War II. Calgary's International Airport was once named after him, and his name remains familiar in the annals of history.

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