Aviation Feat at Mt. Tamalpais

by Laurie Thompson

Souvenir Postcard of Cooke’s flight over Mt. Tamalpais, December 19, 1911. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection

On December 19, 1911, Weldon B. Cooke, an intrepid 27-year old aviator, won the distinction of being the first to fly in Marin County and the first to circle the summit of Mt. Tamalpais. Cooke, a California native, was born in San Joaquin County and educated at U.C. Berkeley. According to the Dec. 20, 1911 San Francisco Call, the flight to Marin from Oakland was Cooke’s “greatest aerial effort” to date and was made in a biplane that he had built himself.

The Call describes his flight from Oakland to Marin:

A thousand feet above the peak of Tamalpais, beyond the track of errant gulls and storm driven waterfowl, an aviator, Weldon B. Cooke, took his flight yesterday afternoon, circling the lonely mountain in the teeth of a 30 mile gale. Far above the fog rifts of a lower altitude, and bathed to the full radiance of a sun that already had set on the rest of the world, the daring young Californian braved the treacherous air currents to realize the ambition of his career as a birdman — and succeeded….“The flight commenced at 3:45 o’clock. After following the ridge of hills just behind Oakland as far as North Berkeley, Cooke turned aside to go over the campus of the state university, where, from an altitude of 4,000 feet, he dropped two letters, one addressed to his brother and the other to President Benjamin Ide Wheeler….

From Berkeley he struck out over Point Richmond, and then straight for the little resthouse and observatory on top of the mountain….across the bay he made a speed of a mile a minute. His intended flight took him directly over San Quentin Prison….

When Cooke reached Mount Tamalpais’ 2,592-foot peak, he “urged his biplane another 1,000 feet toward the sky…to be free from the treacherous sudden guests and edies that form around the summit.

He flew far to the north, then circled back and came down the wind, passing almost over the peak, and so close that he could hear the whistle of the little locomotive that carries tourists up and down….

Portrait of Weldon B. Cooke, 1911 © San Francisco Call

Apparently Cooke had originally planned to head to San Francisco after circling Mt. Tamalpais but the hour became late and so he decided instead to drop down in Mill Valley where he landed at Locust Avenue Station. However, “…a gust of wind shunted his machine off into a swamp…and caused some slight damage as he struck. When he took his bearings he found he was only a short distance from the home of his sister in law, Mrs. S. H. Buttner, and that he was just in time for dinner.”

Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.

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