Half a thousand muzzle-loader addicts from all over the U.S. who gathered in a sylvan glade near the hamlet of Friendship, Ind. last week for their annual national championships?many of them after driving hundreds of miles to get there?gave a magnificent demonstration of this long-suffering devotion to antiquity. Scores of trailers and almost 200 tents dotted the woodland near the range; ladies of the Farmer's Retreat Lutheran Church served thousands of meals in a big central clubhouse which the National Muzzle-Loading Rifleman's Association (6,000 members) has built for the annual championship shoots.
The riflemen themselves lent the scene an unmistakable individuality. Their costumes were, to put it mildly, bright?and if not completely authentic were at least early MGM. Members of two Ohio groups?the Ironton Charcoal Burners and the Bill Moose Muzzle-Loading Club?arrived wearing fringed get-ups of what they described as velvet deer finish leather. Michigan's Chief Wyandotte Muzzle-Loading Club affected beaded finery. Coonskin caps and old-fashioned powder horns were plentiful. Neither the Richmond Grays (who wear Confederate Civil War uniforms) nor the Washington Blues (who wear Union suits, as it were, of the same vintage) showed up, but a Canadian named Ernest Swain strode about in full Highland regalia.
Thus attired, and surrounded by admiring wives and children, they spent five full days loosing of their fearful weapons at targets while the Southern Indiana hills rumbled with the echoes. A muzzle-loader not only kicks the average shoulder blade into a loose group of bone fragments at the first blast and leaves the eardrums useless, but emits a cloud of smoke which smells very much like rotten eggs. It also fouls up the barrel with every shot and, on pulling himself together and wiping the tears from his eyes, the fusilier must clean it thoroughly before beginning the time-consuming process of reloading. But were the riflemen dismayed?
Veteran Muzzle-Loader Elihu Lyman summed up their general attitude some time before the championships. "When I'm dead," he said, "I hope they cremate me. Then I'd like them to roll my ashes into a well-cast ball, ram me down the barrel of a muzzle-loader and let some good marksman blast me through the bull's-eye."
The pilots who competed in that time-honored aerial sporting contest, the 16th annual 1,900-mile ( Los Angeles to Dayton) Bendix Trophy Race last weekend flew jet airplanes and spent a great deal of their time scribbling complex problems of navigation and fuel management upon pads strapped to their thighs. They strove for flight so scientifically correct that the last drop of fuel would be utilized at the instant of passing the finish pylon. The winner, Air Force Captain Edward W. Kenny, averaged 616.208 mph and used the last of his fuel as he was taxiing off the runway, seconds after landing. Nothing could have been in more dramatic contrast to the memories, aroused but a few days before, by the death of the one-time world speed king, Bert Acosta, reckless, roistering and tragic hero of aviation's brave and lusty youth.
In his wild way Acosta was a near genius?from the moment he built and flew his own airplane in San Diego as a teen-ager in 1910 it seemed obvious that he had been born for the air. Handsome, nerveless, burning with a lust for adventure and speed, he reached his tabloid-chronicled zenith in the booming '20s. He was the first man to fly more than 200 miles an hour. In 1927 with Clarence Chamberlin he set a world endurance record of 51 hours 11 minutes and 20 seconds; in the same year he flew Admiral Byrd's perilously overloaded Fokker, The America
, across the Atlantic.
Bert Acosta could fly anything, anywhere, his admirers cried. He tried. Once he flew an antiquated Jenny under three of New York's East River bridges. He zoomed past the clock on New York's Metropolitan Life Tower after a hapless passenger asked him the time. He blew a fortune, lost his pilot's license, was repeatedly jailed for nonsupport of his second wife and two sons. By 1936?middle-aged, broke, forgotten?he was a Bowery bum. He had only courage and instinct to sell. He went to Spain as a pilot for the Loyalist Armies and for 20 incredible days flew bombing missions with ancient and coughing transport planes while Hitler's hot young fighter pilots hunted him in the clouds. Disillusioned by Spanish "democracy," he left without a cent.
He rarely flew again. Tuberculosis claimed him. A few years ago old friends sent him to the Jewish Consumptive Relief Society's sanitarium in Denver and there, last week, he died. His day was long done?but during it, in his gallant and foolhardy way, he had put his glowing match-scratch of achievement upon the sky. Some of its light lingered still.
Outfielder among friends