A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Lucile M. Wright (Jamestown), Evelynn Crandall (Kennedy), Harriet “Pantsy” Walker (Fredonia), Hugh Bedient (Falconer), and Benjamin F. Goodrich (Ripley). Originally airing on local radio stations March 28 – April 1, 2011.
No. 56 – Lucile Wright
Lucile Miller Wright was born in 1900, in Beatrice, Neb. and grew up living on her family’s ranch in Billings, Mont. In 1922 she went on her first flight with General Billy Mitchell, who was a personal friend of her father, Henry A. Miller. The aviator took young Lucile for a spin in his X-5 Jenny and they flew over New York’s Long and Staten Islands. Mitchell also allowed her to hold the control stick while in flight. It was at this point that Lucile fell in love with flying.
Because she was a woman, Lucile had a difficult time getting into flight school. She bought her flight time but male instructors were unwilling to admit she was ready for her flight test, even though she received the same training as the men, including flight time and written exams. But with a persistent determination, the feisty redhead finally earned her pilots license in 1935.
Shortly afterward, she then joined the “99s”, the International Association of Women Pilots founded by Amelia Earhart and the two became good friends. During World War II, Lucile flew with the Women’s Ferry Command doing search and rescue missions for the Civil Air Patrol. She also flew machine parts wherever they were needed and flew VIPs around the world.
Wright’s journey to Jamestown began when she met John H. Wright, founder and president of the Jamestown Telephone Corporation, at a Chamber of Commerce fly-in breakfast. After the two became married, she served as his pilot and treasurer of his company for many years.
In civic affairs, Wright was chairperson of the Airport Commission from 1951 to 1957, the only woman serving in that capacity. It is said she had a contentious relationship with city officials and those who remember her describe her as controversial, authoritarian, volatile, strong-willed and incapable of compromise – but equipped with the ability to get things done. She was instrumental in the further development of the airport and fundraised and donated money so it could accommodate DC-3s.
In 1977, Wright left Jamestown. In 1986, she donated $50,000 to a fund administered by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation for the establishment of an Air Museum. She died June 12, 1990 in Cody, Wyoming at the age of 89. During her time in the cockpit, the woman known as “Western New York’s First Lady of Aviation” logged 8,000 hours of flying. The Air Museum at the Chautauqua County Airport is named in Lucille Wright’s memory.
Ref: Chautauqua Mirror, “Jamestown’s First Lady of Aviation”; Jamestown Post-Journal, “Lucile Wright’s Heart Was in Jamestown”; Jean Henry Mead, “Lucile M. Wright, Early Aviatrix and Amelia Earhart’s Friend”
No. 57 – Evelynn Crandall
Evelynn Stone Crandall was born in the Town of Randolph, N.Y. on December 27, 1926. She was married to Vernon Crandall Sr. in 1946 and had two sons, Daryl and Vernon Jr.
Crandall lived in Kennedy and is noted for being the first woman to serve as a Chautauqua County Ligislator. She was elected from District No. 7 (Towns of Cherry Creek, Ellington and Poland) from 1978 to 1981 and again in 1984-1989. Crandall served as a Republican majority caucus leader. She was the chairperson of the Public Works Committee in 1988.
Crandall was also dedicated to local history. She also transcribed cemetery records, accumulated information on past and present town of Poland residents. She typed and indexed official town records.
Crandall passed away in Kennedy on January 10, 1991. Her extensive collections were donated by her husband Vernon the the Kennedy Free Library and copies were sent to the Reed Library in Fedonia.
No. 58 – Harriet Abigail “Panty” Walker
Harriet Abigail Walker was an eccentric woman of Fredonia who was known as “Pantsy” for the way she dressed, which was especially daring for the time. She was born on March 2, 1833 to Ephram S. and Amanda Walker in Tompkins, N.Y. By 1837, the family had moved to Flint, Mich. Ephram died at some time after 1850, and Amanda moved to Fredonia, N.Y. to be near her sister with Harriet and her younger sister Elizabeth coming along as well.
It is said that at some point in the late 1850s, Harriet and her sister were at the Dansville Sanitarium – a water cure establishment in Dansville, N.Y. While there, they wore a short dress and pants, an outfit that was popular in that area at the time. It was invented by the Sanitarium’s Dr. Harriet Austin, who was an advocate for women’s dress reform. Even after leaving Dansville, Harriet continued to wear the outfit because she found it comfortable, and that’s how “Pantsy” was given to her as a nickname, which stayed with her for the remainder of her life.
According to the 1860 and 1870 censuses, Harriet was a school teacher, although the location is not given. By 1880, Harriet and her sister Elizabeth became corset saleswomen.
Harriet died at her home on East Main St. on May 5, 1923. Elizabeth followed her in June. Both were buried in the family plot in Forest Hill Cemetery along with their mother.
Ref: Douglas Shepard, “Pantsy Walker”
No. 59 – Hugh Bedient
The start of Spring marks the start of the Major League Baseball season, and perhaps no Chautauqua County baseball player was more legendary than Hugh Carpenter Bedient.
Hugh Bedient was born October 23, 1889 in The Town of Gerry. He attended Falconer school and by the time he in High School, he became a well-known right-handed pitching star for Falconer High School and then for an amateur team from Falconer. It was while playing for the Falconer Semi-Pro Team on July 25, 1908 that he struck out 42 batters in 23 innings against Corry.
Two days later, the Jamestown Evening Journal ran the headline: Broke all records. Bedient of Falconer struck out 42 men, and the Corry Journal stated Corry and Falconer make World’s record. Twenty-three years later, Robert LeRoy Ripley, in his syndicated “Believe It Or Not!” of September 5, 1931, informed the world of Bedient’s feat, giving the first national recognition of this event.
The strike-out performance led to 19 offers from pro teams, including the Boston Red Sox, which he signed with in 1910. In 1912, he won 20 games as a Red Sox rookie and outdueled legend Christy Mathewson, defeating the New York Giants, 2–1, in Game Five of the 1912 World Series. He also pitched the first seven innings of the final game, won by the Red Sox in the tenth, 3-2.
In 1915, he became a member of the outlaw Federal League. Pitching for the Buffalo Blues, he went 16-18 with 106 strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA in 269-1/3 innings, leading the league with 10 saves. He finished his career with Toledo of the International League. The New York Yankees offered him a contract for the 1918 season, but Bedient was drafted and after World War I his professional career was essentially over, although he still made appearances at various venues and leagues.
Bedient died on July 21, 1965 in Jamestown at the age of 75. He was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. A group of baseball historians have named him the unofficial American League Rookie of the Year for the 1912 season.
No. 60 – Benjamin F. Goodrich
Benjamin Franklin Goodrich was born Nov. 4, 1841 in the Town of Ripley. His father Anson, died June 17, 1847 his Mother Susan almost 2 years later, May 6, 1849. At the age of 8, he was sent to Westfield to live Silas and Harriet Goodrich Dinsmore, his uncle and aunt.
At the age of 17, Goodrich began studying medicine with Cousin John Spencer, and then completed his studies at Cleveland Medical College (now Case Western), and served as a battlefront surgeon for the Union Army in the Civil War.
After a few years of a struggling medical practice, he went to work in Pennsylvania’s oilfields, then became a real estate speculator. In 1869 he used most of his real estate profits to purchase the Hudson River Rubber Company, a small business in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. The following year Goodrich accepted an offer of $13,600 from the citizens of Akron, Ohio, to relocate his business there.
According to legend, Goodrich had seen a friend’s home burn to the ground, with firefighters rendered helpless because their leather hoses had frozen and cracked. So once settled in Akron, his company began producing cotton-wrapped rubber hose, impervious to freezing. A few years later Goodrich started selling garden hoses and bicycle tires. Still, the company teetered near bankruptcy and went through numerous name changes, and its success was still uncertain when Goodrich died at the age of 46, in 1888.
A few years after his death, business began booming at BF Goodrich Company. The company introduced a pneumatic tire that could bear the speeds and loads of the emerging automobile market. Over subsequent decades, Goodrich company chemists invented plasticized polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in 1926, synthesized rubber in 1937, and built early space suits for NASA astronauts in the 1960s. The Goodrich Corporation abandoned the tire business in 1988, and now describes itself as “a global supplier of systems and services to the aerospace, defense and homeland security markets.”
Ref: Marie B. McCutcheon – Town of Ripley Historian, “Golden Glow of History Past”; Wikipedia – Benjamin Goodrich
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
– J. Sample