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The Mystique of the Eddy Kite

 

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William A. Eddy lived at the turn of the century in Bayonne, New Jersey. He was an affable and outgoing man. But he, his wife, and daughter disappeared from public view soon after 1900. After years of research, I've found him. A story about this adventure will be available here soon.

The Icon

Among the general population of the West, the elongated-diamond shape of the tailless Eddy kite is essentially synonymous with kite-shaped. This observation has been made by others and is hardly startling news, though it does raise the intriguing question as to why a diamond shape and not another. What is there about a diamond-shaped kite that has caused the collective psyche to grip it with such permanence?

Haunted by this cultural curiosity, I searched for references concerning the possible symbolism of the elongated-diamond-shaped kite in Western culture. But my research failed to uncover any clues, and my quandary escalated. The absence of a documented theory of some kind seemed to me a gaping hole in kite lore.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I came across an explanation in an environment totally removed from my kite research; the discovery was as unorthodox as it was enlightening. Before relating my experience, a brief look backward at the facts I did uncover is in order for perspective.

Trains in the Skies

Although tailless kites had been common in the East for centuries, the innovative leap from tail to tailless kites didn’t take place in the West until 1893 when William Eddy developed his tailless diamond-shaped kite in America. That same year, however, Lawrence Hargrave invented his tailless box, or cellular, kite in Australia. Hargrave’s box kite was a by-product of his efforts to develop a lifting structure capable of manned power flight.

Now, my original inquiry was compounded by another demanding question: Why was it that the box kite didn’t etch itself into Western consciousness as the preeminent kite form instead of the diamond-shaped Eddy?

Though trains of Eddy kites were being used to raise meteorological instruments to record heights, the superior stability and lifting power of Hargrave’s box-kite design soon became the kite of choice for researchers at the U.S. Weather Research Bureau and the Blue Hill Observatory near Harvard College in Massachusetts. Furthermore, the box kite directly influenced the Wright Brothers and their experiments that culminated in the first successful powered manned flight in 1903.

However, while Eddy ardently sought publicity for his kites and experiments, Hargrave shunned the limelight. So, was it simply a matter of Eddy being a media darling of his time? Not likely, when you consider the exploits of Samuel Franklin Cody, another kite flier of the era. A flamboyant cowboy, showman, and kite enthusiast, Cody gained international attention for his awesome, ever-increasing-in-size, winged batlike modified box kites. I labored over the facts again and again. Why, I wondered, didn’t the spectacular Cody kite have the enduring quality of the Eddy?

Seeing the Structure

I had been plodding on without turning up a shred of evidence when I received an invitation to a festive ceremony. On a bright Sunday morning I found myself sitting in the first pew of a small town church listening to the young pastor at the pulpit. Diffused light from the stained-glass windows bathed the small the congregation.

When the pastor stepped off to one side to a make a point during his sermon, the large simple cross that hung on the wall directly behind the pulpit lit up from the sunlight. At that moment, I was struck with a realization that chilled my core.

The whole thing made perfect sense now. I closed my eyes to invoke the Eddy kite image in my mind’s eye. Yes, the framework of the kite was nearly identical in proportion to what is perhaps the most recognizable religious icon in Western mythology. I took a deep breath and sat back.

To confirm the theory, one need only fly an Eddy kite and look up. With the magnificent illuminating power of the sun, the structure of the cross becomes a silhouette etched upon the surface of the sail.»

 

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