A delightful and beautiful book has just come to me via its author, Sylvia Dyer Turnage. This great, great granddaughter of inventor Micajah Clark Dyer has long been interested in what this farmer-inventor accomplished back in the nineteenth century as he worked diligently to invent and improve, and yes, even fly what he called, appropriately, “An Apparatus for Navigating the Air.”
In our Dyer family, we had heard stories of Clark Dyer and his flying machine. Was this invention for real? Did he really make a vehicle that would take to the air and fly? As Sylvia Dyer Turnage and I were growing up in our home community of Choestoe, these tales of her great, great grandfather and my great, great uncle just would not die. Too many people had heard the tales. Two people, at least, in our acquaintance, my Uncle Herschel Dyer and a cousin, John Wimpey, had seen the fabulous machine. And both of them were truthful men. They would not tell a lie.
And so the legend stayed alive, passed down from generation to generation. Many had a share in perpetuating the legend, among whom were Watson Benjamin Dyer who wrote about it in his first edition of “Dyer Family History” published in 1967, and his subsequent edition in 1980.
In 1980, a great, great great grandson of Clark Dyer, Kenneth Akins, did much research on the Dyer legend, and found, with the help of historian Robert Davis, that several credible people whom they interviewed were convinced that the story of Clark Dyer’s flying machine was more than legend, that the flying machine had indeed been invented.
Persistence often results in bringing major rewards. Sylvia Dyer Turnage herself, taken by the story of her ancestor’s exploits, wrote and published in 1994 a book entitled The Legend of Clark Dyer’s Flying Machine. In the book, she told what she then knew of the story. Included was a poem she entitled “Ode to Clark Dyer,” which was set to music and sung by her (and perhaps others) at Dyer family reunions, gatherings and anyplace an interest was shown in this nineteenth century farmer-inventor’s life story.
Finally the breakthrough came that proved a remarkable boon and proof that the legend was indeed fact. In late 2004, two others of Clark Dyer’s descendants, great, great great grandsons Stephen and Joey Dyer, brothers, found a patent online at the US Patent and Copyright Office, Patent No. 154,654, dated September 1, 1874. Entitled “An Apparatus for Navigating the Air,” it was signed by M. C. Dyer! Was this maybe the ancestor whom they had heard invented a plane near Rattlesnake Mountain in the 1870’s?
Indeed it was! In addition to the patent, the young men found copies of newspaper articles from “The St. Louis Globe Democrat” (July 31, 1875) and “The Eagle” (Gainesville, GA, July 31, 1875) that told of M. C. Dyer of Blairsville, who had “been studying the subject of air navigation for thirty years,” and was eager to construct the machine and “board the ship and commit himself to the wind.”
Then, with proof in hand, copies of the patent, and a proposed resolution introduced to the Georgia Legislature by then representative Charles F. Jenkins of Blairsville, a fitting memorial was in order for the mountain genius whose work had predated the Wright brothers. Georgia Highway 180 from US Highway 129/19 to the Brasstown Bald Mountain Spur was named “The Micajah Clark Dyer Parkway” to honor this pioneer aviator who worked so diligently to bring his dream to fruition. In a touching and meaningful ceremony at the Dyer-Souther Heritage Association Reunion on July 15, 2006, before a crowd of more than 300 descendants and interested citizens, the road sign was unveiled and the road dedicated to the inventor. That was an auspicious day, indeed, but it wasn’t the end of the story or the celebration.
Since then, the Clark Dyer Foundation has been formed. His gravesite in Old Choestoe Cemetery has been restored and a more suitable monument erected giving credit to his work as an inventor. Numerous programs have been held to tell “The Clark Dyer Story.”
And in this newest book from author Sylvia Dyer Turnage’s pen, the story from legend to reality, from word-of-mouth to printed proof, from theory to the actual patent, are collected for us to enjoy.
Sylvia’s immediate family all played a vital role in the production of this lovely, “coffee table” quality book. She, being the writer in her family, wrote the manuscript of the book. Her husband, Billy Turnage, a photographer by hobby but also by expertise, made exquisite photographs of the history of bringing to light the real story of Micajah Clark Dyer. These are included in the book, in full color. Her daughter, Karen Dyer Merrill of California designed the book’s cover and assisted in the proofreading and editorial production of the book. Her son, Andrew Turnage, set up and maintains the Micajah Clark Dyer website which any interested persons can access. He also helped to found the Micajah Clark Dyer Foundation, the goals of which are listed in the book on pages 35-36. He also assisted with the production of the book. Yee Yee, Sylvia’s delightful daughter-in-law, and wife of Andrew, who, by carefully reading the description in Clark’s patent, made the first interpretive drawing of the flying machine.
The book, authored by Sylvia Dyer Turnage, poet, author, speaker, accountant (retired), and assisted by her immediate family, has been a labor of love in memory of that beloved great, great grandfather who saw the birds flying over the mountains of Choestoe and wondered, “Why can’t I, too, fly?”
Search out how you might purchase a copy for yourself by checking at your local book store, online at micajahclarkdyer.org, or contacting Sylvia at her own Turnage Publishing Co., Inc. 805 Low Gap Road, Blairsville, GA 30512.
Congratulations to Sylvia and her family for this addition to the corpus of county history, family history, and history in general. She uses this appropriate quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. on the back cover of her book: “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Micajah Clark Dyer’s mind was indeed “stretched by a new idea.” And look what happened.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 11, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.