wrongway corrigan

july 17: wrongway chipotle pumpkin soup #fantasticdrivel

Wednesday is my night to cook dinner. But it is also a weekly opportunity for me to share some fantastic drivel—things you didn’t care you didn’t know—with you, dear reader.

July 17, 2013 presented some special challenges. In addition to my usual research about the date (learning about July 17 in history and around the world), I had some special limitations imposed on my choice of recipe:

  • we were on a fambly camping trip, meaning my “kitchen” consisted of a can opener, a cutting board, and a camping stove
  • my sister is allergic to gluten, meaning she basically can’t eat anything


Before I could worry about the recipe, though, I had to research July 17. And that’s how I learned about Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan…

the wrong way to ireland

corrigan the confused

A high-school dropout turned airplane mechanic, Douglas Corrigan was just 20 years old when he helped design and build The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane flown across the Atlantic Ocean by Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Lindbergh left Long Island, New York on May 20 1927, arriving in Paris, France the following day. It was the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight, and brought Lindbergh world-wide fame overnight. Literally.

Lindbergh was Corrigan’s hero, and Corrigan vowed to someday follow in Lindy’s footsteps by flying solo non-stop from NY to Dublin, Ireland. In 1933, he spent $310 (approx. $5,535.71 in 2013) on a used 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane and began to modify it for a transatlantic flight.

Apparently, you can’t just fly across the Atlantic without getting permission first. Corrigan applied to the Bureau of Air Commerce in 1935, but they only approved his plane for cross-country flights. Corrigan continued to modify his plane, and continued applying to the bureau, but increasing flight regulations meant repeated denials. In fact, the bureau refused to renew his plane’s license in 1937, deeming it unflightworthy. At one point federal officials even ordered that Corrigan’s Curtiss Robin (named “Sunshine”) be grounded for six months.

By July 1938, Corrigan had invested a total of $900 (approx. $15,000 in 2013) on Sunshine. He secured an experimental license and permission for a transcontinental flight (CA to NY) with conditional consent for a return trip. Following an approved flight plan, Corrigan flew from Long Beach, CA to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York. Near the end of the 27-hour flight, Sunshine developed a gas leak, filling the cockpit with fumes. When he landed in New York, however, Corrigan was determined to refuel and take off again the same night. Without repairing the gas leak. Hmm. Maybe the fumes had impaired his judgment…

Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan and plane July 1938 #fantasticdrivel

Douglas Corrigan at Floyd Bennett Field, July 1938

…or maybe he was trying to stick to a secret plan. Remember that part about “conditional consent”? The guys who made those decisions were all administrators who worked regular hours. Folks have speculated that Corrigan planned to land after the big wigs went home, refuel, and take off again before anyone had a chance to stop him. Here’s an account of events leading up to “Wrong Way” Corrigan’s legendary flight:

Upon his unannounced arrival at Floyd Bennett Field, in the midst of Howard Hughes’ preparations for takeoff on a world tour, Corrigan decided repairing the leak would take too long if he was to meet his schedule. His logged flight plan had him returning to California on July 17. He wanted to take off from Floyd Bennett that same night, but the manager of Floyd Bennett Field, Kenneth P. Behr, persuaded Corrigan to wait until first light. Before take off, Corrigan asked Behr which runway to use, and Behr told him to use any runway as long as he didn’t take off to the west, in the direction of the administration building where Behr had his office. As recorded in Corrigan’s autobiography, Behr wished him “Bon Voyage” prior to take-off, perhaps in a nod to Corrigan’s intentions to fly the Atlantic. Upon take off at 5:15 in the morning with 320 US gallons (1,200 L) of gasoline and 16 US gallons (61 L) of oil, Corrigan headed east from the 4,200-foot (1,300 m) runway of Floyd Bennett Field and kept going. (Behr later swore publicly he had no foreknowledge of Corrigan’s intentions.) |from Wikipedia

Corrigan kept heading east (the “wrong way” for a man trying to fly from New York to California…) for over 3,000 miles. Twenty-eight hours later, he landed in Dublin, Ireland. To his dying day, Corrigan maintained that he thought he was headed west, toward California, and was simply confused by heavy cloud cover that obscured landmarks and low-light conditions which caused him to misread his compass.

“Heavy cloud cover that obscured landmarks…” Landmarks like the Atlantic Ocean? (I guess that really isn’t a “landmark,” but it wouldn’t be appropriate to call it a “watermark” either…) Corrigan said he didn’t notice his “error” until he had been in the air for about 26 hours. I would think he’d have caught a glimpse of the ocean before then.

Here’s what that “navigational error” looks like on a map:

wrongway corrigan map #fantasticdrivel

“oops.” —Douglas Corrigan

I’m pretty sure he did it on purpose. The rest of the world felt that way, too, nicknaming him Douglas “Wrongway” Corrigan and celebrating his achievement with ticker-tape parades in New York and Chicago. Since he never admitted to making the crossing deliberately, however, he only received a 14-day suspension for his famous flight.

wrongway’s sunshine

After learning a bit more about the makeup of “Sunshine,” I can see why the Bureau of Air Commerce wasn’t so excited about it flying across an ocean. I can also see how Corrigan could get away with attributing his trip to “navigational error.”

Sunshine had fuel tanks mounted on the front (and just about everywhere else), meaning Corrigan could only see out the sides. He had no radio, and his compass was 20 years old. When he left New York on July 17, 1938, he already knew he had an unrepaired gas leak somewhere. I’m not sure whether it was from that unrepaired leak or from a new one, but Corrigan reports that about 10 hours into the flight he got cold feet. Literally. His feet were soaking wet. He looked down and saw gasoline sloshing around on the cockpit floor. Concerned about the possibility of an explosion, Corrigan punched a hole in the cockpit floor with a screwdriver, allowing the gas to drain out away from hot exhaust vents. I’d imagine he inhaled some gasoline fumes during that time. Add that to sleep deprivation and the awkward construction of his plane, and Corrigan’s claims of confusion become more credible.

Douglas Corrigan's plane "Sunshine" in Dublin #fantasticdrivel

Sunshine in Dublin

The journalist H. R. Knickerbocker, in addition to having a spectacular name, gave a memorable report of Corrigan’s plane:

As I looked over it at the Dublin airdrome I really marveled that anyone should have been rash enough even to go in the air with it, much less try to fly the Atlantic. He built it, or rebuilt it, practically as a boy would build a scooter out of a soapbox and a pair of old roller skates. It looked it. The nose of the engine hood was a mass of patches soldered by Corrigan himself into a crazy-quilt design. The door behind which Corrigan crouched for twenty-eight hours was fastened together with a piece of baling wire. The reserve gasoline tanks put together by Corrigan, left him so little room that he had to sit hunched forward with his knees cramped, and not enough window space to see the ground when landing. |from Wikipedia

I guess I can see why the Bureau of Air Commerce might want to keep that thing on the ground.

But they didn’t. And somehow, miraculously, Wrong Way flew solo non-stop across the Atlantic and landed safely in his mother Ireland. He was hailed a hero, and when he and Sunshine returned to New York by steamship, he was given a hero’s welcome:

More people attended his Broadway ticker-tape parade than had honored Lindbergh after his triumph, but Corrigan was disappointed that his hero never acknowledged his achievement. |from Wikipedia

You can’t win them all, Douglas. For whatever it’s worth, I am acknowledging your achievement with pumpkin soup and fantastic drivel.

Wrongway Corrigan and Sunshine in Dublin #fantasticdrivel

wrongway and his plane

you got served [the wrong way]

smashing good soup

I thought long and hard about what I could prepare the “wrong way” that would work within the limitations I listed above. There is also the unwritten rule that, when cooking for others, one should always try to prepare something palatable. Or at least edible. (meaning I couldn’t deliberately botch a dish by only putting in half of the ingredients or whatever)

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins #fantasticdrivel

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins

I finally happened on the inspired idea to prepare something properly but SERVE it the wrong way. You’re supposed to serve soup with a spoon, so serving it with forks would do the trick. I also knew I could manage the soup thing at the campsite, and I could probably find gluten-free canned soup at the grocery store in town. All I needed was to decide what kind of soup to make.

Eventually my brain stormed to Billy Corgan—who, despite all his rage, is just another rat in a cage. Poor guy. Billy Corgan is the frontman for a band called The Smashing Pumpkins.

If you spell Douglas Corrigan’s last name the “wrong way”, you might spell it “Corgan.”

Which is why I made pumpkin soup.

back to dinner


July 17, 2013: the 75th Anniversary of Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan’s solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic. If you spell “Corrigan” the wrong way (“Corgan”) you get The Smashing Pumpkins. If you serve soup the wrong way, you serve it with a fork. Therefore, I made “Wrongway Chipotle Pumpkin Soup,” served with a fork.

I pin photos of my Wednesday culinary creations to my Pinterest board, Another Wednesday Dinner. You can see other dishes I’ve made there, but you can only get the backstory right here, on fantasticdrivel. Thanks for reading!

autographed photo Wrong Way to Ireland Douglas Corrigan 1938 Curtiss Robin Sunshine #fantasticdrivel

“Wrong Way to Ireland” —Douglas Corrigan 1938
(pictured with his plane, the) Curtiss Robin “Sunshine”

2 thoughts on “wrongway corrigan

  1. A bit late for the 75th Anniversary of Corrigan’s flight. My uncle, Kenneth P. Behr (my maternal grandmother’s brother) delighted in telling us the story of seeing Corrigan off on his flight. He ordered Coorigan to stay pu at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, to avoid a crash in the dark–and to give time to prep his plane. Then when he gave Corrigan the go ahead, and Corrigan asked which way, and my uncle replied, any way but the direction of the administration building, my uncle saw Corrigan off with the farewell, “I won’t say goodbye, I’ll just say, ‘ Bon voyage.” At that my uncle would laugh heartedly and ask, “Get it?” Yes, we got it. (A webpage for my uncle, Kenneth P. Behr, late of Sayville, NY, is at Ralph Cooper’s website The Early Birds of Aviation).

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