In the spring of 1917 Benoist’s students resumed flight training while production continued at the factory where Bryant was needed to oversee operations and teach basic building techniques. She had found a niche not only in her work but among companions and in a town she once described as “the homiest city” she had ever lived in. Sadly, her contentment did not last long.
Bryant recalled that during June, Benoist discussed his future plans to develop an amphibian plane. “Things went along beautifully at the Benoist plant and hangars,” she recalled, “... and our boys were all making unusual progress when without an instant’s warning, we were thrown into a state of devastation. Tom Benoist was dead.”
In what Bryant described as a “queer quirk of fate,” Benoist fell to his death disembarking from a street car. Through constant financial difficulties, Benoist’s managed to train dozens of airmen, and sell about 100 of his flying boats built at the Sandusky factory. His death was a great loss to the advancement of aviation and personally to those like Bryant who knew him well.
During the confusing and depressing months following Benoist’s death, his brother Charles entered negotiations at New York the sell the Benoist Aircraft Company assets to an unnamed “promoter.” Aircraft production and flight school ceased and Bryant was assigned the dismal task of sorting out the massive piles of drawings, patent records, and office files. “I sweltered with tears and perspiration often rolling down my face until I felt I could endure no more,” she said.
Unfortunately the deal fell through, thereby closing the “Benoistery” for good. The Roberts Motor Company also soon closed its doors. Discouraged and alone, Bryant allowed herself a rare “rest,” to enjoy the water sports of Lake Erie. In May, 1919, the Sandusky Star Journal reported that Bryant was still working at the factory with future plans to return to flying full time:
“... Mrs. Bryant puts in a good eight or nine hours every day at her plant. Attired in the garb of a laborer, she tinkers with motors and does all the other kinds of work that the late Tom Benoist ... used to do ... Mrs. Bryant has the big airboat that Benoist used to fly, about ready to fly again ... During the coming summer Mrs. Bryant will carry passengers from Cedar Point [amusement park] as the late Tony Jannus used to carry them several years ago.”
Following more years of far-flung adventures, “Tiny” Alys Bryant died in 1954, now remembered and honored among women in aviation history.
Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian and author. She was the founder and director of the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation and Museum from 1995-2001 (the site of Charles Taylor’s grave in North Hollywood, CA). Giacinta holds a BA in anthropology with a minor in U.S. history and has given presentations on pioneer aviation since 1995. Most recently she has been awarded a partial grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund to write her second book, highlighting the life of Amelia Earhart’s mechanic, Ernest Eugene Tissot Sr.
The Duluth couple is spearheading an effort to build from scratch a nearly authentic working replica of a 100-year-old airplane without the benefit of any surviving components or written plans.
Bonhams announces the sale of a 1917 Curtiss MF Seagull Flying Boat, to be offered at auction on Tuesday April 13 in New York.