Bipartisan support to Whitehead, state polka, and a second state song

It's been a contentious legislative session here in Connecticut. But legislators were able to agree on a few things.

For instance: German immigrant Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly in Bridgeport in 1901 -- two years before the celebrated Wright brothers made so-called history in Kitty Hawk, N.C. So now, in a holiday known as "Powered Flight Day" (date still to be determined), Connecticut will recognize Whitehead instead of Orville and Wilbur.

The holiday was already on Connecticut's books, but it "didn't get a lot of press around here because ... everybody thought, 'What does that have to do with Connecticut?'" said state Sen. Mike McLachlan, R-Danbury, a history buff. Now, it will likely get more attention.

The bill enjoyed unanimous passage in the state Senate and a healthy majority in the House. (Unaccountably, 26 representatives voted against it).

"That's pretty amazing in the current political climate," said historian John Brown, who lives in Germany and recently discovered the tiny, blurry photo of the flight that was acknowledged as authentic by world-renowned aviation experts earlier this year. 

When the editor of "Jane's All the World Airplanes," an annually published encyclopedia known as the "Bible of Aviation" announced his agreement with Brown in March, a firestorm of controversy erupted. Historians at the Smithsonian, where Wright brothers' planes and paraphernalia dominate the National Air and Space museum, continue to deny that Whitehead deserves the title of "First in Flight." But Brown and others claim that the Smithsonian is bound by contract to give the Wright brothers that title, or it risks losing its prized exhibits.

The Connecticut legislature's action has incensed many in Ohio, the birthplace of the Wright brothers. In the video below, local television reporters express their dismay.

         

"Give me a break," says the news anchor, calling Whitehead a "clown" and "Mr. Wrong."

The bill, headed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's desk for his expected signature next week, also decrees "The ballroom polka shall be the state polka."

In addition, the bill designates a second state song called "Beautiful Connecticut Waltz," which Newington-based country singer-songwriter Joseph Leggo wrote for his wife in 1949. State Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, and Rep. Sandy Nafis, D-Newington, originally proposed the bill in 2011; click here to read testimony in support of it. The ballroom polka, too, had died in previous legislative sessions before finally becoming part of state statute this year, pending Malloy's signature.

Other commemorative provisions in the bill include recognizing March as Irish-American Month, October as Italian-American month, November as Native American Month, June 24th as French Canadian-American Day, and a required celebration of the 14th anniversary of the Connecticut-Taiwan sister state relationship.

"Suitable exercises shall be held in the State Capitol and elsewhere as the General Assembly designates for such commemoration," the bill reads after each provision.

McLachlan said that with the exception of the Whitehead recognition, all the other commemorative acts had been discussed in previous legislative sessions, but "they've always been kicked back."

"But they're important," he said. "And I think it's appropriate."

Connecticut also has a state animal (the sperm whale) and a state heroine, educator-abolitionist Prudence Crandall. The state song is "Yankee Doodle" -- "Beautiful Connecticut Waltz" would be a "second state song."

Listen to "Beautiful Connecticut Waltz" here.

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