PARIS – The 80th anniversary of the world’s first trans-Pacific flight is the focus of an exhibit at the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum set to run through the summer.

The Southern Cross, which successfully flew from Oakland, Calif., to Brisbane, Australia, in 1928, had a crew of four. The navigating officer was Capt. Harry Lyon, a native of Massachusetts, who later lived on Paris Hill.

Born in 1885, Lyon’s family moved to Maine after his father retired. Lyon attended a private school and only spent so much time in Paris in his earlier years, perhaps explaining the note he left in the register of the guest house his mother ran: “Home 10 days in 11 years.”

Lyon served aboard the Dirigo, the first steel ship built in the United States, then became a chief mate and master in the steamship trade. According to his memoir, Lyon experienced a mutiny aboard a Pacific Mail Co. ship and was fired from the San Francisco and Philippine Steamship Co. after fighting with a laundryman in front of several hundred passengers. His first command was on a ship picking up people suspected of having leprosy and transporting them to Hawaii for surveillance.

“There’s a lot of really fascinating details to his life,” said Ann McDonald, the museum curator. “He had a very colorful history.”

After returning to Maine in 1927 for the first time in 10 years, he was subpoenaed as a witness in a rum-running case in California and again returned to the West Coast. There, he was offered the job as navigator on the Southern Cross by one of his friends in the Merchant Marine.

Despite limited aviation experience and navigational experience on ships rather than airplanes, Lyon was up for the job. The rest of the crew consisted of pilot Charles Kingsford Smith and co-pilot Charles Ulm, both Australians; and James Warner, an American radio operator.

The Southern Cross, now a museum piece in Brisbane, was a three-engine Fokker aircraft. The task of crossing the Pacific was especially daunting, since 10 aviators had died in 1927 flying what would only be the first leg of the flight.

“Their plan was to go all the way to Australia and people were having trouble just getting to Hawaii,” McDonald said.

The flight was done in three legs, the first departing from Oakland, Calif., on May 31 and flying 2,100 miles to Hawaii. On June 3, the plane proceeded to Fiji, a 3,138-mile trip. The final leg, on June 9, took the Southern Cross 1,762 miles to Brisbane.

Though the crew was aided by compasses and radio signals, Lyon sometimes had to rely on dead reckoning in the middle of the night and with storm conditions. In total, the crew was in the air for 83 hours.

While the Australians and two new crew members took the Southern Cross on further flights around the continent and eventually to London, Lyon and Warner decided to return to the United States by ship. Lyon was received at Paris Hill in August 1928 with a hero’s welcome.

Lyon continued to do aerial navigation after the landmark flight, and also returned to maritime service during World War II aboard the USS James G. Blaine. He eventually retired to his Paris Hill home, known as the “Lyonsden,” and died in 1963.

The exhibit includes a trophy presented to Lyon on his return by the American Legion and residents of Paris and Norway, articles, photographs and artwork.


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