Jorge Newbery: an argentine hero son of an American

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  • Life, work, exploits and death of Jorge Newbery, the first Argentine-American popular idol

    Engineer, inventor, pilot, champion as soon as sport undertook, and a gentleman of those who are no longer

    Jorge Newbery, legend of the Argentine aviation

    Imagine a huge crowded rostrum. "There's a hat, flag and headband!" The seller shouts. A bar not too brave shouts: "New ... be ... ryyyy" New ... be ... ryyy! ".

    Another similar shouts:

    - "Jorge, Jorgito, I follow you everywhere, every time I love you more!" Etc.

    What you have just read is fiction. An impossible fiction. But it would be fair that it happened.

    Because the Argentines have been -and are- forgetful of their idols. They love half a dozen athletes, less than half a dozen comedians from the movies and TV, two or three politicians, and in odor of eternity, Carlos Gardel.

    But they forget -or worse: they do not even mention- the first, undisputed and most complete popular idol of this country.

    His name: Jorge Alejandro Newbery. His birth: Buenos Aires, May 27, 1875. Now 143 years ago. But as Borges would ask, "that time, that marbles tarnish, save this firm name".

    His arts and crafts: electrical engineer, aviator, official, man of science, boxer, swimmer, recordman, fencer, race car driver, rower, athlete ...

    And in case something is missing, a gentleman. In the greatest, best and most noble sense of the word. Porteño to the core by birth and election, lived on Florida Street! He was the son of Ralph Newbery, an American dentist-something of Saxon blood had to run in such audacious and boundless veins-and of the Creole lady Dolores Malargie.

    Etc.

    What you have just read is fiction. An impossible fiction. But it would be fair that it happened.

    Because the Argentines have been -and are- forgetful of their idols. They love half a dozen athletes, less than half a dozen comedians from the movies and TV, two or three politicians, and in odor of eternity, Carlos Gardel.

    But they forget -or worse: they do not even mention- the first, undisputed and most complete popular idol of this country.

    Barely eight years old - eight years, a boy! - traveled alone to the United States and saw, dazzled, the inauguration of the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), symbol of a country that had already decided its empire destiny (363 awards Nobel), of power (without its intervention, World War II was lost) and of maximum factory of inventions.

    And his eyes, though very young, something brought back to the Rio de la Plata.


    High School graduated, in 1890, at Scottish school San Andrés, Olivos, returns to the United States to study engineering at Cornell University, and at 18 at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, he is a student of a sacred monster of science: Thomas Alva Edison, Magician de Menlo Park, the man who illuminated his country with the first electric lights and patented, until his 83 years, more than a thousand inventions -of them, then that changed the world-, and that almost boy sold newspapers on trains ...

    How a Newbery was not going to return to his homeland, just when the village was dying and the big city was born? So it was. With his title of electrical engineer under his arm, he started working as a boss at the age of 22! in the Luz y Tracción del Plata Company. Two years later he enrolled in the Argentine Navy as an engineer, but added other tasks: swimming teacher in the Naval School, and special envoy to London to buy electrical equipment.

    End of the century: 1900. Goodbye to the Navy. Step to Don Jorge Newbery, flaming general director of Electrical Installations, Mechanics and Lighting of the Buenosairean municipality, position that maintained by the rest of his life. But something was missing in his coat of arms, and he arrived: in 1904, professor of Electrotechnics at the Industrial School of the Nation, then the famous and current Otto Krause.


    Newbery would die in a tragic plane crash

    He returned to the United States, invited to the First National Congress of Electricity, in Saint Louis, and showing off with a work of eighty pages that still keeps the Argentine Scientific Society. It was not all: he went through similar congresses in London and Berlin. But the mysteries and miracles of electricity did not occupy his entire life.

    He swam like a fish, boxed according to the best arts and rules of the Marquis of Quensberry ("They beat handsome with your corners / when a pack of shoes crossed them": the pack of the tango Corrientes y Esmeralda ... was Newbery), nobody made him shade on the fence fields when he was wearing a saber or foil, he rowed like a champion of Oxford or Cambridge, and he glimpsed himself in the past races of cars that since 1901 had belched the peaceful Belgrano neighborhood ...

    In 1911, before a great prize, he appeared at the wheel of a special Balsier that he brought from Europe, poked on tip, made the best time, and beat his friend and rival Ignacio del Carril. But the earth no longer had secrets for him. I watched the sky at all hours, I heard the polemics (Nothing heavier than the air can fly, "yes or no?"), And had news of the Paraguayan Silvio Pettirossi, the Peruvian Jorge Chavez, the Mexican Alberto Braniff, Latino heirs of the feat of the American brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright, who on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, flew for the first time in a motor biplane ... for 12 seconds and 40 meters. They were bicycle manufacturers, they built their flying machine, called Flyer One, and they proved that something heavier than air could fly!

    From then on, and after meeting the Brazilian aeronaut Alberto Santos Dumont, Newbery left all other passion aside and challenged the space.

    On December 25, 1907, aboard the Pampero hot air balloon and accompanied by Aaron de Anchorena, he crossed the Río de la Plata from Palermo -in today's Campo Argentino de Polo- and landed in Conchillas, Uruguay.

    The return, for the first time among so many feats, gathered a crowd chanting his name and throwing his hats through the air.

    Pioneer in everything or almost everything, after the crossing he founded the Aero Club Argentino in the fifth Villa Ombúes, of Ernesto Tornquist, San Benito neighborhood, near the Barrancas de Belgrano.

    And the air charged him his share of tragedy: on October 17, 1908, his brother Eduardo and Sergeant First Romero disappeared on the same globe, the Pampero, and their bodies were never found.

    But Jorge did not stop, despite how dangerous the balloons were. He flew in El Patriota, in the Huracán - so baptized by the soccer club -, and with this he beat the South American record of duration and distance: 550 kilometers in 13 hours, December 28, 1909.

    Obsessed, he completed forty balloon flights in three years, and in tribute to his dead brother he built the 2,200-cubic-meter Eduardo Newbery: the largest one that has come back in the country.

    1910 arrives. Year of the Centenary. And Jorge -more than a symbol- achieves his brief as a pilot of airplanes, and not until President Roque Sáenz Peña founds the Military School of Aviation: first in Latin America, in Caseros and with J.N. as inaugural president.

    And the epics did not stop. He crossed the Rio de la Plata in the Centenario monoplane, a Bleriot Gnome of 50 HP, roundtrip on the same day.

    Its apogee has arrived. By then it is more popular than the first football cracks. Their takeoffs and landings are cheered by crowds. It reaches the most difficult in those times: the pack, the dandy, the great seducer, the habitué of luxurious salons and exclusive private clubs, gets just and deserved patent of first popular idol.

    And he duplicated that veneration on February 10, 1914 when, in a Morane-Sulnier monoplane, he broke the world height record: 6,225 meters!

    The newspapers revive their medals: champion of box in 1899, 1902 and 1903. Three times South American champion of foil, and winner of Berger, French champion of sword.

    What was missing? How much more did he expect it? Because the sky was the limit.

    But death was crouching ...


    The Aeroparque airport officially bears his name in homage to the pioneer of aviation

    On the first day of March, 1914, he took off from Los Tamarindos airfield, Mendoza (now El Plumerillo) in his Morane-Saulnier, as training for another feat: the crossing of the Andes mountain range.

    It landed without incident.

    A local lady asked for a demonstration. He could and should have refused, but the knight could do more. He did not want to demand his machine, and asked the plane to his friend Teodoro Fels, another king of the air, who lent it to him, but with a warning:

    -Watch out. One of the wings pulls ...

    He got up, did a pirouette, and at seven twenty in the afternoon the plane fell like a stone.

    Jorge Newbery was dead.He was only 38 years old.

    It was carnival. In Buenos Aires the floats paraded, the air picked up laughter, chopped paper and flowery water, and everyone waited for the election of the queen. The cloak of silence and tears stretched out on Tuesday the 3rd at a quarter to nine in the morning.

    The magazine Caras y Caretas reported it this way: "The remains of Newbery arrive at the Palermo station, there is chaos and general commotion, in the middle of an ocean of heads, a young boy who has boldly climbed onto a support, clinging - without losing his cap- to a column ... he also wants to be a witness of this ill-fated journey ".

    Text topped by the corresponding photo.

    A lucid colleague told me one day:

    -Many people believe that Jorge Newbery is just an airport.

    Good. There are also seven tangos in his honor, a modest film - "Beyond the Sun" -, a monument in Villa Lugano, four schools, fifteen clubs, eleven streets, three neighborhoods, a square, and the annual prizes of the Buenos Aires government, with his name, to the best athletes.

    But it is little.

    It deserves a huge crowded rostrum that someday will be named. And someone who repeats "there's a hat, flag and headband!"

    Pure justice.