On this date in 1916, thirty-two year old aviator stuntman Joe Boquel began his first exhibition engagement above Seal Beach.
Boquel had only been flying for four years, having taken lessons from another well-known stunt pilot of the era, Silas Christofferson. In 1915, Boquel had flown at the San Francisco Panama Pacific Expo, and the publicity brought him into the public eye. He became famous for his multiple mid-air loops, death-defying corkscrews, and nighttime acrobatics (and skywriting!) with lit fireworks attached to the wings of his airplane. His exhibitions were unpredictable and thrilling.
This period of Seal Beach history is dominated by hyperbole and exaggeration, and it’s always a good policy to view the claims about city events and plans with a skeptical eye. However, there’s a subtle difference to the publicity and stories about Boquel. He really did attract large crowds to Seal Beach, and his shows actually delivered the excitement promised in the ads.
On his first August 13 flight at 5:00 pm, Boquel performed eight loops from a height of 5,000 feet. Four hours later, he took to the air again and was lost in a fog bank that had gathered over the city, creating much anxiety in the onlookers which the Los Angeles Times estimated numbered in the thousands. Suddenly Boquel’s plane appeared at the northern limits of the city and made a spectacular series of loops and curves while illuminated against the dark sky. His entire flight took sixteen minutes, but it was enough to make him a true sensation in Seal Beach.
Less than three months later, Joe Boquel would be dead.
– Michael Dobkins
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