President William Howard Taft finished his lunch a little after two, and accompanied by his secretary and his military aide, he strolled onto the South Portico of the White House. It was overcast and sprinkling a bit and the birds were chirping in the trees, and he could see down the south lawn past the fountain and the ellipse, to where crowds had gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue and beyond, towards the Washington Monument.
A faint buzzing could be heard just above the noise of the crowd, and then his aide pointed south. The buzz grew louder into a steady growl, and then with the easy grace of some great creature of the skies, a flying machine appeared, sailing over the trees.
Harry Atwood had only been flying for three months, but he had graduated from MIT and had trained with the Wright Brothers and he had just flown in from Boston in his new aeroplane, the Moth, and he had come to greet the President.
As The Moth approached the row of tall trees at the south end of the lawn, Harry cut the motor – the brisk breeze held him back a bit – he had to gun it again to clear the top branches – then he shut off the power and glided in over the big fountain, and coasted to a halt twenty-five feet from the President.
The spectators crowded about the aeroplane and Atwood’s mother rushed in to embrace her son, and then she beamed with pride as he climbed out of his craft and was escorted to meet the President of the United States and the officers of the Aero Club.
President Taft had been watching intently, his eyes shaded by his hands, and with a bright smile he welcomed the young aviator and enthusiastically shook his hand. In a short speech, he proclaimed “a new chapter in the thrills of the flying art” and awarded Harry a gold medal in honor of his feat.
Atwood thanked the President and then directly returned to The Moth. Firing up the motor, he turned the craft around and headed briskly back down the lawn towards the ellipse. For a few moments it looked as if the craft would not be able to rise from the ground and would strike the stone coping around the fountain. But just as he neared the fountain his machine began to lift, and he cleared the fountain by a good twenty feet. The Moth soared quickly above the tree tops, and with the crowd applauding heartily, sailed just over the top of the Washington Monument, and then on, out of sight, into the overcast sky.