Texas Trails

Clay Coppedge, Southern Livestock Standard

May 15, 2024

Wrong Way Corrigan

There is a right way to do something and there is a wrong way, but sometimes the wrong way is the only way. Thes saga of Daniel “Wrong Way” Corrigan, who made a transatlantic flight from New York to Dublin in 1938 by flying the wrong way, is a case in point. 

Daniel Corrigan was one in a long line of Texas aviation pioneers who courted fame and fortune by taking to the skies in one of those new fangled flying machines.  He was born in Galveston in 1907 but his family moved around a lot and he eventually ended up in Los Angeles where he took his first flight lesson. From that point on, he was usually flying an airplane, building an airplane, or repairing one. In his spare time, he thought about airplanes. At night he dreamed of them. 

He worked as an airplane mechanic for a company that built the “Spirit of St. Louis” for Charles Lindbergh, but simply having an association with the world’s first transatlantic flight wasn’t enough for Corrigan. He had his eyes set on a distant shore— Ireland’s. (In case the surname hasn’t already given it away, Corrigan was of Irish descent.)

After quitting the factory and becoming one of those pilots who flew into small towns and offered people a short plane ride for a small fee, Corrigan applied to federal aviation officials for permission to make his own transatlantic flight. The feds decreed that the plane was stable enough to fly cross-country but not across the ocean. Corrigan made some adjustments and tried again. And again. Permission denied, and denied again. 

Finally deciding—and we are sure of this— that it would be easier to obtain forgiveness than permission, Corrigan flew from California to New York after filing a flight plan that called for him to fly back to California on July 17. He took off on that day from Brooklyn, in a heavy fog, with instructions to head east out of the airport and then veer west, toward California, once he cleared the airport’s airspace. To the airport officials’ dismay, Corrigan kept going east. 

Twenty-eight hours and 31 minutes later, Irish officials were stunned and outraged when Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin. Corrigan explained that he got lost in the fog and his compass got stuck and, well, onward through the fog, you know. He said thought he was going west until he emerged from the clouds after flying for 26 hours and saw a large body of water. Since he hadn’t been in the air long enough to be over the Pacific Ocean, he figured he was looking down on the Atlantic. No one believed him, no matter how many times he explained it.

“That’s my story,” he finally said. And he stuck with it. 

Irish officials eventually released him and Corrigan returned to a hero’s welcome in America. People admired the spunk and audacity of Wrong-Way Corrigan, as he forever will be known. His ticker tape parade equaled Lindbergh’s. Corrigan took full advantage, endorsing a watch (that ran backwards, of course) and writing an autobiography, That’s My Story, that made Corrigan semi-rich. 

After more than a decade in the public eye, Corrigan returned to Texas. He bought an 18-acre orange grove in Santa Anna, in Coleman County, and moved his family there in the 1950s. That he knew nothing about growing oranges deterred Corrigan not at all. 

 Corrigan said he climbed to the roof of his barn to watch what his neighbors were doing, and then did the same thing. When they set out smudge pots, he set out smudge pots. When they irrigated, he irrigated. He was interviewed many times over the years and always insisted he simply made a mistake on his flight because the dadgum compass got stuck. 

His wife, Elizabeth, was diplomatic about the issue. In a Jan. 26, 1960, article in the Santa Anna Register, she said, “He always told me the truth and he still sticks to his story.” 

Southern Livestock

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