Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hugo Chávez and Macon County’s Flying Angel

During a nature photographer’s recent presentation he displayed a photo of the magnificent Angel Falls in Venezuela.

I would have assumed the falls got its name from some seraphic quality ascribed to it. I would have been mistaken.

The photographer explained that the falls was named for Jimmie Angel…"from Franklin."

Sure enough, I read later, aviator Jimmie Angel was the first to fly over the falls. His initial view of the remote falls came in 1933 while in search of a valuable ore bed. Four years later he attempted to land his Ryan Flamingo monoplane El Río Caroní near the top of the falls. After the plane got stuck, Angel and three companions including his wife Marie had to descend the mountain on foot. After an 11 day ordeal, they reached civilization where word of the adventure spread quickly.

Jimmie & Marie Angel and an unidentified man near the base of Auyan-tepui, 1939.

Soon, the falls was named in honor of Jimmie Angel. It is known as the world’s highest waterfall, with a height of 3,458 ft. and a plunge 2,648 ft.,

The details of Jimmie Angel’s Venezuelan adventure became exaggerated in the retellings. One popular belief was that Angel landed on a mysterious tabletop mountain (Auyan-tepui; a 348 square mile heart shaped table mountain) and removed many pounds of gold from a river on the plateau, above the point where it made its long precipitous drop from the mountain.

In his book The Creature in The Map, British author Charles Nicholl reports “…I unrolled Raleigh’s chart at the British Museum, and made a few calculations, and discovered that Sir Walter Raleigh’s 'golden city' and Jimmy Angel’s 'river of gold' were one and the same place.”

Karen Angel recounts this history in The Truth about Jimmie Angel and Angel Falls, a paper she delivered at a 2001 conference.

James Crawford “Jimmie” Angel was born August 1, 1899 in Springfield, Missouri.

As far as a Macon County connection, it was his father – Glenn Davis Angel – who was born in Franklin, North Carolina in 1877.

That’s the most direct link I’ve found between this region and the daring aviator. He may have spent more than a little time with his mountain relatives. I just haven’t come across any evidence of it.

Angel died in Panama in 1956 from injuries in a flying accident. In accordance with his final wishes Angel’s ashes were scattered over the falls.

His disabled monoplane remained atop Auyantepui until 1970, when it was recovered and restored. Today, El Rio Caroní is exhibited in front of Ciudad Bolívar airport.

In 2009, the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported that President Hugo Chávez intended to change the name of Angel Falls to "Kerepakupai Merú" on the grounds that the nation's most famous landmark should bear an indigenous name.

President Chávez was reported to have said, "This is ours, long before Angel ever arrived there... this is indigenous property." Later, though, Chávez said he would not decree a name change, but was defending the use of “Kerepakupai merú.”

Links to Karen Angel’s articles

The 2001 paper, http://jimmieangel.org/JAHP%20secret/2001%20THE%20TRUTH%20ABOUT%20JIMMIE%20ANGEL%20&%20ANGEL%20FALLS,%20REVISED,%20OCTOBER%201,%202009.pdf

And a shorter article that she wrote on Jimmie Angel and Angel Falls,

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