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"Wrong Way" Corrigan

by Diann Marsh, from Santa Ana, An Illustrated History, (1994 Heritage Publishing).
Excerpt used with permission.


History remembers Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan as a dashing Irishman who tickled America's funny bone in the late 1930s, during the dark days of the Depression. He became a national folk hero, creating a household phrase still bestowed on those who do things the "wrong way."

Corrigan was part of a select club of early aviators. By 1938 he had logged 1,500 hours of flying time. Eleven years after Lindbergh's famous trans-Atlantic flight, he filed a flight plan to fly from Newfoundland to Ireland. Authorities denied him permission on the grounds that his nine-year-old second-hand Curtis Robin monoplane, for which he paid $325, was too old and unsafe for such a long flight over water. On July 17, 1938 he told authorities that he would fly from New York to Long Beach instead.

Twenty-eight hours and 13 minutes later he landed in Dublin, Ireland. After being asked for an explanation, he stated that he flew the wrong way because his compass stuck Because of the fog on that fateful night, he was told by airport authorities to take off toward the east and turn above the Atlantic, heading west. His 27-foot plane, which weighed 3,800 pounds, had fuel tanks mounted on the front, allowing him to see only out of the sides of the plane. He had no radio and his compass was made during World War I.

After his famous flight, "Wrong Way" returned to America, aboard a steamer. As the ship entered New York Harbor and past the Statue of Liberty, whistles started blowing and fireboats shot streams of water into the air. The Mayor's Reception Committee came on board and took him to the Hotel McAlpin. At noon the next day he was given a ticker tape parade down Broadway in New York. later he received the United States Flag Association medal in 1938. Galveston, Texas named an airport after Corrigan. He helped RKO Studios make a movie about his feat entitled The Flying Irishman in 1939. A high point of his life was when President Franklin Roosevelt assured him that he didn't doubt his story for a minute.

After 12 years of public life, Corrigan brought his wife and their three sons to Santa Ana, buying an 18-acre orange grove on Flower Street on the north side of town. True to his adventurous spirit, he knew nothing about orange ranching, and had never even been in an orange grove before. He is quoted as saying that he climbed to the top of his barn to see what his neighbors were doing. When they set out their smudgepots, he set out his. He watched their irrigation patterns and, when a weed exterminator would come to a neighbor's grove, he would go over and ask him to come to his grove next.

In 1969 he sold most of his grove, keeping the green ranch-style house. One of the streets in the 93-house tract surrounding the house is named for Corrigan. For years he kept the famed plane he called "Lizzy" in the garage behind his house. Through the years he was interviewed many times for the newspapers. However, in 1994 at the age of 87 his family now guards his privacy.

Did "Wrong Way" really go the wrong way on purpose? He always denied it, and his wife, Elizabeth, had this to say in a Santa Ana Register article in the January 26, 1960 issue, "He always told me the truth and he still sticks to his story.".

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