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At 104, She Does The Lindy Hop

Thu., May 16, 1996

She was 11 years old when brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright proved humans could fly in 1903.

Flossie “Flo” Hammer remembers reading newspaper accounts and shaking her head. “It was difficult to imagine anybody flying through the air,” she recalls.

Even seeing transatlantic aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927 didn’t convince her.

Flo was one of several thousand spectators who stood on a rainy September day at Spokane’s Felts Field and watched Lucky Lindy land his famed “Spirit of St. Louis.”

“We looked up and saw this tiny speck come out of the clouds. It just seemed impossible.”

Sometimes it takes awhile to warm up to an idea.

On Tuesday, the 104-year-old woman decided she was finally bold enough to try out this contraption called an airplane.

“I’m so old now,” she adds with one of her trademark wisecracks, “I guess it doesn’t matter what happens.”

The maiden flight of Flo Hammer took place aboard an Alaskan Airlines McDonnell Douglas jet.

The hop from Spokane to Seattle, where she will live with her daughter, Muriel Connerton, took a little under an hour. It was smooth sailing all the way.

I know. I tagged along to record Flo’s gravity-defying journey.

Flo, accompanied by Muriel, sat next to a window, remarking from time to time on the beauty of the clouds.

“That was quite nice,” she tells me after we touch down, “You know, I think I probably waited too long to experience this.”

The snow-haired woman wore a sharp purple suit and an embroidered blouse under a peach jacket. Her eyesight and hearing are failing, but Flo is otherwise in terrific health. She somehow managed to avoid hospitals until an operation landed her in one at age 97.

“People always tell me how good I look so I must,” she quips. “I’m a proud old lady.”

Flo can’t explain her long life other than coming from sturdy stock. Two uncles lived to be 100. Her sister, Mary Vose, recently celebrated the century mark.

She was born on a Creston farm on Dec. 30, 1891.

Benjamin Harrison was president. The birth of Babe Ruth was four years away.

Flo’s family moved to Tekoa, where she went to school and later fell in love and married Lew Hammer, a railroad engineer who died in 1953.

The Hammers migrated to Spokane in 1928. Flo worked briefly at the old Crescent department store and raised two children: Muriel, 79, and Melvin, who died in February at age 84.

Relatives say Flo avoided flying so long because of a larger, general distrust of machinery.

The woman’s bad luck with automobiles is a case in point.

Flo quit driving one day in the 1920s after a particularly disastrous trip to buy milk and eggs. Pulling into a farm, the woman somehow hit a horse, squashed two chickens and broadsided a pig.

No wonder getting on an airplane felt so terrifying.

Air commuters take note: traveling with 104-year-old women definitely has its advantages.

You get to board ahead of the herd, which is a given. But no sooner did we set foot inside the 140-passenger aircraft when flight attendant Gina Mettalia upgraded our coach tickets to wide, cushy seats in first class.

I could have used Flo’s pull on my return trip to Spokane.

No first-class service this time.

My flight was an hour late getting into Seattle from Portland. The jet was a cramped Fokker, stuffed with anxious travelers and stale, recirculated air.

“So this is how sardines feel?” says the sweaty guy sitting next to me.

On second thought, it’s better Flo stayed in Seattle. It’s better to leave her marveling over the wonder of air travel rather than grousing about some awful cattle car with wings.

“I see where I’ve missed something,” says Flo. “I never dreamed I’d ever fly, that’s a cinch.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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