"The Gull"


A few months back I had heard some stories about Dodi Knapp at onetime being involved with the building of an airplane. This made perfect sense as his father gave up part of their Mastic Beach property to the U. S. Navy during WWI for a coastal patrol aero station . It would take "two wars to end all wars" to prove the true value of aviation, as flying in it's infancy was being treated as another pastime of the wealthy . Country Life In America magazine had started a regular column on this new sport to add to the other country gentry pastimes of polo, duck hunting, fox hunting, automobile racing etc.

I think from the little I actually do know about their personal lives, that both of J. P.and Sylvia Knapp's children were very adventurous. Claire, when she was single and before she seemed to settle into a very successful life with show dogs, raced both trotters and sailboats. And as for Dodi ..... well he stayed out of the newspapers a lot but when he was in the papers it was usually pretty spectacular. His Smith Point Adventure with young Tom Dixon or his later escapade with Ernest Hemingway seems to give you an idea that he was quite the adventurer.

You have to figure that the everyday goings on of the 3rd Unit Naval Patrol in Mastic on the shore front of Dodi's front lawn (end of Locust Drive) had to give him a taste of flying back in 1917. For all I know, he too may of flown one of those planes. I'm more than sure he at least rode in them.

The fact that Dodi's old Princeton pal and future brother in law was a member of the unit, kind of insures a plane ride

Thomas may of even taken the future Mrs. Dixon aloft a time or two.




They were known as hydroplanes or flying boats and Dodi was already well into " flying" boats of all types especially fast ones. He owned at least one Sea Sled which was a radical design craft way ahead of it's time. A few weeks after "Knapp Water Field" became operational, this item appeared.


NY Times August 28, 1917


"At the shore of the Knapp Estate, Mastic 1917"

Country Life Magazine Oct. 1917

We also know that helicopters landed on his golf course that was situated between the mansion and the shore back in the 1930's.


So it came as no surprise when I had heard about Dodi being involved with the construction of a plane that met with disaster. Details were few, at first I thought it was in collaboration with his pal W. S. Dana from the estate down the road or over the creek....then I heard it wasn't but that one of Dana's caretakers was involved either a Bill or Clarence Ross. Both the Ross' and the Penney's are old Moriches Bay families that intermarried and both seemed to be involved heavily with working on estates.

The story I got was that a Clarence or Bill Ross would trap seagull's for Dodi and a guy named "Bunny" to study as they had this "gull theory" they wanted to apply to the building of this plane called the Bunny Gull. At first I thought "Bunny" was a nickname just like Dodi, but was told no, that it was the guys real last name. A search into the name Bunny or Bunney lead to a dead end even though there was a family that spelled it's name without the "E" living in the Mastic area then. A cross reference check to airplane crashes during that era also led nowhere, A recheck on the name with my sources and I was told his name was Bunny and then given the name of the source of the story who may or may not be still alive. Well I do not like to cold call possible sources that may or may not be alive, especially when it has anything to do with the Knapps so I didn't ....but then out of nowhere the real story just dropped in my lap...... there it was on page one of the New York Times , May 5, 1928......honest....like everything else about this story,someone, somewhere seems to want it told..... at first a small item in the back of the paper....





Then because of the outcome, it leaps onto Page One

Ironically there is a story on a Knapp alongside of it....Mrs. Florence E. Knapp, the N.Y. Secratery of State and I don't believe related, was in the papers often in the 1920's.



You will not find Dodi or J. F. Knapp's name mentioned in this article, but there is a good possibility he was there and may even be in this photo. What his degree of involvement was with Mr. Bonney at this time is uncertain. He may of had a lot or very little. He may of only been an investor, but the fact that the plane cost $100,000.00 to create and the early experiments with gulls were conducted at Mastic on the shore front starting around 1922 leads me to believe "Dodi" Knapp's name didn't get attached to the folklore of this story by accident regardless of how one pronounced the name Leonard W. Bonney.........


Although several friends and aquaintences were obviously interviewed , none are named.


Then to add to the tradgedy just six days later


this last paragraph of this story adds a touch of mystery

Popular Science December 1926