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Elinor Blevins, Auto Fiend: 1915

Washington, D.C., circa 1915. "Miss Elinor Blevins. Movie star, aviatrix, auto fiend." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1915. "Miss Elinor Blevins. Movie star, aviatrix, auto fiend." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Weightman Special

Well at long last I know her name! The guy is one D. Braily Gish, a hot-shoe auto dealer in the Washington area known for his fast driving. Who knows if he was related to the famous actress sisters. The racing car is called the Weightman Special and still exists. It was made up by an eccentric millionaire named William "Wild Bill" Weightman, the ne'er-do-well heir of a Philadelphia dynasty known for its monopoly on the production of quinine. "Will Bill" fancied himself a race car driver and bought up or built several such cars. This one was made on the frame of a Stutz Bearcat and had a most unusual racing engine -- hence the exhaust pipe exiting through the cockpit.

The pictures were probably part of a set taken by the National Photo Company in Washington during November of 1916, when auto races were held at the Benning Track, a horse racing oval east of the city. D. Braily Gish won the feature race in the Weightman Special against other local speed demons. The car was then sent to California, where "Wild Bill" Weightman raced it. It survives in a private collection.


The car is a racing car (giveaway is the big numbers), but it's also equipped for high speeds with special aerodynamic modifications. Note the fairing around the radiator in front and the boat tail. It might be that the exhaust coming out of the dashboard, as noted by Toto, is some sort of aero trick of the period, since it would be tough on the passenger. It would be piping hot after a few minutes with engine running, and if it leaked, it would gas both the occupants with carbon monoxide (cars of the period usually ran rich, and of course had no catalytic converters).

I do not see any third person in the car even though I blew up the picture. To me it looks like the car is right hand drive and Miss Blevins is driving, even though the male passenger has goggles (appropriate for the period with no windshield) and she doesn't. The cockpits of racing cars of the period would hardly have room for a third person anyway.

Could it be that the car was prepared for a land speed record attempt? That would explain the fairing. Could it be British? That might explain the right hand drive.

[There were plenty of RHD American cars in the teens. No one would be gassed by CO -- it's an open car. That "hidden driver" comment -- it was a joke. Next! - Dave]

Hidden Driver

I can't be the only one to notice that she isn't driving the car. There are three occupants. The man in the near passenger seat, she is in the middle, and the driver is clearly a slouched-down Oscar the Grouch. You can see his hand on the steering wheel.

Whoah, Nellie!

"Movie star, aviatrix, auto fiend?" I think I have a new girl-crush!

They're definitely sitting

They're definitely sitting still, as the cameras of that period didn't have fast enough shutters to capture motion effectively. Not a pedal car, though. You can see the engine crank on the front between the wheels.

[Shutter speeds on a good circa 1915 camera -- measured in thousandths of a second -- would indeed be fast enough to freeze the wheels on a moving vehicle. The question would be how fast can the car be going before the wheels start to blur. - Dave]


Could that possibly be the exhaust pipe coming out of the passenger compartment beneath the man's arm? If not what is it?

Movie Star

Eleanor Blevins from Lincoln, Nebraska, was in 24 movies between 1913 and 1916. This list of Iowa orphans lists an "Elinor Blevins" who apparently went to Lincoln.

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