During the Sunday night performance, thousands of people gathered to watch the Human Fly, George Oakley, repeat his daring deeds. After his first stunt, his assistant, Anna Vivian Murray, urged him to rest a bit before scaling the tall bank building.
Oakley waved off her concerns and told her that he was in a hurry and wanted to leave Chambersburg that evening. It would be at least 9 p.m. by the time that he finished.
“He kissed me and sent me upstairs with the tube,” Murray said later.
Murray went into the building to wait at the second-floor window and Oakley soon began his climb. Minutes later, as he neared the fourth floor and hooked his cane on the inner tube, the crowd heard a “dull snap.” The inner tube had broken and the cane went flying off into the crowd.
“His fall was unbroken except by one man who rushed in in an attempt to save him,” The Repository reported.
Oakley landed on his left side, smashing hard against the pavement. The crowd screamed and several women fainted. The police had trouble getting to Oakley because the crowd was so thick.
Four men lifted Oakley and put him into a cab. Murray, who was said to be his wife, had reached his side by that time. Oakley was conscious. He asked for a priest and how far he had fallen.
“Only three stories. You’re all right. George. You’re more scared than hurt, you’ll be all right,” Murray told him.
This was not Oakley’s first accident in his six years of daredevil climbing. His first accident had actually happened earlier in the year on July 4. Oakley fell 1 ½ stories while climbing a building in Scottsdale, Arizona. He had walked away from the fall with an injured left hand.
However, his climbing partner had been killed in plane stunt a few weeks earlier. He had made a parachute jump and his chute had failed to open.
An examination at Chambersburg Hospital showed that Oakley had a number of broken bones including lower vertebrae, his pelvis, ribs, left arm and his breast bone with many of the bones being broken in multiple places. According to The Franklin Repository, his “nervous system suffering much from shock.”
Oakley remained conscious for several hours. Father Noel of Corpus Christ Catholic Church arrived to deliver last rites. Thoughout the night Oakley’s condition grew worse and Murray and a young boy stayed by his bedside.
Oakley died early the next morning. His body was taken to H. W. Cramer’s for preparation for burial.
His wife, Clara, arrived from Cleveland, Ohio, which surprised many people because Oakley had introduced Murray as his wife and the young boy as his son. According to Oakley’s WWI draft registration card, not only was Oakley married, but he had three children.
During the coroner’s inquest, Murray admitted that she and Oakley hadn’t been married, but had been planning to wed.
“I loved Oakley as I thought I could never love any man. We were to be married within a month. I never knew he was a married man, if he really was,” she said.
More importantly, she told the jurors that Chambersburg had been the first time that she had held the inner tube for Oakley’s climb. Chief Byers and Motorcycle Officer Suder tested the tube using the top of an open door at police headquarters to stretch the tube over. Suder said it broke under little strain.
It appeared that a faulty or weak inner tube was the culprit. Coroner Shull ruled that death accidental.
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