A Human Fly in action.

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.

Catch the first part if you missed it:

Death Certificate

The Human Fly’s death certificate.



A Human Fly looks over the crowd during a 1916 performance.

Many a young boy loves to climb a tree, pushing the limits of gravity to see how high they can climb and enjoying the rush of adrenaline as the ground grows further and further away. Those boys grow up, though, and realize that if they should fall, they could be seriously injured.

Other boys just never seem to outgrow that urge to climb. They become daredevils. In the early 20th century, these climbers earned the nickname “Human Fly.” They toured the country accepting the challenge to climb the tall buildings in any town. Although many of the famous Human Flys were active in the first couple decades of the 20th century, Human Fly John Ciampa climbed building in the 1940s and early 1950s, Human Fly George Willig climbed the World Trade Center in 1977 and Human Fly Rick Rojatt was a stunt rider in the 1970’s.

In 1924, plans to have an open-air attraction from New York City entertain the crowds during Old Home Week in Chambersburg fell through so Human Fly George Oakley “one of the most daring of present-day human flies,” according to The Franklin Repository, was invited as a replacement act. He was going to be performing in Hagerstown the week before so it fit well with his schedule.

Oakley arrived for two evenings of performances on Saturday and Sunday, August 30 and 31. He did not have the appearance of a daredevil. He was a 36-year-old man of medium height and a stout build.

He performed two daredevil feats for the crowds. For the first stunt, The Franklin Repository, reported, “He will stand on his head on the front bumper rail of an auto, which will attain a speed of 30 miles an hour and suddenly stop. When it stops, Oakley will turn a somersault in the air, and land in the street right side up.”

The second feat was just as, if not more, dangerous. He scaled the outside of the Chambersburg Trust building. “In scaling the walls he used a cane and an automobile inner tube. Someone would precede him to each story inside the building and hold the tube against the outside. The cane he used to hook onto the tube an then he would scale the wall to the window where he would wait for her until she had dropped the tube from the window above,” The Franklin Repository reported.

It was an exciting show that left people holding their breath and shutting their eyes when the tension became too great.

See how things end:



This is interesting. A Confederate general’s widow who helped build B-29s.

Emerging Civil War

Of all American weapons produced in World War II, including the atomic bomb, the most expensive was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Developing and producing the plane cost $3 billion and involved a massive industrial undertaking from plants in all regions of the country. The plane made key contributions to victory in the Pacific and in the prosecution of the Korean War before being retired in the 1950s.  B-29s_dropping_bombs

Thousands of subcontractors made components and systems for the plane, which was the most advanced of its day. The B-29s themselves were assembled at four main plants: Boeing facilities in Renton, Washington and Wichita, Kansas; a Martin plant in Omaha; and a Bell plant in Marietta, Georgia. It is this last plant that offers an echo of the Civil War and a symbol of national reconciliation.

View original post 322 more words

LBToday is the last day to get the Amazon.com bestselling book Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland as a FREE Kindle e-book.

The book is filled with true stories about Western Maryland that will keep you reading whether you’re a native of Western Maryland or just someone who has heard about it.

  • Did you know that a Russian prince once worked as a priest in Cumberland?
  • Have you heard the story about the German POW camp near Flintstone during WWII?
  • Do you know about the mining wars that were fought to try and unionize the coal mines in the Georges Creek region?
  • Do you know the story behind Cumberland’s only lynching? Have you heard the story about the baseball game played between the Cumberland Colts and the New York Yankees?

These are the stories of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland found in old newspapers, history books and other places. It’s the stories of people who tamed the mountains, established cities, raised families and lived their lives.

 Journey back in time and look beyond the photos that so well document the region’s history. This collection of 40 stories spans 220 years of life in Western Maryland.

Looking Back hit no. 1 in Amazon’s Mid-Atlantic E-book category yesterday (I took a screenshot to mark the occasion) and has since climbed into the top 500 of non-fiction e-books. 071216-First No 1

Grab your free copy today and let me know what you think by leaving a review. That will help my future marketing efforts for the book.

Here are some of the types of stories that you’ll find in Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland:

Here’s some useful information. I’ve been in this situation before and it is scary. It’s like forgetting how to ride a bike.


As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a pathological procrastinator. I don’t know why, but I do know that I have never been able to delay gratification. So instead of rewarding myself with 7 hours of OJ: Made in America when the first draft of Book 2 is done and dusted and I can relax and enjoy it guilt-free, I watch it now and tell myself I will write after. I mean, I’d just be distracted by my wanting to watch it otherwise, right?

(Side note: OJ: Made in America is truly incredible TV.)

I joke that I’d call my would be productivity guide Don’t Start Until It’s Already Too Late – and that’s pretty much what I do. I can only work under pressure, while panicking. I read somewhere that the procrastinator’s sweet spot is the exact moment when the fear of creating something crap is…

View original post 1,931 more words

An informative post. Give it a read.

Emerging Civil War

On this day in 1841, precisely 175 years ago, Major General Winfield Scott became Commanding General of the U.S. Army. He held this post for 20 years and four months, longer than any other Commanding General or U.S. Army Chief of Staff to date, retiring as a Brevet Lieutenant General on November 1, 1861.General-Winfield-Scott-1835

To Civil War audiences, Scott is something of a comical figure: a fat old man who can’t mount his horse, not to mention an object of derision by George McClellan and younger officers. His nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” seems to imply a dodding old man more interested in pomp than in crushing the Confederacy.

This perspective is grossly unfair to Scott, who in fact was one of the great soldiers of the 19th Century and also played an important,if sometimes hidden, role in the Civil War.

View original post 405 more words

Start your engines!


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

The Cumberland Municipal Airport has never been busier than when sports cars raced around its runways.


Yes, sports cars. Not airplanes.

Each May from 1953 to 1971 racers from across the country would travel to Cumberland to test their sports cars against other top cars to see whose was the fastest.  Roger Penske, Shelby Briggs and Carroll Shelby all raced at the Cumberland Airport. The races featured some of the greatest racing cars of the time: Birdcage Maserati, Ferrari Testa Rossa, D Type Jaguar, Porsche 356 Speedster, Cobra, Mustang, Camaro, Sunbeam Alpine, Austin Healy 100, and the Howmet Turbine Car.

“It was a great time,” said Dave Williams. “A who’s who of American sports car racing came through Cumberland.” Williams watched many of those old races as a young man and he remains a racing enthusiast and promoter of sports car racing today.

The Cumberland Municipal Airport offered a 1.6-mile-long course for the racers. In the days before permanent automobile racetracks became common, airport runways offered a satisfactory alternative.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

Cumberland Lions Club staged the annual races and their proceeds helped provide free eye exams and glasses for needy children in the county, helped build Lions Manor Nursing Home, contributed to the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins and provided funding to the local Salvation Army, Boy Scouts of America, and YMCA.

May 1953 saw the first races at the airport. It was a result of months of planning between officials from the airport, Cumberland Lions, and Pittsburgh Steel Cities Region – Sports Car Club of America.

“The initial 1953 event started as Steel Cities/Pittsburgh Regional Races with 80 entries and a rather sparse group of spectators,” Bob Poling and Bill Armstrong wrote in Wings over Cumberland: An Aviation History.

Word spread locally and through the racing community that the airport in Cumberland was a great track on which to race.

The following year 122 racers and their cars showed up to compete before a crowd of around 12,000 people. This led to Cumberland’s regional event becoming a national one.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

“Being a national event meant that it was the most-important event in your region in a year,” said Williams.

It also meant that only racers with a national competition license could compete at Cumberland. There were only 1,100 nationally licensed drivers in the country at that time and 284 of them showed up in Cumberland to race in 1955. They came from 40 of the 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada. The racers competed in 11 races from 8:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. giving racing fans a full days of thrills.

As a national event, Cumberland began getting featured in media across the country. Sports Illustrated listed the Cumberland Airport Races among the big coming events in the world of sports.

“It represented the largest car race conducted in the US and included many prominent racing figures such as the Briggs Cunningham team of Maseratti race cars. Also, the American manufactured Corvette was making its presence known,” wrote Poling and Armstrong.

The Cumberland Sports Car races continued to grow in popularity with fans. Some of the highlights over the years include:

  • 1956 – Band leaders Paul Whiteman and Skitch Henderson along with actor Steve Allen race in Cumberland.
  • 1957 – Famed racer Carroll Shelby wins the main event at Cumberland.
  • 1958 – Roger Penske taking his SCCA driver’s test in Cumberland in a 283 Corvette. Penske got his license at the cost of his car. He blew the engine and then it fell off the trailer as he took it home.
  • 1965 – The new GT Mustang driven by Bob Johnson wins the Production Car race.
  • 1966 – The Walt Hansgen Memorial Trophy is awarded in memory of a five-time winner at Cumberland. Hansgen was killed in a crash at LeMans earlier in the year.
  • 1967 – What would become a classic—the Z28 Camaro—won its first race.
  • 1968 – Ray Heppenstal drove the turbine-powered Howmet TX Turbo car. Billed as the “car of the future”, it lost its race to Bob Nagel’s McKee Ford 427.

The peak year for the races, as far as attendance goes was 45,000 people in 1958. This was also the year a racer went over the embankment at the airport. Louis Jeffries was driving a Siata Special when the brakes failed coming off a long straightaway. The car went over the embankment, rolling several times until it reached the bottom. Jeffries was injured but not seriously. It was the only time that this type of accident happened during the races.


Courtesy “National Road” Autosports, http://www.nationalroadrally.com

“By the early 1960’s, though, airport courses were being replaced by permanent sports tracks and attendance at airport races declined,” said Williams.

Though the community supported the races, some people were starting to complain about the ground at the airport being torn up and that the cars racing at Cumberland were starting to show their age.

Then the Cumberland Mayor and City Council voted to ban car races at the airport after June of 1971. This allowed the 1971 race to go on. Only 200 cars entered the races and competed against each other before 12,000 fans. Almost as if to mark the sadness of the last airport races in Cumberland, it rained through much of the day.

The Federal Aviation Administration agreed with the actions of the city government. In a letter to the city, an FAA official wrote that “it is evident that increased use of the airport requires that all facilities be available for aviation purposes.”

Amateur racing had been struggling in recent years not only because access to airports was being denied organizers, but insurance costs for such events were rising dramatically. Also, many of the big-name draws for these events had turned professional, taking much of the fan base with them.

Allegany County continues to have autocrosses but nothing like the head-to-head competition that once thrilled residents.

For more information:

Here’s are some links to more information about Cumberland auto racing.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,722 other followers

%d bloggers like this: