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: