Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Murfreesboro's Human Fly

  If you are from Murfreesboro you may already be familiar with this story but in 1923 two young men were traveling through town and one billed himself as the "The World's Youngest Human Fly". His travelling companion performed stunts on a bicycle and both men claimed to be from St. Louis. The 1920's were famous for acrobatic acts from itinerant drifters. This was the age of Houdini, silent film star Harold Lloyd who was famous for performing dangerous stunts in his movies, flag pole sitters and there were various human fly's that climbed buildings all over the country thrilling crowds. The young man approached county officials in the court house asking for permission to climb to the top of the court house cupola using only his bare hands and feet. They thought it over and granted permission to the "Human Fly" The court house was built in 1859 and had been attacked by General Nathan Bedford Forrest on July 13, 1862. Cannonballs and bullets have been found in the exterior over the years. For the next few days the two men visited various merchants on the square trying to raise sponsorship money and spreading the word about the climb and bicycle stunts to be performed afterward. They were only able to raise 12.00 dollars but they decided to make the climb anyway. The previous June he had climbed the Kahl Building in Davenport Iowa which was the tallest building in the area. The night of April 6, 1923 was set for the climb of the Rutherford County Court House. The previous month another human fly, that was promoting one of Harold Lloyd's movies called "Safety Last" was climbing a famous New York hotel and fell nine stories to his death in front of his wife. 

  With 200 Murfreesboro residents looking on the Fly began his climb. Murfreesboro only had one fire engine and it's spotlight illuminated the cupola. He climbed up the side of the brick building past the second floor windows on to the flat roof of the court house. The metal cupola posed a problem because of it's irregular shape but he made it past the clock face to the bell tower. He stood astride the weather vane looking down at the crowd 200 feet below. He then began his descent to the ledge under the clock where he sat down for a rest. When he got up, instead of climbing down he began to climb back to the top. A fine mist had began to fall causing him to lose his grip. He fell backwards forty feet to his death on the flat roof of the court house. The cause of death was a broken neck and trauma to the head. Nobody really knew who the young man was. His body was taken across the square to Crafton-Sweeney's Undertaker Parlor. Some accounts say that his embalmed body was placed in a display window with a sign asking if anyone could identify him. He was finally identified as James A. Dearing of St. Louis, age 26. He went by the stage name of  Ray Royce. Legend has it that he was buried in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery but it is more likely that he was taken home to St. Louis although that cannot be confirmed.


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