Today’s Dangling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
95 years ago, a forgotten tragedy occurred in Homewood, a suburb of Chicago. Here’s how it was reported by the Chicago Tribune on July 3, 1922:
CROWD SEES FLYER DIE IN AIR
Stunt Leap Lands Him in Propeller.
Swinging on a rope ladder dangling from an airplane 800 feet in the air as he sought to thrill 5,000 Homewood pleasure seekers, Louis James, nationally known “boy aviator,” was cut to pieces yesterday by the propeller of another plane. His body fell to the ground, almost at the feet of his fiancée, Miss Clara Trissman, 17 years old, 5013 Fletcher avenue.
Protegé of Ruth Law.
James, who was but 18 years old, lived at 4250 North Mobile street. He was a protégé of Miss Ruth Law, and of recent months had been employed by the Ralph C. Diggins company of Ashburne field fame.
The occasion was the second day of an aerial celebration under the auspices of the American Legion post of Homewood. A great throng had gathered from Homewood and surrounding communities. A dozen planes were whirring through the air, nose dives, tail spins, barrel rolls, Immelman turns, and all the other hair raisers of the aerial art held the spectators.
From One to the Other.
Then came the feature of the day. James was to perform the stunt made famous by Lieut. Omer C. Locklear – that of climbing from one “ship” to another in midair.
He was talking to his fianceé and friends when the call came to take to the air. Twice before that day he had tried it and failed. “He didn’t feel well,” he said. His friends advised him not to go up. “I can’t disappoint the crowd,” he answered.
The planes were under the guidance of Pilot “Jimmy” Curran, chief instructor of the Diggins flying school, and Pilot LeRoy Thompson, also of the Diggins entourage.
Up to 800 Feet.
James climbed to the wing of one plane, and, lying flat upon its surface, grasped two struts and gave the signal to go ahead. The two ships took the air and slowly climbed to a height of 800 feet.
Circling with them was Pilot Diggins in another ship, with several passengers who wished to watch the “stunt” from the air.
Twice the pilot in the upper plane brought the dangling ladder to within a few inches of James’ outstretched hands, not quite close enough.
Again the ships roared over the field, while thousands watched below. The upper plane came lower this time, so near the other that spectators gasped. The ladder, plainly visible, moved nearer and nearer to the man now standing upright on the wing.
He grasped it. He was seen a second later hanging free. And then —
Spectators gave different stories. Most said that the planes seemed to sheer together for a moment. James and the ladder were thrown squarely into the propeller of the lower ship, a heavy bar of wood revolving at 1,500 revolutions to the minute.
Drops Into Crowd.
The body of the man was seen to crumple. A moment later, mangled and bleeding, his hands still clutching a bit of the ladder bar, he dropped into the crowd far below.
Women screamed and fainted.
Miss Trissman sank to the ground unconscious. She was carried from the field. The crowd rushed madly to the scene of the accident, endangering their own lives as the three planes, now in a mad descent, sought to make a landing.
Died in Air.
James was dead long before his body hit the ground. Physicians in the crowd sought to give him aid to no avail. The two pilots, nerve shaken, both made rough but successful landings.
The body of the dead pilot was taken to a morgue, while other cars bore hysterical and fainting women to the nearest homes for sedatives. [Isn’t it strange that women today just don’t faint like they used to? – DeSpair]
Officials of the Legion cleared the field shortly after the accident. An inquest will be held today.
In the July 4 Tribune there was some additional information provided in Coroner’s Jury testimony by two of the pilots:
James Curran, a vertain aviator, who was flying the top ship at the time the change of planes was to made, told the story to jury:
“We made three attempts,” he said. “The last time I had decided that the air was too rough for the stunt and was preparing to return to the field when I saw James reach for the ladder. He was riding the top wing of the lower ship. He caught a rung of the ladder. Then a gust of wind hit my ship – the ladder swung out – James swung into the propeller.”
Roy Thompson, pilot of the lower ship, also testified.
“I saw James grab the ladder,” he said. “Then he was swept out of my sight. Then I saw his feet dangling down in the path of the propellor. The propellor was shattered and my motor was killed. I landed.”
Incidentally, this was the ruling of the Coroner’s Jury:
“It was established that this was an accident and that the aviators concerned did all they could to avert it, but they had no chance.
“We therefore advise that immediate legislation be had to prevent all forms of stunt flying. There should be local, state, and national laws. Every pilot should be inspected. Every ship should be inspected. There should be no stunt flying.”
What party poopers, eh?
Did you know that the Chicago Tribune used to track moonshine deaths? This is from July 4, 1923.