Human Flies Abound

Well I’m a human fly
I, I spell F-L-Y
I say buzz buzz buzz
and it’s just because
I’m a human fly
and I don’t know why
I’ve got 96 tears
and 96 eyes

Is it me, or was there a super-abundance of flies this past summer? They seemed to be everywhere. And what caused this influx? Could it have been the putrid stench of decaying rodent carcasses? Or the annual arrival of the fall-induced preoccupation of ridiculous stunts and extra-worldly phenomena?

It just seems that this time of year brings out the wildness in us all. As for those darn flies, how about if you could put a soft, round shaped screen mask over your head that would prevent those pesky dream-stealing insects from ever touching you? While the material is similar to those worn by horses, the Human Fly Mask would slip over the entire head, and have a Velcro closure at the neck, perhaps with a small "skirt" of similar material to keep your neck irritating-insect-free as well.

Unlike an old fashioned bee keepers’ bonnet, the HFM would be soft enough to sleep in, though of course, since you can easily see through it, you could also wear it performing various tasks around the house and yard. Depending on your mood, your surrealistic appearance when wearing the HFM, (that of a human being whose head is completely encased in a grey screen ball), could be altered by possibly wearing one of many spiffy screen printed versions. Just think of the fun you can have with your head protected by what appears to be a giant baseball, soccer ball, a fish bowl, even that ubiquitous yellow smiley faced thing, all the while enjoying a peaceful, insect free nap. No brim to get squashed down at the back of your head, and it sets off from your face so that even if an insect did land on it, you’d never feel a thing.

But what fun is that? We’re all out there looking for some adventure, some thrills, some excitement. As it always seemed to be here in wild, wacky Venice. At least that’s how Jeff Stanton sees it, in his latest hardbound updated book "Venice California, Coney Island of the Pacific." In it he claims dangerous stunts always fascinated Venice’s beach crowds, even way back when. It was no exception when Archie Crisp, billed as the ‘Human Fly’ arrived in Venice in November 1916 to display his daredevil climbing stunts. He was formerly a tightrope walker who had climbed the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. He proceeded to climb both the Waldorf and King George Hotels on Ocean Front Walk using just a few inches of ornamental brick work as a foothold. At the top of the walls and on windowsills he stood on his head.

He wasn’t the last to attempt the feat. Several years later sixteen-year-old Jack Williams, also billed as the ‘Human Fly’ did the feat better. Just using his hands and feet, he scaled the Waldorf Hotel while carrying a pretty bathing girl on his back. He had begun his career in Cleveland, when as a teen member of an acrobatic troupe, he had saved a girl from the top of a burning building, unreachable by ladder, by climbing its walls. Before coming to Venice, Williams scaled both the Washington Monument and Manhattan’s Woolworth Building.

I guess back then, if they built it, someone would climb it. And so thanks must first go out to Elisha Otis, who in 1853 didn’t actually invent the age-old elevator, but invented the brake used in modern elevators. His brakes then made skyscrapers a practical reality. And secondly to architect, Major William Le Baron Jenney, who in 1885 created the first load-carrying structural frame, the development of which led to the prominence of the skyscraper. After Jenney’s accomplishment, the sky was truly the limit as far as building was concerned. His first skyscraper revolutionized urban life because with higher buildings larger numbers of people could live and work in limited areas.

Which created the big fad of the ‘Human Fly’ around that time. At the turn of the last century, a man called Harry H. Gardiner was making headlines throughout America with his insect-like abilities. A slight man with powerful hands and feet, his fame grew to such proportions that he was even dubbed ‘The Human Fly’ by President Grover Cleveland. Gardiner’s most famous climb was on Oct. 7, 1916 when he delighted a crowd of 150,000 by climbing Detroit’s tallest skyscraper (at that time), the 14-story Majestic Building.

Another ‘Human Fly,’ Jack Williams performed in Clinton, Massachusetts. Williams climbed straight up the face of the Doggett building on High Street one cold November day during World War I. Over 2,500 Clintonians turned out to see him, and be thrilled at the near death-defying experience, when just for fun, he faked a fall from the fourth to the third floor. Ha ha, they all laughed.

John Reynolds, again known as the ‘Human Fly,’ was photographed giving an exhibition of his skill and daring by precariously balancing on the flag pole of the Times-Herald Building in Washington DC in the early 20s. H.F. Young, yet another ‘Human Fly,’ died March 5, 1923, in a nine-story fall from the front of the Hotel Martinique in New York. Two others died in stunts in 1924. Many cities subsequently enacted ordinances prohibiting the scaling of buildings. And so ended the thrill of watching the flies climb buildings, until May 25, 1981, when Daniel Goodwin wore a Spiderman costume as he climbed a record 1,454 feet up the Sears Tower of Chicago, using suction cups and metal clips for support. The Guinness Book of World Records awarded this the longest vertical climb ever on the face of a building.

I even remember the vertiginous thrill of watching Steve "Unique" McPeak, tightrope walker extraordinaire, stroll masterfully along a cable stretched between the St. Charles hotel and The United Skates of America building high above Windward Avenue in the fall of 1978. You see, it’s got something to do with the time of year for all these crazy activities. There’s a picture of this stunt in Jeff’s book, page 275, with yours truly on a rooftop in the background.

I’ve got a garbage brain
It’s driving me insane
and I don’t like the ride
so push that pest aside

Baby I won’t care
cause baby I don’t scare
cause I’m a reborn maggot
using germ warfare

I’m a human fly
I say buzz buzz buzz

So if you see some crazy character out strolling the boulevards at the end of this month wearing a big fly head mask, just buzz off baby. Cause I’m a human fly!