The Way it Was

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Editor’s note: This is another column in Bill Boyd’s new series, “The Way It Was,” about growing up in Marysville. Bill continues to work with the Union County Historical Society to obtain information for his stories. With Marysville and Union County celebrating Bicentennial anniversaries in 2019 and 2020, respectively, these articles help depict what life was like in those early years.

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“Human Flies”


When I was seven or eight years old, like most boys that age, I enjoyed climbing trees. We had a good-sized elm tree in our back yard, and I spent a lot of time climbing in it. It wasn’t as large as the giant elm tree that stood across the street in Mrs. Cagy’s front lawn, for her tree was the biggest one in town.

I think my dad enjoyed watching me climb, but it made my mother a little nervous. We were all talking about my climbing as we sat around our dinner table one night. Then somehow the conversation segued from my tree climbing to someone my parents had seen years earlier climb up the outside of the Union County Courthouse … all the way to the top.

Oh, wow! Wouldn’t that be great to climb buildings like that when I grow up? I was sure I could do it. My parents had both seen that climber, and they told me all about that day. I thought it would be a good thing to write about, but I had forgotten a lot of the details, so I did a little research to see what I could dig up. And I’d like to tell you what I found.

Climbing the outside of buildings was kind of a craze during the 1920s. There were quite a few people, called “human flies,” who went from town to town climbing buildings. During that decade, some of those human flies came to Marysville. The Union County Historical Society helped me find a record of a few, but I think there may have been even more during that time.

In 1921, a married couple named Billy and Dolly O’Brien, announced they were coming to Marysville, to climb the outside of the courthouse, all the way up to the statue of Lady Justice. Dolly even claimed she would hang by her toes from that height. Oh Man, who wouldn’t want to see that?

On the day of the event, the couple came to town, but Billy said he had retired from climbing, so his wife would scale the building by herself. Billy assisted her by operating some sort of rope and tackle gear at ground level. I couldn’t find out whether or not Dolly actually hung by her toes, but I have my doubts because that would really hurt.

But it wasn’t just the courthouse that those human flies climbed. In 1927, another human fly named Edwin Asman came to Marysville to climb the three-story face of the Braun Clothing Store, on the southeast corner of Fifth and Main Streets.

Later that same year, a man named Henry Roland, another human fly, made a climb of the courthouse. I think that’s probably the one that my parents saw and told me about. They talked about how exciting it was to see, especially when the climber got to the top, and, with his arm around the statue, waved to all the people below. When they told me that, I really wanted to become a human fly.

I bet everyone in Marysville who saw those climbers in the 1920s was really impressed. Today, however, I’m glad I didn’t become a human fly. I haven’t handled heights very well for the last few years. In fact, I don’t even climb trees anymore.

Those wishing to contact Bill Boyd can e-mail him at bill@davidwboyd.com



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