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Evangelish Robert Sumner told the story:

When George Gibson Polley was a boy in Richmond, he hit a baseball onto the roof of a six-story building. Since with most sandlot games, it was the only ball the boys had, George promptly climbed up the outside of the building and retrieved it. This was the start of scaling buildings that eventually earned for Polley the title “Human Fly.” Before his career came to a screeching halt at the age of 29 — not from a fall, but a fatal brain tumor — George scaled the outside of more than 2,000 buildings.

He climbed the Custom House in Boston, three buildings in a single day at Hartford, and one time he made it to the thirtieth floor of the Woolworth Building in NYC (at the time the world’s tallest) before being apprehended and arrested by a policeman. It seems that he did not have a permit. Most of the time, however, everything was legal and on the up and up, with store owners hiring him for grand openings and an assortment of sales. He could earn $200 a climb — more than many men were earning in over a month during those depression days.

While I cannot say for certain now, I think it was Polley who came to my hometown on two different occasions when I was just a boy. One time it was to scale the outside of the largest department store building in the city, located at the main intersection, the Chapman-Turner Department Store. the other time was to climb a new hotel located a block away. On both occasions, I recall standing on the sidewalk across the street, open-mouthed, heart in throat, gripping tightly my father’s hand, as Polley slowly, yet confidently, climbed to the top. Since it was standard fare in his act, I assume he pretended to slip and start to fall at least a time or two during each climb, hanging by his fingertips from a ledge.

Polley’s financial success launched a number of other “human fly” careers in those bitter depression days. One of the exciting dare-devils had been announced to climb a large department store building in downtown Los Angeles. A great throng assembled to watch and the man, slowly and carefully, climbed floor after floor up the outside of the building.

When he reached a point very near the top, the crowd watched him feel above his head, both to the right and to the left, for something he could use to raise himself higher. Eventually he spotted what seemed to be a jutting brick or a piece of stone. Since it was inches beyond his reach, he ventured everything on a cat-like spring, wrapping his fingers around the object.

While the crowd below watched in horror, the human fly fell with a scream to the sidewalk and was smashed into pieces. When medical attendants pried back his fingers to see what he had clutched, they found a spider’s web! he had risked everything on what proved to be dried froth! —Robert Sumner.

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