LIMA — Despite an “effort yesterday to have a sane Fourth,” the Lima Times-Democrat wrote on July 5, 1910, the potent mix of patriotism and explosives had produced the predictable day-after casualty list.
In Delphos, a 17-year-old boy was “badly hurt” when “in some unknown manner” gunpowder he was packing into a cannon “somehow became ignited,” the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, that same afternoon in Kalida, an 11-year-old boy was “badly disfigured” after he “picked up giant firecracker that had refused to explode but was still burning,” the newspaper wrote, adding that “the usual result followed.”
As bad as the “usual” results were among holiday merrymakers, it could be much worse for the daredevils who entertained over the holiday with gravity defying acts. The years 1910 and 1911 proved particularly bad ones to defy gravity.
One such performer was Ralph Lusk, a 24-year-old Lima man who had joined the A.I. Dale Carnival company in September 1909, his brother Tony told Lima’s Republican-Gazette on July 5, 1910. Traveling under the name Ralph Bradley, Lusk played in the carnival’s brass band and was a fledgling aeronaut, doing dangerous double-parachute jumps from a hot-air balloon. “Bradley (Lusk) had enjoyed the work so much he could hardly be restrained from making the ascensions and never had any fear of an accident,” the Muncie Evening Press wrote July 1, 1910.
On June 30, 1910, Lusk and the other members of the brass band had, like so many pied pipers, led a crowd through the streets of Albany, Indiana, to carnival grounds set up at the town’s park. At the park, according to the Evening Press, “Bradley (Lusk) immediately began filling his big hot air bag preparatory to the ascension. After the bag had been filled, he personally arranged the ropes attached to the main parachute and with the release of the monster balloon he swung on the cross bar and was pulled into the air with his usual ‘good-bye.’”
At about 2,500 feet above the Indiana countryside on a flawless afternoon, the newspaper wrote, “Bradley cut loose from the balloon and his first parachute opened, allowing him to descend to about 1,500 or 2,000 feet above the ground. The second parachute which he had taken up with him was unrolled and the balloonist jumped off his cross bar into space, holding to his second parachute.”
The second parachute failed to open, and many in the crowd of several thousand who had come to watch Lusk risk his life turned away in horror “when it was realized that a tragedy was being enacted,” the Evening Press wrote. Another Indiana newspaper, the Rushville Republican, wrote that Lusk “was seen to turn a complete somersault in the air” before slamming into the ground on the banks of the Mississinewa River.
Once it was realized that the Ralph Bradley killed in Indiana was Ralph Lusk, his brother and a cousin, Roy Speece, left by train to return the body to Lima. “They learned while there that the young balloonist, who had been making ascensions but a few weeks, had not been paid for his acts by the carnival company, and that he and his partner were to receive $200 on July 1st,” the Republican-Gazette reported July 5. “The money will no doubt be paid but it is sad that it will only go toward paying the expenses of his burial.” Lusk is buried in Fletcher Cemetery in Perry Township.
A year later, Lima would witness three spectacular accidents involving performers. On June 23, 1911, the Times-Democrat reported that Mlle. La Belle, “one of a company of entertainers who have been performing before large crowds” at Hover Park amusement park, had “one of the most hair-raising accidents ever seen in this city.”
La Belle, the Times-Democrat explained, “sits in an auto while it speeds down a sharp inclined pathway and up a short incline and hurls forth into the air.” At that point, the newspaper continued, La Belle would hurl herself into the air and into the grasp of “Prof. Hurley” who “hangs by his knees from a trapeze, many feet in the air.”
On that day, La Belle and Hurley missed connections — twice. The first time, the Times-Democrat noted, La Belle fell to the net below, as did the auto, which reached the net first, bounced and landed on La Belle. “She escaped with a few bruises and with a superb display of nerve declared herself ready to try again.”
This time, the Times-Democrat wrote, “her fingertips touched the hands of Prof. Hurley; she hung suspended in the air for a moment and then fell to the net 40 feet below. On the second rebound from the net, the automobile fell on the young woman.” Although spectators feared the worst, a badly bruised La Belle was alive. La Belle, having survived having an automobile land on her twice in one day, was not up for a third attempt at what the newspaper called the “one of the most daring automobile feats ever contrived by the daredevil spirit of man.”
Two weeks later, the Times-Democrat reported that an aeronaut named Benjamin Brown, who was from “a small town in western Illinois,” was badly burned at McCullough Lake Park (present day Schoonover Park) while preparing to do a balloon ascension.
Brown “was standing at the edge of his fire pit, throwing gasoline upon the flames to create gas, for the purpose of inflating the big gas-bag balloon, when he suddenly discovered that his clothing had caught fire at points where drops of the fluid had been splashed,” the newspaper reported, adding that Brown, “with his clothing hanging from bis body in charred shreds,” was “lifted into an automobile and taken to the office of Dr. P.I. Tussing in the Opera House block. From there Brown was taken to the City Hospital.” Brown’s face, back and hands were badly burned.
He was joined at the City Hospital less than a week later by a balloonist named W.A. Scott who was “giving aeronautic exhibitions” at Hover Park. “The balloonist, who is known professionally as ‘Scotty,’ was preparing to make the last flight of his stay here, after being unable to inflate his balloon during the afternoon and early evening on account of the high wind,” the Times-Democrat wrote on July 11, 1911.
Scott finally succeeded in getting the “silken” balloon filled about 10 p.m. that Sunday night. “Just as the balloon arose from the ground with a swing,” the newspaper continued, “a thoughtless spectator rushed across its path, was struck and thrown down. The force of the blow caused the monster balloon to swerve from its course and swing the aeronaut against some telephone wires,” knocking him off his perch.
Once again “horrified spectators” watched as an aeronaut came “hurtling toward the ground.” This time, however, the fall came from a height of about 30 feet, not 2,000, and Scott survived, albeit with “both bones of his lower left leg broken squarely off and with indications of internal injuries …,” according to the Times-Democrat.
While Scott was rushed to the hospital, the balloon “with no one to guide its course, sailed away into the darkness and disappeared in a few minutes,” the newspaper wrote. “It has not yet been found and no one for miles around has as yet reported the finding of the big silk gas bag.”
Although the Times-Democrat predicted the aeronaut had “small chance for a recovery,” he went ahead and recovered anyway. Scott died in 1943.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.