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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in North Idaho: A daredevil know as the ‘Human Fly’ died in a tragic stunt gone wrong

 (S-R archives)
(S-R archives)

Jack Hughes, 28, known as the “Human Fly” for his daredevil stunts, died when a climb in downtown Sandpoint went horribly wrong.

The act began in routine fashion. He and his wife and business partner had gathered a crowd in downtown Sandpoint and passed a hat for donations.

Then Hughes began to climb the corner of the two-story Jennestad, Larson & Co. building on First Avenue and Main Street. He made it up to a cornice and then to a window ledge on the second floor. He continued up, but this part of the building had only the smallest finger holds, according to a correspondent on the scene.

“About 20 feet (above) the pavement, he lost a toe hold,” said the correspondent. “His finger hold was so slight as to prevent his hanging by that means, and after one careful feel with his right toe, he evidently became alarmed for he began to paw for a toe hold. Slipping, he fell against an electric wire, was thrown back and struck on the cornice of the door.”

He bounced off the cornice and fell the rest of the way into the alley, “his head crashing on the concrete.”

“The thud of his fall was heard distinctly for a block,” reported the correspondent.

He was rushed to the city hospital with head injuries, a broken pelvis and a crushed left hip. He seemed to be recovering, yet his internal injuries were serious. That night, he suddenly raised up in bed and said, “I’ve got to get down,” possibly voicing his last thought before the fall. Then he died.

Hughes was a Navy veteran from Detroit, who made his living performing climbing feats and parachute jumps throughout the country. The climb in Sandpoint was known as a particularly perilous one. Bill Strothers, known as the “Human Spider,” declined to do the Sandpoint climb when he was in Spokane a few month earlier.

Hughes’ wife was described as “almost hysterical with grief.”

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