What Is Flagpole Sitting and Its History?
It’s been a long while since the flagpole sitting records were shaking the US public. What exactly is a flagpole or pole sitting? It’s a performance, typically executed by a male, in which he is sitting on the top of a high pole. The higher and the longer, the better.
But, how exactly did this fad start, and why isn’t it so popular nowadays as well? We’ll try to provide the answers to these, so read on!
Who Started Pole Sitting First?
Truth be told, the first pole sitters didn’t do it just for entertainment purposes, let alone money.
We could say that according to ancient scripts, the first pole sitter (or in this case, column sitter) was Simeon Stylites the Elder. The Syrian monk climbed a pillar in 423 and remained atop for the following 37 years until he died. At first, his original wish was to separate himself from the crowd and earthly matters so he could dedicate his time to prayers in peace. However, the idea backfired in a way since his act of praying attracted many visitors, and Simeon Stylites the Elder was eventually visited by pilgrims, as well as bishops and even emperors.
This flagpole sitting act inspired others too. For instance, Saint Alypius spent 53 years standing upright on a pillar, and later lying on the side for the next fourteen years until his death.
Yet, centuries should pass until flagpole sitting grabbed attention again, but this time, as an entertaining and scary performance.
Flagpole Sitting in the USA
The whole pole-sitting vogue started off with a simple dare. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly decided to sit on a flagpole for as long as he can. His very first flagpole sitting in 1924 lasted for thirteen hours and thirteen minutes.
Having realized he had a talent for this performance, the Luckiest Fool on Earth, as Kelly was referring to himself, decided to take the show on the road and sit on flagpoles for cash. While others tried to imitate him, Kelly was going strong and kept breaking his records. One of the achievements was sitting outside New York’s Madison Square Garden for 22 days and six hours. Another impressive feat of his happened in Baltimore, where Kelly sat for 45 days straight (pun intended) on a 60-foot pole.
However, the Great Depression changed everything. Kelly lost his title to Richard Dixie Blandy at the Chicago World’s Fair, and Americans were generally too concerned about making ends meet to gather around and pay to watch a fun activity.
Why Was Flagpole Sitting So Popular?
You’ll have to remember that back in the 1920s there was no television to amuse you and circuses, and all types of live performances brought joy to the people. Also, you couldn’t watch a rerun! If a stunt was on, you had to go and attend the event before it finished.
How Did Flagpole Sitters Drink, Eat, and…?
We can’t mention records of sitting or standing on a flagpole for days without explaining some practical details. Flagpole sitters typically were on a liquid diet (unless we count cigarettes) and one can only guess what was going on in their bodies.
As for bowel relief, there was usually a tube at hand that would run all the way to the ground.
Modern Flagpole Sitting
After the Great Depression, there were few attempts to revive the show, but the excitement never really caught on. As a matter of fact, pole sitting sometimes became an act of protest rather than simple amusement.
In the 70s, flagpole sitting became somewhat of a competitive sport. Richard Dixie Blandy was holding records until his death in 1974 when the flagpole collapsed under him. In 1982, H. David Werder started sitting on the pole as a sign of protest against the price of gas, and remained there for 439 days, 11 hours, and 6 minutes.
A newlywed couple definitely had one of the most original wedding photos taken in 1946. The bride and groom from Ohio were standing and kissing in their fancy clothes on top of a high flagpole.
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