16. How This Weird Trendsetter Earned His Nickname
Shipwreck Kelly claimed to have earned the nickname after he survived five shipwrecks, two airplane crashes, and three automobile accidents. Other sources say it was because he was such a hapless boxer that he seemed adrift in the ring, like a shipwreck. Whatever his nickname’s origin, he kicked off the viral flagpole sitting fad in 1924. As a publicity stunt for the opening of a Philadelphia department store, Shipwreck Kelly perched himself atop a flagpole for thirteen hours and thirteen minutes. That feat struck a chord in the national imagination. It was widely publicized, and within weeks, hundreds of people across the US set out to try and break Kelly’s record for time perched atop a flagpole.
Once Kelly’s record was surpassed, the competition heated up, as hundreds vied for the title of “King of the Pole“. Kelly regained his record in 1926, when he sat atop a flagpole in St. Louis, Missouri, for seven days and an hour. He surpassed that in June of the following year, by sitting atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days. Throughout, he attracted huge crowds, as thousands gathered to watch his feats, with some camping out in the vicinity. Millions more followed daily updates in the newspapers or on the radio. Things looked good for Kelly, who at some point earned as much as $500 a day just to sit on a flagpole – a princely sum in those days. All good things come to an end, however.