Only six years had passed from Lindbergh’s Atlantic flight, when Chum won the cross-country Darkness Derby in October of 1933. Public wonder and oodles of press coverage followed aviators across the country, and around the world. Pilots were viewed as rustic pioneers risking the unforgiving rules of gravity. Hustling for every penny, Mont Chumbley used his rare talent for more than business, offering lessons during the week, and moonlighting weekends entertaining an aviation-crazy public.
County fairs proved a reliable source of pocket money, and he beat the bushes to find well attended events. In good weather he could charge $5 dollars for three passes over local fairgrounds; enough for gas, dinner and a little left over for his time.
It was on today, May 16, back in 1933 that Chum flew his Waco biplane to a fair in Binghamton, New York. He traveled north from New York looking for a little fun, and maybe a few extra bucks. He hit gold that day when he met up with famed parachute jumper, Spud Manning. Now Spud was a young guy, too, and much like Chum, had to make his luck to survive in Depression-era America. So what this enterprising gent challenged, was jumping from airplanes.
With Chum soaring at 15,000 feet, Manning, harnessed in his chute, clutched a bag of flour to his chest. In his fall Manning released the contents to trace his descent. The 25 year old’s shtick was to risk death by falling until the last possible moment, somewhere around 1000 feet, to pull his ripcord. He succeeded to scare the hell out of patrons and they paid him to do it again.
Presumably Spud carried out his jump the same way on that May 16th in Binghamton New York. Leaping for profits, Spuds and Chum performed the stunt as long as it paid. Spuds leaped into the sky, likely accumulating a dusty, white face as the flour plumed up from his arms. Rolling on the ground, grappling with his chute, he jumped to his feet delighting the dazzled crowds.
That May 16th must have left hundreds of Binghamton fair goers in awe. Clear blue weather, excited customers, viewing their landscape from the Waco in three memorable passes; all capped off by the heart stopping jumps of Spud Manning.
Sadly, Chum’s afternoon associate had less than four months to live. Spud was killed that September when, as a passenger on experimental aircraft, he crashed into Lake Michigan. His body and two others washed up on shore ending a massive search over the water.
Chum clearly understood death accompanied each flight, but he loved flying more than dwelling on his fears. Presumably Spud Manning too, resigned himself to the possible price of repeated defiance to the forces of gravity.
Somehow the miracle of the sky rendered the hazards irrelevant.
Gail Chumbley is author of memoir River of January