One of Murfreesboro’s best-known stories involves ‘The Human Fly’
House in 1923.
In April, 1923, a young man and his associate came to Murfreesboro
Louis, these men were old fashioned barnstormers. One performed
stunts on his bicycle. The other was billed as “The World’s Youngest
The two approached the officials at the Rutherford County Court
House and gained permission to climb to the top. He mentioned how
he would not damage the Court House since he would use only his
bare hands and feet; no ropes, no ladders, no nothing...
The County officials granted him permission. For the next several
days the Human Fly and his associate visited the merchants around
the Square, attempting to securing sponsorships for his big climb.
Newspaper reports tell how some 200 people gathered around the
Square around 8PM Friday evening. A hat was passed yet only $12
was collected from the crowd.
Despite the poor payday, the daredevils began their act with the
Human Fly going first. Illuminated by a fire truck spotlight, he nimbly
climbed the brick exterior of the Court House, up past the second
floor courtroom and onto the flat roof of the Court House.
Once there, he then tackled the metal cupola, which posed a problem
due to its irregular shape. But the Human Fly made it past the clock
face and pulled himself atop the bell tower.
To the amazement of the crowd, he stood astride the weather vane
on top of the Court House some 200 feet from the ground.
He descended to the ledge just under the courthouse clock where he
stopped for a rest. Parties on the roof called to him there to come on
down as the crowd was satisfied. Instead he started back to the top
of the cupola.
After going only a short distance on his second trip up the cupola he
seemed to loosen his grasp and fell backwards to the roof.
Quote “His neck was broken and a hole was knocked in his head by
the plunge to the roof.”
His body was carried across the Square to Crafton and Sweeney’s
undertaker parlor to be held pending word from family in St. Louis.
The story ends, quote “To this day, we have no idea who the ‘Human
Fly’ really was.”
Well, turns out there is different conclusion to this almost 100-year-
In the decades that followed the “Human Fly’s” name was lost
perhaps because he had a stage name AND a real name.
You see, the Human Fly had a stage name of Ray Royce, age 26, of St.
Louis. Yet his REAL name was James A. Dearing. And, that was the
name on his death certificate.
The legend says his remains were in the window of Crafton-Sweeney’s
for days in the hope someone would identify him. And that he was
buried in a pauper’s grave at Murfreesboro’s Evergreen Cemetery.
That last bit of information partially refutes the Evergreen Cemetery
part of the legend. Evergreen has no record of a Ray Royce or James
A. Dearing. Still, the story has been passed down through generations
of employees stating that he is buried in an unmarked grave.
Many thanks to local historian and Murfreesboro native Mike West.
And please visit www.rutherfordtnhistory.org and enjoy more than
2,000 stories concerning Rutherford County history.