Flashback Frank - The Human Spider

Feb 03, 2022 at 08:00 am by Producer

Last week we focused on the ‘Human Fly’ who climbed the Court

House cupula in 1923 only to meet his demise that very same night.


Today is the story of the ‘Human Spider’ who climbed the old four-
story James K. Polk Hotel once located at the present day SunTrust

Bank building on East Main Street.

October, 1937 saw the streets below filled with more than 500
spectators. Johnny Woods from Los Angeles billed himself as the
“Human Spider” claiming he had free-hand climbed landmark
buildings such as the Woolworth building in New York and the famous
Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

His challenge in Murfreesboro was the four-story James K. Polk Hotel
on East Main Street. The 43-year-old Woods promised “the thrill of a
lifetime” as he scaled the four-story brick wall.

After taking up a collection from the crowd of spectators, Woods
explained that he would climb the four-story wall, then balance on
TWO chairs, stacked upon one another, atop the building’s cornice.

The ‘Spider’ apparently had the cooperation of the hotel

management, for his wife was to be on the roof to hand him the
chairs and to join in the act.

Starting from the sidewalk, the performer crept up the brick façade,
feeling carefully for each hand and foothold. All appeared to go well
until between the second and third floors - he slipped. As the crowd
gasped and screamed, Woods fell about two feet before catching
himself on a window ledge. Did he slip on purpose? Perhaps. Still,
the crowd was certainly pleased.

Perhaps many in the 1937 crowd recalled the time in 1923 when the
Human Fly did ACTUALLY slip and fall to his death from our Court
House Cupola.

When Woods reached the top, he was met by his wife who joined him
in a series of high wire acrobatics. Unlike his ill-fated predecessor, the
Human Spider and his wife concluded their act on the roof and took
the hotel elevator back to the street level.

The rich history of Rutherford County is filled with stories such as
these. Each Saturday morning, dozens of local historians gather at the
1840 Ransom School House, 717 North Academy Street, for ‘Coffee &
Conversation’. No speaker, no agenda, no charge. Just fun, laughter
and sharing of our abundant Rutherford County history.

So, stop by any Saturday morning, anytime between 9AM-noon, grab
a donut and cup of coffee and share YOUR local history.

Please visit www.rutherfordtnhistory.org to enjoy this story and more
than 2,000 other stories concerning Rutherford County history.

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