Alvin 'Shipwreck' Kelly


Born: 13 May 1893 (?)
Died: 11 October 1952
Birthplace: New York, New York
Best known as:

World-champion flagpole sitter of the 1920s

Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly was the acknowledged master of flagpole-sitting, a nutty public fad of the 1920s. Kelly would clamber to the top of a specially-prepared flagpole and remain there on a small platform for days or even weeks, usually as a paid publicity stunt. It was par for the course in Kelly's scattershot career: he claimed to be a survivor of the Titanic disaster (hence the nickname "Shipwreck") and worked in shipyards, as a steeplejack and a stuntman before gaining fame for sitting on flagpoles across America. He set a world record by perching atop a flagpole for 1177 hours -- 49 days plus an hour -- at Atlantic City's Steel Pier in the summer of 1930. "Mr. Kelly said he had spent a total of 20,613 hours aloft" over his lifetime, according to a 1952 story about his death in The New York Times.

Extra credit:

Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly is not the same man as "Shipwreck" Kelly, the record-setting Kentucky football running back of the 1930s... Various dates of birth have been given for Alvin Kelly over the years. However, according to the 1952 New York Times story about his death, Kelly had "written in newspaper articles and in a pamphlet that he was born on May 13, 1893"... Another NY Times story, on April 21 of 1944, reported that the 50-year-old Kelly had been sworn in as second officer in a Merchant Marine vessel... Magician David Blaine performed a stunt reminiscent of Kelly in 2002, standing on a 90-foot pillar in New York's Bryant Park for 35 hours.

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