SCHUETTE COLUMN: Parachute jump ends in tragedy

SCHUETTE COLUMN: Parachute jump ends in tragedy

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Parachute jump ends in tragedy

Mae Rox, a.k.a Peaches LaMar, depicted here, and the plane purportedly flown by Reedsburg’s Cecil Hess that tragic day.

Airplanes were still relatively unique during the late 1920s and people jumping out of them was even more unusual. Therefore, when a flying circus was hired to entertain the Reedsburg community for the Fourth of July celebration in 1930, one of the prime attractions was parachute jumps. The Mid West Airways troop, from Rockford, Illinois, put on stunt flying demonstrations for thousands of awe-struck spectators below, the largest crowd to attend such activities in anyone’s memory.

During the second day of the celebration, the climax of the show was to be a parachute jump by Evelyn Holman. After circling the field for several minutes, the plane suddenly landed. Holman got out, handed her chute to 19-year-old Mae Rox, whose professional name was Peaches LaMar, and said, “You take my place, I’m scared.” Rox had jumped the day before, but strapped on the equipment anyway and was soon on her way to 1,500 feet. The crowd buzzed with excitement as the plane again circled the field. “There she goes,” shouted a spectator as Rox appeared below the plane.

An article in the Times-Press picks up the story: “Down, down she fell. And then silence settled over the crowd as realization seemed to come to everyone at once that something was wrong. Down, straight down, seemingly without a struggle, fell Rox and vanished behind a fringe of trees beyond the cornfield, into the marshland southwest of the airport.

A woman shrieked. The silence became a bedlam of screams and shouts. The crowd broke across the airport with a rush, but police were first and barred the way.”

As the pilot circled over the spot, flying circus personnel leaped into their cars and headed to the site of the tragedy. The pilot returned to the airfield, almost cracking up his plane, and joined the race to the girl. She was found buried 18 inches in the soft soil. Her chute was determined to be in good working order upon examination.

Rox has been jumping for the flying circus since that past August and had made more than 100 jumps previously. It was speculated that she had fainted upon exiting the airplane, failed to pull her ripcord and never knew what happened.

Bill Schuette has served on the board of directors at the Sauk County Historical Society since 1993. He lives in rural Loganville.

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