A daredevil stuntman on a 42nd Street skyscraper

Why is this man standing on his head on a skyscraper being fed donuts?

It’s a publicity stunt, of course. That’s Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, famous in the 1920s for his flagpole-sitting feats (his record is 49 days).


By 1939, when this photo was taken, the flagpole-sitting fad was over, and Kelly was reduced to doing gimmicks for events such as National Donut Dunking Week—which is the reason he’s upside-down on the roof of the Chanin Building on East 42nd Street.

He gained notoriety for his daredevil feats in life, and then for the way he died near his apartment on West 51st Street. “Broke and on welfare, Kelly dropped dead in 1952 while walking between two parked cars in New York City,” states yourememberthat.com.

“Clutched tightly in one arm was a scrapbook containing clippings and mementos from his glory days as King of the Flagpole Sitters.”

[Photo: New York Daily News]

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4 Responses to “A daredevil stuntman on a 42nd Street skyscraper”

  1. Mr. English Says:

    I think the word is “mementos.”

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, an error on their part, I’ve fixed.

  3. Lady G. Says:

    Aww, that’s sad, somehow I think the eras right after the 20’s and turn of the century destroyed a lot of people’s hopes and dreams. Technology, fads, etc. came at such a rapid pace ever since. But I’m sure it’s happened since the beginning, things come and go. The article on his death is pretty vague, doesn’t say how he died. Heart attack most likely. 😦 But wow, in his heyday, he could have donned the Spiderman suit! That stunt in the photo is amazing!

  4. The Skyscraper Daredevil dangles over Midtown | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] also inspired stuntmen who performed acrobatic shows (or at least, the illusion of acrobatics) a thousand feet over […]

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