Henderson County, Kentucky



If he hadn't done something equally perilous already in his young life, local folks might have thought the extreme heat of June 27, 1914, had affected Earl FORD'S mind and prompted him to perform such a hazardous stunt.

FORD later said the hot day did have something to do with his dive over the Ohio River at Sunset Park. But it wasn't a matter of heat stroke. He simply wanted to cool off.

And it occurred to the daring youth, who worked at the Kentucky Bakery at Second and Elm streets, that such a venture might also be a way to make a little extra money.

As the next day's edition of The Gleaner related, he told "some of his chums" that he'd dive from the bridge "if a subscription of $3 was raised. It did not take long for several in the park, among them being several ball players, to chip in and raise the paltry sum…"

It's not that $3 was such a scant amount of money in 1914. It would, after all, have bought plenty of groceries or provided funds for lots of sodas at one of the more popular local drug stores.

But the newspaper reporter theorized in print that if FORD had made the most of that death-defying deed and drummed up publicity and a large audience, he could well have pocketed hundreds of dollars.

"If he can get by with the feat he pulled off successfully last evening," the writer said, 'he should at once throw off his job at the bake shop and join some high class booking agency for an act that will bring him from $100 to $500 a day."

According to the newspaper account, "FORD climbed to the bridge on wood work recently placed under a section at the park and walked to the middle span. Two of his friends, in the meantime, had secured a skiff and rowed to the middle of the river.

"Climbing to the top of the bridge watchman's house located in the middle span, FORD dived head downward turning over several times before striking the water on his head and shoulders. He remained under water fully one before rising, and was quickly pulled into the waiting skiff.

"The distance from the top of the house to the surface of the water at the present stage is fully 105 feet."

FORD, who might have known something about self-promotion after all, told the reporter he'd once leaped from the Brooklyn Bridge and received $250 and two fine suits of clothes.

Following his 1914 shenanigan, he may have been known locally under a slightly different name. The Gleaner writer dubbed him "Speedy the high diver."

Reprinted with permission.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS