The Fall of the Fly

Every town or city in this country has its own unique history, including colorful characters that make for great folk lore. Murfreesboro has its own rich history with many interesting events and people. Bloody Civil War battles, a rumored Al Capone hangout, ghost stories and speak easy’s just to name a few.

One of the most interesting stories from our past is The Human Fly. In the summer of 1923, a young stranger wondered in to Murfreesboro. Now in those days Murfreesboro was a small, sleepy, agriculturally based community, where everybody knew everybody else. A single drifter, in those days, may not have been that uncommon a thing, but one with the claim that this young made certainly was.

Soon after his arrival, the man proclaimed himself to be The Human Fly. The Murfreesboro square was the center of almost all activities in those day and this fellow reportedly went into all the local businesses and boldly stated that, for a fee, he would climb to the top of the clock on the court house, and back down again, using nothing but his bare hands and feet. The court house is a three story building with a towering clock that easily adds another story.

Times were tough and entertainment was hard to come by in those days, so the business owners thought this might a good opportunity to bring people up to the square and hopefully spend some of those hard earned dollars. Well, after pooling their money and meeting the fee, the exact amount is lost to the ages, permission was procured from the city council and the event was planned. The only fire engine the city owned turned on its spot light about dusk one evening and the human fly began his climb.

CourthouseA large crowd had gathered to see the spectacle and words of encouragement rang out as he braced himself between two of the four giant pillars that grace the front of the court house. A man of obviously athletic ability, he pulled himself from the pillars onto the roof of the court house. The then strolled over to the clock and began to ascend it. The clock has four faces on it, each facing one side of the square. He was able to brace himself between the clock faces much the same way as he did with the pillars. After scaling the clock all the way to the weather vane, he turned and waved to the crowd. A great cheer went up and the young man began his decent.

Unfortunately, while he was at the highest point, a fine mist began to fall. This made his decent very slippery and while descending the clock, he slipped and fell to the roof of the court house, killing him instantly.

At that time it was not uncommon for people to travel without identification and The Human Fly was no exception. During his brief time in Murfreesboro, he had only identified himself as The Human Fly, so no one knew who he was. He was removed from the roof and carried over to Sweeney’s Funeral Parlor, which was located on the square. He was propped up in the front window, in a glass covered coffin, with a sign which read “Do you know me?” He was never identified, and after a week he was taken and buried in an unmarked grave at Evergreen cemetery.

Eighty six years have passed since The Human Fly climbed our court house. Eighty six years since he met his fate and eighty six years since he was buried in an unmarked grave. With all that time passing, the tragedy of such an event can fade. In this advanced date we may even find humor in it. But, for all these years, somewhere a person has been missing. A son never came home, a brother missed, a lost love never reclaimed. It’s possible that somewhere a missing person report goes unsolved. It’s possible that for many years an anxious child looked down the road for the return of a father, a return that was never to be.

I stopped by Evergreen cemetery and enquired about the whereabouts of The Human Fly’s grave. They told me of an approximate location, but since there was no marker, no one knew exactly where he located. The only known record to the life of this young man, is an ill fated climb up our court house. I won’t call it fitting, I’ll just call it an ending.


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1 Comment

  • D. Dillon

    Wow… I think I had heard a little bit about this story, but never heard it in detail. Thanks for clarifying the story.

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