Scrambling from window to window, 'Nutty Jack' Williams climbed to the top of the Medford Hotel in December 1918. - Bill Miller

'Human Fly' wowed 1918 Medford

Thirty-one stories up, with bare fingers wedged into cracks and crevices, "Nutty Jack" Williams was clinging to a building in Seattle.

With a ledge 6 feet above him, he crouched for a moment on a concrete windowsill, judging the distance and catching his breath.

His muscles tightened and he swung upward, his arms outstretched, grasping for the ledge. A thousand voices gasped in horror, but he landed safely.

He stood up and pretended to be dizzy, then adjusted his black slouch hat and began to climb again.

Now at the 42nd floor, his way was blocked by a cornice projecting 5 feet from the building. He coiled his body for another heart-stopping spring, and then catapulted upward and outward.

Seven women fainted and uneasy heads turned away.

With one last swing, he was up and safe, breathless on the roof.

"Nutty Jack" Williams, who claimed to be the "Original Human Fly," said he had "climbed everything in the world with a smooth face on it."

He had carried a bathing beauty on his back to the top of the Waldorf Hotel in Venice, Calif. He had climbed the Washington Monument, countless state capitol domes and the 63-story Woolworth building in New York City, the tallest building in the world in 1918.

Jack left Seattle for Medford in December of that year. He would climb the tallest building he could find in the Rogue Valley, the five-story Hotel Medford (the sixth story wasn't added until 1925).

For a man who had been at the "top of the world," the buildings of Southern Oregon offered little difficulty, but the railroad ran through Medford and Williams figured the town might be a nice place to pick up some easy money.

Nutty Jack's moneymaking routine was simple. Find a town with a worthwhile cause and agree to split any money he made. Usually that meant 70 percent for Jack and the rest for the cause.

From window to window, he scampered up the side of the Hotel Medford until he reached the large cornice at the roofline. With a borrowed rope, he swung over it and somehow landed on the roof.

There, he shinnied to the top of the flagpole to the hysterical cheers of the crowd. Jack put $19.82 in his pocket, gave $8.50 to the local Red Cross, and then left town for good.

Medford had been visited once before by a man who claimed to be the original Human Fly. "Needless to say," said a Mail Tribune reporter, "his exhibition was a dismal failure."

Jack Williams continued to perform across the country until 1923, when he suddenly disappeared from newspapers reports.

Although his fate is still unknown, some say he was the "unidentified man calling himself the original Human Fly," who, that same year, fell to his death in Indiana.

The remaining Human Flys and traveling daredevils soon followed "Nutty Jack" into oblivion.

Once the Great Depression hit, there just wasn't enough money around to take on that kind of risk.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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