August 12, 1916: “Human Fly” scales Duluth’s Alworth Building

On this day in Duluth in 1916, Harry H. Gardiner—billed as the “World’s Most Daring Athlete”—scaled Duluth’s Alworth Building, then and today the tallest building in Duluth. Gardiner’s stunt, sponsored by the Grand Theatre and the Duluth’s Interstate Auto Company, was his second that week, having scaled the Torrey Building a few days earlier. According to the Duluth News Tribune, when Gardiner reached the top of the Alworth’s sixteen floors to the roof, he “climbed to the top of the flagstaff and waved to 5,000 onlookers below.” E. B. McCarty, a local chimney sweep and steeplejack, claimed he could easily duplicate Gardiner’s feat and that he was willing to “forfeit $200 to $500 if he should fail to do so.” No one took McCarty up on his offer.  It wouldn’t be the last time a human fly scaled the Alworth. In May 1921, Jack Williams—billed as “the original human fly”—scaled the building twice on May 9 and 10 and on the 11th 5,000 people watched him climb the Holland Hotel (he wanted to climb the Sellwood Building, but its owner refused). Another human fly entertained Superiorites in 1926 when Billie “The Human Fly” O’Brine escaped from a straight jacket while suspended upside down atop Superior’s Androy Hotel. After that he climbed the hotel’s nine stories and shinnied up its flag pole. He pulled in $203 from the crowd and took home half.

A postcard of the Alworth Building made some time between 1915 and 1925. (Image: Zenith City Press)