Pole sitting

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A pole sitter in Amsterdam in 1979

Pole sitting is the practice of sitting on top of a pole (such as a flagpole) for extended lengths of time, generally used as a test of endurance. A small platform is typically placed at the top of the pole for the sitter. Led by the stunt actor and former sailor Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, flagpole sitting was a fad in the mid-to-late 1920s, but mostly died out after the start of the Great Depression.

History and 1920s fad[edit]

Pole sitting is predated by the ancient ascetic discipline of stylitism, or column-sitting. St. Simeon Stylites the Elder (c. 388–459) of Antioch (now Turkey) was a column-sitter who sat on a small platform on a column for 36 years.[1]

14-year-old William Ruppert breaking the pole sitting record of 23 days, in 1929

Flagpole sitting was a fad in the mid-to-late 1920s. The fad was begun by stunt actor and former sailor[2] Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly, who sat on a flagpole, either on a dare by a friend[3] or as a publicity stunt.[2] Shipwreck's initial 1924 sit lasted 13 hours and 13 minutes. It soon became a fad with other contestants setting records of 12, 17 and 21 days. In 1929, Shipwreck decided to reclaim the title. He sat on a flagpole for 49 days in Atlantic City, New Jersey, setting a new record.[4] The following year, 1930, his record was broken by Bill Penfield in Strawberry Point, Iowa who sat on a flagpole for 51 days and 20 hours, until a thunderstorm forced him down.

For the most part, pole sitting was confined to the 1920s, ending with the onset of the Depression.[5]

Post-1930 incidents and records[edit]

  • In 1946, Marshall Jacobs, a 37-year-old Ohio resident who was trying to revive the fad, married his fiancée Yolanda Cosmar atop a flagpole with a roost, and a photograph of them kissing gained wide attention.[6]
  • From 1933 to 1963, Richard "Dixie" Blandy claimed various records as champion at 77, 78 and 125 days until he died in 1974 when the pole on which he was sitting collapsed.[7]
  • In 1964 a record of 217 days was set in Gadsden, Alabama by Peggy (Townsend) Clark.[8]
  • From November 1982 to 21 January 1984 (439 days, 11 hours, and 6 minutes), H. David Werder sat on a pole to protest against the price of gasoline.[9][10]


  • On the game show What's My Line, hosted by John Charles Daly, a flagpole sitter is the first guest on the July 3, 1955 episode?[11]
  • Pole sitting is worked into the plot of the season 5 episode of M*A*S*H entitled "Souvenirs." For his latest scheme to get a section 8 discharge, Corporal Klinger climbs a pole in the middle of camp and refuses to come down until he is granted his discharge. When Colonel Potter learns that the Army record for pole sitting is 96 hours, he turns the tables by convincing Klinger to stay up there to break the record.[12]


In a dialog sequence early in the 1932 movie The Most Dangerous Game, the character Zaroff introduces the protagonist Bob to his guests as a celebrity, upon which Martin guesses (incorrectly) that Bob might be a flagpole sitter.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Simeon Stylites the Elder". Newadvent.org. 1912-02-01. Retrieved 2009-10-17.
  2. ^ a b Baker, Danny. "Shipwreck for ever in pole position." The Times (United Kingdom) 21 Aug. 2002: Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 22 Dec. 2011.
  3. ^ Long, Mark A., and Jim Fee. Bad Fads. Toronto: ECW, 2002. p. 17 Ebrary. Web. 22 Dec. 2011.
  4. ^ "Atlantic City's Historic Steel Pier at Trump Taj Mahal Hits the Auction Block on August 25th." PR Newswire US. 29 June 2011: Regional Business News. Web. 22 Dec. 2011.
  5. ^ "Flagpole Sitting - The Bad Fads Museum". Archived from the original on October 4, 2007. Retrieved 2012-02-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  6. ^ "Behind the Picture: Love Atop a Flagpole". Time Magazine. 1946. Archived from the original on August 21, 2015.
  7. ^ "Dixie Blandy Papers, Special Collections and Archives" (PDF). Wright State University.
  8. ^ Goodson, Mike. "Pole-sittin' Peggy". The Gadsden Times. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  9. ^ "They Run For Office And Lose—Again And Again | Washington Bureau". Mgwashington.com. 2008-05-02. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011. Retrieved 2011-05-20.
  10. ^ "The most unusual name on the 2008 ballot". Bay Buzz. 2008-06-26. Archived from the original on January 16, 2010. Retrieved 2011-05-20.
  11. ^ "What's My Line? - Audie Murphy (Jul 3, 1955)" – via www.youtube.com.
  12. ^ "M*A*S*H: Season 5, Episode 22 script | Subs like Script". subslikescript.com.