Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Ward C. Fritz -- Hard Landing
With partner Betty Wetenkamp, Fritz (under his professional name "Paul Ward") was a well-known stage, ballroom, and nightclub dancer in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1937, the pair danced in a benefit for a "free shoe fund" sponsored by the local newspaper, The World-Herald. On May 15, 1938, the 22-year-old dancer left the home he shared with his parents in good spirits and took a taxicab to a nearby airfield, Dodge Park, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Fritz bought a ticket for an aerial sightseeing tour, making a point to tell the pilot that he preferred to be the only passenger in the two-seater, open cockpit plane. The plane took off from the field and had reached its cruising speed of 100 miles per hour when, 2,000 feet up, the pilot noticed that Fritz had climbed out onto the lower wing of the biplane. Before the pilot could shout, the dancer jumped, hurtled through the air, and smashed face-up into the ground below just ten yards from a man working in his vegetable garden. The impact drove Fritz 18 inches into the ground, split his clothes up the back, knocked the heels of his shoes, and threw the watch he was wearing four feet away from the body. A woman sitting in her home 75 feet away reported that the body's impact jarred her entire house.