Great Uncle Jimmy VanCise
Stuntman to Showman
I heard stories about great uncle Jimmy VanCise. I knew he held a few world records and that he was partners with the famous "Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers Thrill Show." But, I really did not know much more than that. My great uncle had passed away when I was very young. Recently, I came across a picture of great uncle Jimmy and myself. I was around 4 years old when the photo was taken. Finding the photo prompted me to investigate Jimmy's life as a stuntman. Here is what I discovered about great uncle, Jimmy VanCise.
Jimmy VanCise was born on June 26, 1901 in Cleveland, Ohio. Jimmy was the oldest of 7 children. Jimmy’s father was born in New York and his mother in Massachusetts. Joseph VanCise, Jimmy’s father was an electrician.
By the time Jimmy was 16 years he was working as a “stunter”. He had landed himself a job jumping out of a hot air balloon with a parachute in 1917. In addition to leaping out of hot air ballons and airplanes, Jimmy competed in "auto polo." Auto polo as a game was promoted by Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson from Topeka, Kansas. Pappy owned a Ford dealership in Topeka and he was interested in finding news ways to promote the automobile. He staged the first match and the rest is history as they say. Auto Polo matches were played across the country. Both car and driver were subject to serious injury or death. Spectators flocked to such events.
Auto Polo photos from the Library of Congress and are in the Public Domain
In the 1920’s, Jimmy became a barn stormer. He was walking on the wings of airplanes and performing aerobatic parachute jumps.
Wing Walking Photo from the Library of Congress and is in the Public Domain
On June 25, 1928 in Akron, Ohio Jimmy VanCise (stuntman) & Red Miller (pilot) performed in the “Congress of Dare Devils” at the Cleveland Akron Speedway. “Thrills, spills and chills” were on the Sunday afternoon program. Jimmy VanCise wowed the crowd with wingwalking and parachute jumping. 4,000 people witnessed the duo defy death in the air.
May 11, 1930, The two-place glider in which Lyman Voepel recently broke a world’s record by looping 12 consecutive times, starting at an altitude of 3,500 feet was on display at South Bend, Indiana Aviation Club Air Circus at the municipal airport. The record breaking glider is the same craft in which Jimmy VanCise set a record by being the first passenger to loop in a glider and the first to make a parachute jump from a glider at 1,500 feet.
By 1930, Jimmy and Red Jackson were traveling with the St. Louis Robin Endurance Plane around the country. Gulf Refiners Company of Pittsburg furnished the oil for the plane and sponsored the team being exhibited around the country. Red Jackson and Forest O’Brine kept a loft the plane in St. Louis for 17 days, 12 hours and 21 minutes. A world record for endurance flying at the time. Jimmy piloted the refueling plane which allowed Red to remain in the air. Jimmy VanCise and Thunderbolt Knight were also listed as parachute jumpers in the show. They visited Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and many other big cities of the day.
Refueling Plane - 1930
The Library of Congress in the Public Domain
In 1930, the Orleans Times in New York reported that Jimmy VanCise was a member of the Curtiss-Wright stunt team. The show attracted 20,000 to 50,000 spectators in many big cities.
Also, in 1930, an Indian Princess by the name of Red Feather who claimed to have extensive experience as a parachute jumper was schedule to jump from a plane in Chicago. The princess told Curtis Flying field manager that she was a parachute jumper of long experience. She claimed to have jumped all over the state of Texas. The princess was fitted with a parachute and Jimmy Van Cise was selected as pilot. VanCise started to tell her how to jump, then decided against it because she had such grand experience. When the plane was in the air, at the right altitude, Jimmy told the princess it was time to jump. He opened the door and pointed suggestively down. The princess arose and stood poised in the doorway. Then she decided she would not jump.
In the meantime, however, she pulled the rip cord and the parachute began filling up, being blown around and endangering the control of the plane. The plane began acting up. Pilot VanCise saw drastic action was needed. He reached out his foot and gave the princess a sudden and determined shove. In a few minutes she wafted right side up and landed safely. Turns out, Indian Princess Red Feather had no parachute jumping training. She was a singer who traveled the country singing traditional Indian songs. It is not known why she decided to parachute jump from an airplane.
On Monday, October 26, 1942 at the age of 38 Jimmy VanCise joined the Army in the fight against the Axis. The Shreveport Journal reported that Van Cise was a multiple threat, for among his accomplishments are the following: “He is a parachute jumper, parachute mechanic, airplane pilot, glider pilot, automobile racing driver and an expert “crack-up” man.”
In Shreveport, at the Louisiana State Fair, VanCise staged his last automobile crack up show before entering the military. Jimmy VanCise led the Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers troupe through its paces. VanCise told his boss good bye after the show and presented himself for enlistment at the Army recruiting office. The Shreveport Journal went on to report that Jimmy’s courageous career had begun when he made his first parachute jump from a hot air balloon at 16 years old. Since that time, he has thrilled thousands in the United States, Europe, and South America.
Jimmy was the first man to loop a glider, in 1930. He was also the first man to complete a parachute jump from a glider, at Milwaukee, Wis., on July 6, 1930. He also set an altitude record of 14,000 feet in a glider and looped the craft 61 times on the way down to earth. VanCise was also in the airplane that refueled the Red Robins ship when the latter set a flight endurance record.
In the years leading up to WWII, Jimmy VanCise and Jimmy Lynch began working together. Their partnership would span over 2 decades. Jimmy VanCise gave up "stunting" himself and became the director and promoter of the Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers auto thrill show. The troupe traveled the country performing for millions of people from 1930 to 1951.
Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers and Jimmy VanCise really hit their stride after WWII. The nation was ready for entertainment and Jimmy Lynch Death Dodgers delivered "spills, chills and thrills" across the country. Great uncle Jimmy VanCise, stuntman and thrill seeker died at 74 years old from natural causes.
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