AKA Jack Fanning

J. J. Fanning
J. J. Fanning
J. J. FANNING - Highest Flyer on Earth
Collection of Tim Jacobs

Virginia State Fair
from the Richmond Virginian Oct. 10, 1911
Richmond, Virginia, Oct. 10, 1911, State Fair grounds.
     Flights made day and night by Evan J. Parker. J. J. Fanning made a six stage parachute jump using six chutes.

Jack Fanning, a Disabled Circus Tumbler Turned Parachute Jumper and with Six Years' Experience as an Aeronaut, in Making a Descent by Means of Two Parachutes, Is Fatally Injured by Falling to the Ground. Owing to the Tangling the Cords of the Parachutes--His Body is Taken to His Home in New Haven, Conn.
     Not more than a dozen persons in the crowd of about 4,000, which attended the Newark Valley fair last Thursday afternoon, realized that "Jack" Fanning, the balloonist, who on the previous two days made two trick parachute descents in a spectacular manner, had met with an accident, from which three hours later he died. Not more than fifty persons in that crowd also realized as they heard the parting words of Fanning as the balloon soared skyward that they were a premonition that it was to be a trip, which would cost him his life. When the balloon was let loose Fanning shouted "Good-bye all." A few persons in the crowd shouted back "Good-bye."
     Fanning was then about 100 feet in the air and to the good byes of the people on the ground he shouted back with more than ordinary earnestness "You'll win." Whether he meant that it was a good bye forever or whether it was simply a jest will never be known, but those who heard him will believe that he felt that that might be his last parachute drop.
An Unusual Performance.
     Fanning was in the employ of Prof. E. R. Hutchinson, of Elmira, who had the contract for the balloon ascensions. This was the first engagement for the season, and at this fair Hutchinson charged the fair people $125 for the three ascensions and parachute drops, the usual price of which is $200. Fanning gave an unusual performance, consisting of dropping to the earth from the balloon by a series of parachutes, which were telescoped, one with another.
     Last Tuesday he made the descent with three parachutes, and the following day he used four. His method of descent was to drop, using one parachute at first. After he had fallen a certain distance with the first paracute he cut loose from it, taking a sudden drip until the opening of the second parachute checked him, cut loose from that in turn, dropped again, and so on until floated by the last parachute he safely alighted on the ground. Last Thursday he intended to use only two parachutes.
Ascension Doubtful Because of Wind.
     A south wind blew at a rate of about twenty miles an hour during the afternoon and Prof. Hutchinson practically decided that an ascension was impossible, so in the tents within the race track enclosure the balloonists at about 3:30 o'clock decided to pack up and start for Seneca Falls, where they had an engagement for Saturday afternoon to make an eight parachute drop. A slight rain was falling, which caused the wind to become calm just before 4 o'clock, so that balloonists changed their minds and made preparations for the flight.
     When the balloon was about half filled the brteeze arose again, and it was with some trouble that the large bag was inflated. In the mean time Fanning was preparing his parachutes and Hutchinson kept feeding oil to the fire to fill the balloon.
     Fanning came from the tent in tights while the bag was two-thirds filled. He had the two parachutes telescoped, one within the other and rolled in a bundle. From the bottom parachute hung ropes, which held a heavy canvass strap, in which the aeronaut sat and another rope he snapped into a ring in a belt, which was about his body.
Fanning's Last Good-bye."
     Usually Prof. Hutchinson examines the parachutes before an ascension is made, but on this occasion he could not personally attend to it. Fanning in a moment got into the harness and braced himself for the sudden sweep up into the air and the word was given to let go. Fanning, when just off the ground and as he rose over the crowd called out:
     "Good-bye everybody!"
     "Good-bye" was shouted back by different ones in the crowd.
     "You'll win," were Fanning's last words, and then he threw some hand bills to the wind.
The Balloon Rises About 2,000 Feet.
     The balloon rose rapicly, but it was carried northwardly by the wind. It is almost impossible for a person in a balloon to reckon the height to which he has arise, so a signal is always given by firing a shot from a revolver by sone one on the ground and then the aeronaut cuts loose from his balloon. After the balloon had risen about 2,000 feet in the air Prof. Hutchinson gave the signal, and within twenty seconds afterward Fanning had cut loose.
Comes Too Rapidly Toward Ground
     The balloonist dropped about 400 feet before the red parachute opened, and then after it had opened it could be plainly seen that something had gone wrong. Usually the second or blue parachute remains in a roll within the first one until it is cut loose, but in this instance the blue parachute was trailing above the red one like a flapping cloth. The parachute jumper came toward the earth with about twice the amount of speed, as he ordinarily should come, but Prof. Hutcnhinson, who was anxiously watching, said that the fast drop was not dangerous and he did not fear for Fanning, as he was apparently all right in the first one.
Saw Fanning Fall About 50 Feet.
     Fanning was descending over the Hammond farm, at a short distance southwest of the Hammond house, less than half a mile from the place he started. He passed from Hutchinson's view behind the fair ground fence, but those in the grand stand and several persons, who had climbed on the fair ground fence, saw Fanning as he was a short distance from the earth, suddenly lose his hold on the parachute and fall for a distance of about 50 feet.
     Miss DeEtta Hammond was at the farm watching the drop. She saw him fall and ran to where he lay. Al Hayes, the drayman, who had started as he had done the prrevious days with his wagon in the direction the balloon was to fallk, in order to bring it back to the fair grounds was in the road in front of the Hammond place and Frank Torrey was with him. When they saw the man fall Torrey ran across the field to him and Hayes drove to the spot in a few moments.
Picked Up in Dazed Condition.
     The witnesses says that Fanning fell broadside, striking on his right side. When Miss Hammond and Torrey reached him he was conscious but dazed. As they tried to pick him up he begged them not to touch him. When asked where he was hurt he said, "All over."
     Fanning was placed into Haye's truck, which was started for the fair groujnds. He was met by president of the fair Wager and M. J. Clark in Mr. Clark's automobile. and Fanning was placed in the car and brought back to the balloon tent. He wqas sitting up beside Mr. Wager, apparently considerably dazed and could make little answer to Hutchinson's questions. He was shortly afterward taken to the home of Harry Billings, just south of the fair grounds. Dr. H. L. Knapp, of Newark Valley, with his guest Dr. Lucid, of Cortland, was met just outside the gate and Fanning quickly ahd the attentino of the physicians.
Death from Internal Hemorrhage.
     It was apparent at once that he was badly hurt, though he ahd no external injuries. His right wrist was broken and he was suffering fron internal inuuries, the exact nature of which could not be ascertained. His back was injured, but he was not paralyzed. He was semi-conscious and talked disconnefctedly, asking: "What can I do now? I'm all broke up?" The physicians were with him until after six o'clock, when they left him, appartently much easier though from the effect of the opiates.
     Shortly after 7 o'clock Fanning talked a little more consciously and told Mrs. Billings that he was going to die and told her the names of his relatives at New Haven. He soon began to act queerly and Dr. Knapp was summoned again, but Fanning died very soon after the doctor arrived. The cause of death was internal hemorrhage.
Conjecture How Accident Happened.
     It is only a matter of conjecture as to just how the accident happened. Fanning was in no condition to esxplain it at all. THe parachutes are packed one below the other, "telescoped." When the man sitting in his sling below the bottom parachute, makes the first cutaway he reaches up with the left hand, takes hold of the hoop of the top parachute and pulls a cord by which a kniife cutes the cords which bind the top parachute to the balloon; then, after the first parachute opens he cuts another cord releases the second parachute from the first and allows it to open up. By some means Fanning cut both cords and both parachutes were released at once. Whether this was done through his own carelessness or whether the second cord in some way accidentally came in contact with the knife will never be known. Anyway he was still holding by his left hand to the hoop of the first chute when the other, to which his belt was fastened, flapped loose.
The Parachute Had Become Tangled.
     Had he released his hold instantly on the hoop when the cut was made he would, probably, have descended all right. As it was, after the second parachute had become tangled all he could do was to hold onto the hoop of the first parachute, and he had no support from the sling he sat in or from the belt about his waist.
     In the period of his descent it is probably that Fanning suffered the agony of feeling that he could not hang on much longer and knowing that if he let loose in all probability the other tangled parachute would not open and he would be dashed to dearth. However, the time of desecent was estimated by Prof. Hutchinson at not more than 60 seconds, as he was only up about 2,000 feet, and he could easily have hung. But the fact that the loose and flapping parachute was fastened to his belt undoubtedly caused his death. In the swift descent this parachute was tugging at the clinging man and as it nearly reached the earth it, probably, opened a trifle or enough to jerk his hold from the first parachute and he fell.
Fanning's Home Was in New Haven.
     Fanning's body was removed to F. W. Witter's undertaking room, where it remained until Friday when it was taken to West Haven, Conn., for burial by his cousin, Vincent Mabar, (Mahar?). Fanning was 27 years of age and he leaves his parents, three brothers and one sister, who live in West Haven. He was a member of New Haven Aerie of Eagles.
Injured as a Circus Performer.
     Before embarking in the balloon business about ten years ago Fanning was a circus performer, which work he had to discontinue, because of a fall from a trapeze, whereby his arm was broken and his hips injured so that he was slightly crippled. During the last six years he had been employed by Prof. Hutchinson. In the parachute jumping he had never met with a serious mishap. He had been doing an average of from 150 to 200 drops a year, doing a string of six, seven, or eight parachutes. Prof. Hutchinson himself has been in the business 25 years and has made more than 3,000 drops without any injury. He was badly hurt a few years ago by a fall of about 100 feet, caused by a rope breaking while doing trapeze work below a balloon. He had never before had one of his men serioujsly hurt.
     The accident to Fanning was similar to that by which Thomas Moore lost his life at Bellville, J. J., on July ?, an account of which was given in the Gazette at the time. Moore with over confidence had neglected to attach himself by his life belt to the parachute. When he opened the parachute he lost his grasp and fell.
Unidentified Newsclipping Courtesy of Tim Jacobs, 7-17-04

via email from Tim Jacobs, 7-11-04
Hi Mr. Cooper
     I came across your website of aviation, and was pleasantly surprised to see that October 10, 1911 at the Richmond State Fair Grounds "J J Fanning made a six stage parachute jump using six chutes..
      I'm the great-great nephew of J J Fanning and have researching his life for about a year now. I have one photo of him, a few news articles about his death (Aug 1912 at the Tioga Fair Grounds in NY - his chute malfunctioned), and the genealogy of his siblings and parents.
     I'd be interested in any information you may have on him. I know that Fanning spent a lot of time with Edmund Hutchison of Elmira NY.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thank you.
Editor's Note: The only information I have on J. J. is what you find on this page. If you can help Tim with his search for more information, please contact him. You can send your message to my email address and I will forward it to him. Thank you.

via email from Tim Jacobs, 8-12-06
Hi Mr. Cooper
     I'm still busy researching (on and off) the life of John "Jack" Fanning. Attached is a pic of his gravestone located at the St. Lawrence Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut. I've discovered a few more interesting facts.
     In West Springfield, MA in 1907, John earned the title Highest Flyer On Earth as he rose to a recored height of 10,000 feet.
     Also in 1907, at Luna Park in Hartford CT, one stunt he performed was parachuting through another chute that was set on fire.
     He also shot off fireworks (roman candles) on many of his ascensions.
     Facts trickled in here and there, but I'm curious to know if you have any statistics of how many aeronauts died in 1912? And perhaps a brief history of this employment from 1900-1912?
Hope all is well and thanks for posting J J Fanning...


Fanning Fatal Drop
Fatal flight of Mr. J. Fanning - Newark Valley
Fair Ground - August 8, 1912
Collection of Tim Jacobs, 12-19-04

Fanning Grave Stone
Fanning Gravestone
St. Lawrence Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.
Collection of Tim Jacobs, 8-12-06

Editor's Note:
If you have any more information on this pioneer aviator,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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