Mabel Cody
Stunt woman Mabel Cody and pilot Don C. McMullen
alongside airplane: Tampa, Fla.
Neg. no. 23504 ; taken April 25, 1927.
Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System

The Flight of Fearless Mabel Cody
By Bill Foley: 1938-2001
Times-Union senior writer

Sunday, November 28, 1999
Story last updated at 10:03 p.m. on Saturday, November 27, 1999
Mabel Cody took the phone off the hook.
The women of Jacksonville were annoying her.
"It's my own neck," she said.
Women began calling when they heard Cody was going to leap from a speeding car to a flying airplane at Pablo Beach.
She would be the first woman in the world to do this, although her colleague, Bugs McGowan -- Lt. Bugs McGowan, that is -- had done it a couple times. NOTE
Sig Haughdahl, Norwegian speed demon, would drive the car. One Lt. Heermanese, otherwise unidentified, would fly the plane. The stunt would cap a day of thrills and chills by the Mabel Cody Flying Circus.
Crowds were expected from miles around to watch the fearless Mabel Cody match the daring of the famous Bugs McGowan. The barrage of messages from the women of Jacksonville came out of the blue, however. They took Mabel Cody aback.
It was late November 1921.
Women had won the vote the year before. Feminism, if not strident, was a-flutter. Cody, who wore pants, boots and goggles, was not in the mainstream of the movement, nor had she hitherto attracted the attention of her sisterhood.
She was perplexed by the concern lighting up the switchboard of the Mason Hotel.
"Women without number have been calling me," she complained to The Florida Times-Union.
"Daytime, nightime, all the time, telling me how they wish I would not risk my life, and they hope I will not do anything foolhardy at Pablo."
She asked hotel owner George Mason to have her room telephone disconnected.
Mabel Cody was barely 20 and the star attraction of one of four aerial "circuses" that criss-crossed the South and hung out on Florida's east coast, especially Daytona Beach.
Actually, in November 1921, Bugs McGowan was the star of the show, but "Bugs McGowan's Flying Circus" hardly had the cachet of "Mabel Cody's Flying Circus," especially in the opinion of the boss, Richard "Curly" Burns, who was more attracted to Mabel than to Bugs.
Bugs had up until that time been the one that did the tricky auto-to-airplane maneuver, standing in a speeding car and grasping a swinging ladder from a passing plane.
Burns had given Bugs the rank of lieutenant, although Bugs actually had been but an enlisted man in the Army, where he did not fly but hung around with enough people who did fly that he learned enough to join a flying circus.
Mabel up to then had been a wing-walking, loop-looping, parachuting daredevil who had yet to attempt the auto-to-car trick.
Her history-making attempt was planned for Pablo Beach mostly because Haughdahl was in Jacksonville for the races at the Florida State Fair.
Haughdahl was perhaps a bigger celebrity than Mabel, Bugs and Curly put together.
He had been burning up race tracks all over the civilized world and even then was aiming at beach-driving speed record held by Tommy Milton. For Mabel to launch herself from the Speed King's Flying Frontenac would be a double coup for Curly.
"Just because I happen to be a woman, a lot of women think it is their duty to remind me of the fact," Mabel Cody fumed to the press.
"Every time I sit down to sew or to write a letter, some timid member of my sex wants to tell me what she thinks about me risking my own neck!
"For heaven's sake! It's my neck, and I guess I'll risk it any time I feel like taking a chance," she told the Times-Union.
The newspapers said "several thousand" people made the trip from Jacksonville to the scene of the show, about three miles south of Pablo Beach. It was a big day for Sig and Bugs. Mabel got rained out.
The Norwegian Speed King kicked up speeds of 115 mph in beach tests. Four times Bugs McGowan nipped up to the wing skid of the passing plane. Pilot Heermanese was given sustained applause for his steady handling of the plane in what the paper called "humpy" air.
But when it was Mabel's turn, the clouds opened. Disappointed, she vowed to try again within the week. Heermanese turned the plane over on Anastasia Island a couple of days later, however. Haughland was called to other things. (He later would be the man who decided Daytona needed an oval racetrack.)
Three years later, Mabel Cody stood in the back seat of a car traveling 70 mph down the strand of Pablo Beach. Thousands cheered as she grabbed the ladder of a plane roaring inches above her head. The plane lifted Mabel Cody from the speeding car and the rung broke.
Cody clung an instant to the broken rung with one hand and reached for the next. Sickeningly she fell to the beach, even before the applause had stopped. She landed on her feet and was "swung into a series of somersaults by the impact," the newspaper said.
Mabel Cody was unconscious when Curly reached her. They drove her in an ambulance all the way to St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville. A stunned and anxious crowd returned somberly to Jacksonville.
Luckily, a movie camera filmed the whole thing.
Four weeks later, the film showed at the Imperial Theater.
Mabel attended the premiere.
She had the same pilot do loop-the-loops over the city before the show to draw a crowd.
This article was reprinted in its entirety by courtesy of the Florida Times-Union

Contributed by
     This article from PBS mentions Mabel Cody as one of the early Barnstormers.
It will help to put her story in context with her times and contemporaries.
To visit the site, just click on: Barnstormers
You may want to use the Find function on "Cody"

The American Experience: WayBack: Flight: Barnstormers
     This article from PBS mentions Mabel Cody as one of the early Barnstormers.
It will help to put her story in context with her times and contemporaries.
To visit the site, just click on: Barnstormers
You may want to use the Find function on "Cody"

Mabel Cody
Mabel Cody and her father
Photo and caption courtesy of her great-great-grandniece, Jessie

Emails from Jessie,
Mabel's great-great-grandniece

January 6, 2002
To: Ralph Cooper
My name is Jessie, and I am doing a report on my mothers family history. I found out that my Great Great Aunt Mabel Cody was a Barnstormer. By chance have you come across her name anywhere?
thank you for any help.

January 7, 2002
To: Jessie
Dear Jessie: Thank you for your email inquiry. I had not happened to run across the story of your great great aunt in the pursuit of my project, but I did a search of the net, using Google, and found many references to her career. Even though I had no original stories for her page on my site, I did build a page for her and included several links, and a photograph, which will hopefully incite a response from some of my visitors.
I am sorry I don't have anything to help you in your search, but perhaps by putting a page for her on the net, we will receive some inquiries or material from other visitors.
If by chance you have anything on your great great aunt which would enrich her page, I would love to hear from you. Even the dates of her birth and death would be a welcome addition. Of course, if you happen to have any photographs of her, I would love to add them to her page.
So Jessie: thanks again for your email. I hope you enjoy visiting her page, even if it is a little sparse.
Best regards,
Ralph S. Cooper, D.V.M.

January 7, 2002
To: Ralph Cooper
Thank you so much, We would like to find the film that is talked about in the story "The Flight Of Fearless Mabel Cody". Her Birthdate is Aug. 15 1886. We have always been told that is the Niece of Wiliam F. Cody ( Buffalo Bill). We are Still trying to get date of death. Attached is a Picture of her father and we believe that the woman with him is Mabel Cody.
You have been so wonderful Thank You.

via email from Keith Humphrey, 12-20-06
     I found some info you might be interested in, It seems Richard Curley Burns married Mabel Cody. I found a site (which I lost) telling about Mabel Cody being in a crash in Jacksonville, FL. and her filming some of her shows. (I would love to see them!) It named Curley Burns as her promoter and husband. Curley was involved in aviation by 1928 when he, Slim Culpepper, Louise Tisdale (later married Slim) and Bonnie Rowe started a flying circus in Georgia.
     I also did a little research on Bonnie Rowe during Thanksgiving. My uncle who is in his 80's remembers his cousin. My uncle says he was a daredevil before he started wing walking. Before airplanes Bonnie rode motorcycles. Standing on the seat and all kinds of stunts. He would come into town and get the police to chase him for fun, they could never catch him. He was a legend around Buford for a while, but most of those who would remember him are dead or in their upper 80s.

via email from Russ J., 11-7-07
     Just this weekend I was at our cabin on Summit Lake near Antigo, Wisconsin. On the an interior wall of our cabin was a list of visitors during the house party in the summer of 1912. It was covered in the 1980's during remodeling so a plaque was made with all the names on it. One name was Mabel Cody. The name stood out because I have reservations at the Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming for June 2008. It would be interesting to know if this is the barnstormer and relative to Buffalo Bill Cody. As far as I know the rest of the names on the list are from residents of the Antigo area. The cabin was built in 1897.
     Here is the list of people at our cabin July 16-22th 1912.

Winnafred E. Lori
Kathleen Loos
Rose Rogers
William Sargent
Harriet Harick
Gladys Mills
Vera Briggs
Ethal Todd
Blanche Leweiys
Mabel Cody
Alice Pardee

     Some of the spelling might be wrong since it was originally was written in pencil on wood that turned dark as it aged. Good luck searching and e-mail if you find anything interesting.

     If you search for "Mabel Cody", using the Google search engine, (11-21-06), you will find about 117 links. Among the most helpful is the following.
Mabel Cody's Flying Circus
     This page on the Holcomb's Aerodrome website, was suggested to me by Gregory Powers. It offers a number of very nice photographs of her Circus and a short revue of the events. At the bottom of the page you will find two links, one to three photographs of her event at Coral Gables, FL on February 12, 1922. The other leads to numerous photographs of the JN4. You can access the page by clicking on the title above.
     If time permits, I heartily suggest that you visit the Holcomb's Aerodrome homepage and take advantage of its many features. You can access it by clicking on the name.

Mabel Cody's Air to a Race Car Transfer
     This link, which was found by Greg Powers, leads to a page with a beautiful photograph of Mabel making the transfer from the airplane to a race car. You can see her name on the side of the plane. You can access it by clicking on the title.

Mabel was born August 15, 1886.
The date of her death is unknown

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

BackNext Home