It was hot that July day in 1929 when, on a dare, young Avon “Azey” Foreman shinnied up an 18-foot pole in his backyard on Ethelbert Avenue. There he stayed for 10 days and nights, a period during which the 15-year-old Foreman captured the city’s fancy, earned nationwide acclaim and spawned a parade of challengers determined to best the juvenile pole-sitting record of the tousle-haired kid from Northwest Baltimore.
For 250 hours, Foreman remained aloft on his crude perch, sleeping on a rosewood ironing board. He was sustained by meals of milk and potatoes hoisted up in buckets along with the fan mail he received, much of it from girls enamored with his pursuit. Come night, friends kept watch to make sure Foreman didn’t walk in his sleep.
From the start, The Baltimore Sun — sensing that the story had legs — issued daily reports on the lad’s progress, as did a local radio station. On day four, Foreman received a visit from Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, a celebrated pole-sitter from New York whose 23-day feat at Carlin’s Park, in June, had kindled the boy’s bravado. The next day, Foreman’s father rigged an electric light on an adjacent pole so he could be seen at night by the burgeoning crowds, many of whom left donations in a pail at the foot of the pole.
On day seven, an estimated 3,000 people streamed in, trampling flower beds and creating such gridlock that police from the Northern District were dispatched to control traffic. The following day, a Sunday, Foreman’s sister raised a Bible to her brother, who read passages about patience from the book of Job. He also wrote a song about his efforts, “The Flagpole Melody,” and serenaded onlookers, to wit:
On July 30, Foreman stood up, stretched and, before a throng of 4,000, proclaimed himself “champion juvenile sitter of the world.” Then he slid down, as planned, having spent 10 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes and 10 seconds aloft.
Like the Times Square ball dropping on New Year’s Eve, he descended slowly as the crowd cheered, horns blared and fireworks boomed. Five cops whisked Foreman through the crowd and into his house “in somewhat the same fashion as [aviator] Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh was ushered through his galleries on his tour of the country [after crossing the Atlantic],” The Sun reported.
His fortitude had earned Foreman an eclectic array of gifts: $60 cash, a set of golf clubs, dance lessons and a free dental exam.
At his front door, Foreman turned, waved and said, “Well, folks, I’m going in to get a good night’s sleep.”
Nearby, his girlfriend, Lena Stamm, 14, beamed at her beau.
Mayor William Broening thought so, commending Foreman “for the achievement and honor of the youth of today keeping alive the old pioneer spirit of early America.”
That did it. Within a week, The Sun reported, 25 youngsters in the city had climbed poles of their own, “having learned there is glory in the heights.” The youngest was 8; the oldest, 15. For the most part, their parents obliged, reasoning that at least they knew their children’s whereabouts.
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The Baltimore phenomenon made headlines worldwide, from Paris to Berlin. In England, the Manchester Guardian dubbed the pole-sitters “Roosters a la Maryland.” The London Times opined that the craze taught kids “the virtues of sedateness and stillness.”
That Broening condoned such silliness rankled at least one Sun reader, who wrote, “Is it possible [the mayor] has at last reached the age of second childhood and may soon be found sitting upon the top of a pole himself, or has he just gone to the bow-wows?”
Eventually, all of the youths gave up, save two: “Wee” Willie Wentworth, 12, and Dorothy Staylor, 13, both of South Baltimore. She lasted 46 days on a platform outfitted with a tent, pillows, blankets, radio and a belt to keep her from falling. Wentworth stayed aloft for 48 days on a stand with a railing on three sides and an umbrella for shade. Each Sabbath, his pastor led Sunday school class at the foot of the pole.
Both alighted on Sept.16 — school opened the next day — with less hoopla than had greeted Foreman, though Wentworth collected $600 for his effort. Soon after, he and Staylor were treated to an airplane ride over the city.
Decades later, Wentworth reminisced about his accomplishment.