Harry Webster Wright, once described as "one of the world's maestros with a gun," died of cardiovascular disease Wednesday at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 89.
Mr. Wright won 14 world skeet-shooting championships and was on the All-American skeet-shooting team 12 times. He was inducted into the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1966 and into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame in Austin, Texas, in 1972.
"His feats with a 22-gauge astound the imagination," wrote an interviewer for The Sun in 1961, referring to a feat in which Mr. Wright shot his shells as they were ejected from the chamber of his gun. "He could do the same thing with an automatic shotgun."
His top trick was described as "tossing up a 1 1/2 -inch washer and saying that he shot through the hole. Naturally, no one would believe that . . . so he would fill the hole with a mothball or a piece of tape and shoot through the hole."
Mr. Wright's first gun was a $3 BB gun that he bought when he was 9 and living in Accomac, Va. Graduating to a .22-caliber rifle, his ability and marksmanship improved. So did his ability to do tricks, among them:
* Driving a golf ball 200 yards with a bullet.
* Splitting a playing card at 25 paces.
* Putting 10 holes in a tin can before it hit the ground.
* Bursting two balloons placed on each side of an ax blade.
* Breaking three light bulbs tossed in the air together.
* Making patriotic confetti out of five potatoes wrapped in red, white and blue paper.
* While doing a headstand, inverting his rifle and breaking toothpicks or hitting a tossed penny four times before it landed on the ground.
Attesting to his skills were more than 3,000 trophies and awards.
Skeet shooting became popular in the '20s as a game for hunters to improve field shooting of upland game.
Mr. Wright first walked onto a skeet range in 1932 and broke 22 targets out of 25. Four years later, he won his first Maryland state championship. In 1960, along with Baltimorean John Dalton, he became the first man in skeet-shooting history to down 200 consecutive clay birds in two-man, 28-game team shoot.
He came to Baltimore to study pharmacy at the University of Maryland, but left and then studied art at the Maryland Institute.
After a brief stint with United Cigars stores and the Whelan Drug Co., he joined the Frank L. Wight Distilling Co., producers of the famed Sherbrook and Wight's Old Reserve Maryland straight rye whiskeys in 1935. He eventually became vice president and general sales manager.
He left in 1948 to become a partner and vice president of Gillet-Wright, wholesale liquor distributors. In 1964, he became the sole owner of the renamed distributorship, H. W. Wright and Co. Ltd., which he sold in 1982.
His many civic interests included being a founding member in 1957 and past chairman of the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, a member of the Mayor's Committee for the Preservation of Babe Ruth's Birthplace, founder and past president of the Loch Raven Skeet and Trap Club, a former director of Ducks Unlimited, and a member and officer of the Gunpowder River Valley Park advisory board.
Mr. Wright was an avid gun collector who amassed a collection of more than 1,000 historic and rare weapons. One his collection's rarer items was Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler's belt-buckle gun, one of only five made during World War II. Himmler, who was head of the Gestapo, had the gun hidden behind a 1-inch silver buckle engraved with a swastika. Inside are four small gun barrels and triggers.
Mr. Wright began collecting weapons because of their history and workmanship, and later expanded his collection to duck-stamp prints and artwork, such as Frederic Remington bronzes and paintings of the American West by C. M. Russell.
Nelson Wareheim, his son-in-law, said Mr. Wright had one of only six known complete collections of framed duck-stamp prints dating back to 1934.
"A gun teaches a youngster responsibility, respect for the weapon and what it can do. A gun for every boy, shall I say sensible boy, instead of a black leather jacket would be a splendid innovation," he said in an interview in 1961. "There was a time, you know, when guns were symbolic of American youth.
"I haven't shot a field animal in years," he continued. "In fact, I don't like to kill any animals other than a coyote. Now, take grouse and quail, ah, now . . . there's the hunt. I think that's the hardest and most demanding type of hunting."
A stroke in 1975, which affected his coordination, ended Mr. Wright's shooting days.
He was fond of azaleas and boxwoods, and extensively landscaped his North Baltimore home. He also maintained homes in Ocean City and Bal Harbour, Fla.
An active clubman, he was a member of the Maryland Club, Center Club, Country Club of Maryland and Bal Harbour Club. His fraternal activities included being an ambassador of the Boumi Temple and a member of the Scimitar Club of Baltimore.
Services for Mr. Wright were conducted yesterday at the Mitchell Wiedefeld Funeral Home.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, the former Doris T. Keller; two daughters, Jean Wright Wareheim of Baltimore and Jane Wright White of Bel Air; four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
The family suggested memorial contributions to the Govans Presbyterian Church, 5824 York Road, Baltimore 21212.