The first reported tree sitter that summer is 8-year-old Jimmy Clemons of Racine, Wisc. On July 8, he begins his sit lasting thirty-six hours and fifteen minutes. The obstacle that stops his search for fame? A piano lesson. Regardless, Clemons sets the stage and within a matter of days, kids in several states across the country take to the limbs of backyard and park trees to get their names in the record books and in the newspapers.
The race for the tree sitting record begins in Butler County on Wednesday, July 16 in Middletown when three go-getters ascend a large tree situated in the backyard belonging to Mrs. Lucille Greathouse of Columbia Avenue. The adventurers are her two sons Billy, 10, and Allen, 7, along with friend 12 year-old Clarence Thomas from across the street. They are determined to beat the current reported leader, Jack Richards of Kansas City, Missouri. Richards would end his sit at 9:16 pm that night accumulating a total of 156 hours. The three now had a goal to beat. The first casualty of the contest comes at around the eleven hour mark that night. Billy Greathouse struggles to stay awake and falls from his tree just after midnight. Luckily, Billy is uninjured except for his pride.
On Thursday, May 17 word must have spread through the youth grapevines as the number of Middletown boys who parked themselves aloft around town grew rapidly. The Middletown papers catch wind of the Greathouse-Taylor attempt and print front page stories on the subject. The allure of local and even national fame draws more kids into trees. Eight more youths begin their bid for the record that day. By the end of the week, five more lads are aloft, bringing the total of sitters to fifteen in three days.
Newspaper reporting around the county on the sitting fad is hit and miss at best. At the time, the Middletown record chasers assumed that Jack Richards’ 156 hours in Kansas City was the number to beat. The problem was, if local papers did not place sitting stories on the news wires, other papers could not pick them up and report them. This spotty reporting would come into play as hours added up. Records will be claimed only to be refuted a day or so later in another part of the nation.
By the end of the first week, the craze has been in the county, confined to Middletown, for three days. The Middletown Journal and the Middletown News-Signal are still placing sitting stories on their front pages and the number of participants grows daily. In fact, Middletown police order local lumber companies to stop supplying scrap lumber to youths who come calling looking for materials to construct their treetop perches, but unlike other parts of the country, local parents seem to be relatively supportive of their son’s attempts at glory. Obviously, there is ample concern for safety, but many comment on the positive aspects of the stunt such as knowing where the boys are at all times, the increase in summer reading, and the spending of time out in the fresh air. Aside from the embargo on scrap lumber, local law enforcement and government tolerate the airborne shenanigans fairly well.
The first weekend of competition sees temperatures around the county reach upwards of 106 degrees, bringing one sitter down, but undeterred by the blazing heat, ten more youngsters enter the fray, which now stands at a total of twenty-four by the end of Monday July 21. This same weekend a report from an Illinois paper declares a young man there is now leading the nation after coming down with 160 hours to his credit.
The first local team of Allen Greathouse and Clarence Thomas stand five hours behind him at 155 hours. They will come down after reaching 162 hours in the air believing the record is theirs. It is during this time the first attempt outside of Middletown is commenced. Raleigh Sandlin, age 15, of N. Eighth Street in Hamilton begins his quest for the record. Among the bramches, he is sitting on a chair atop a four foot square piece of plywood thirty feet off the ground. Unlike most, he is far from home. He selects the Hinzelmann Picnic Grounds about a mile north of Hamilton on Darrtown Pike.
By Friday, July 25 six come back to earth in Middletown, including Alva Harrison, 14, the subject of a twenty-four hour police search after he is reported missing by his parents not realizing he is a few blocks away tucked up in tree. Yet, while there are those descending, Middletown sees its first female competitor in 19 year-old Ruth Foster ascend that day, as well as its first African American sitters in Van Domineck, 10, and Robert Gregory, 12. Two more youths go up in Hamilton, Charles Konrad, 14, of Corwin Avenue takes to a tree in his yard, and 15 year-old Carl Augustine selects a tree at the high school athletic fields.
Konrad’s attempt will last less than seven hours as neighbors complain of the crowds gathering on the sidewalks near their homes and he reluctantly agrees to come down.
By the end of July, the fascination with tree sitting is on the wane. Instead of daily reports on the progress of the sitters, readers find only weekly mentions of tree-bound escapades in local papers. Sitting attempts end with no public mention. The country seems to be tiring of the entire endurance fad phenomena.
Municipalities pass legislation banning such attempts. Papers and radio stations around the country decide on press blackouts for tree sitting unless, as the press in Florida agrees, “someone falls and breaks their neck” which occurs in late August when 16 year-old Nelson McIntosh of Ashland, Kentucky falls 40 feet. He dies a few hours later in the hospital.
The novelty wears off for most sitters.
Reports in mid-August focus on Raleigh Sandlin, the lone remaining sitter in Hamilton. Sandlin will eventually come down on Aug. 25 after shooting himself in the foot while passing time playing with a target pistol. He amasses a total of 803 hours in his tree stand.
In Middletown, the papers mention the remaining two local competitors, Roy Pierett and Robert Walters. As early as Aug. 8, it is believed Pierett and Walters surpass the current national record of 496 hours and hold the lead. However, on Aug. 27, it is reported that Richard Foster, 14, of Huntington, Ind. is the current national leader with 982 hours when he calls it quits. When that occurs, Walters has 960 hours while Pierett has 962. They are less than a day short of the record and both easily surpass that mark.
Both Pierett and Walters come down on Sept. 8, 1930 fearing the truant officer more than anything else. Walters comes down at 1:30 p.m. with 1,248 hours while Pierett ends two hours later with 1,252 hours. They are believed to be the number one and two unrefuted national tree sitting champions.
Their triumph is short-lived, however. Edgar Sickler, 18, of Lansing, Michigan becomes the recognized national tree sitting champion accumulating a total of 2,448 hours when he is forcibly removed from his tree by Halloween pranksters in the early morning hours of Nov. 1.
The national teenage tree sitting craze of the summer of 1930 is officially over.
This column is written by Brian Smith on behalf of the Butler County Historical Society. The BCHS is located at 327 N. Second St. in Hamilton and is found online at bchistoricalsociety.com.