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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

AKINS, Everett "Shorty"

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Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium-Captain William D. Bowell, Sr. River Library-James Wall-Wild, Registrar

AKINS, Everett ("Shorty"). (Dubuque, IA, Nov. 5, 1898--Berkley, MI, Apr., 1965). Dubuque's "Human Fly." During the "Roaring 20s," "Shorty," a general contractor by trade, was the talk of Dubuque as he successfully scaled the outside of local buildings without ropes, ladders or hooks. His early life would not have indicated such an interest or talent.

Born on Cherry Street as one of four children, Akins worked for the DUBUQUE ELECTRIC COMPANY. Although there is no evidence that he served, he registered for the [[WORLD WAR I] draft and played catcher for the Dubuque Studebakers, a barnstorming BASEBALL team of the early twentieth century. (1) It may have been his work as a steeplejack with his brothers in Dubuque that gave him the idea of climbing buildings without assistance.

Atkins can be seen on a trapeze to the right of the courthouse dome. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium-Captain William D. Bowell, Sr. River Library-James Wall-Wild, Registrar

To witness one of his most publicized feats, in July 1920, crowds gathered outside the DUBUQUE COUNTY COURTHOUSE as Akins began his ascent. Reaching the base of the dome, where most spectators expected him to stop, Akins found enough room between the copper plates for his fingers to grasp that he continued on to the top of the building. Akins thrilled the crowd by swinging from a trapeze and dropping backward, catching himself with his feet, while hanging head down. A second performance in the evening drew an even larger crowd. In September 1920, Akins scaled the BANK AND INSURANCE BUILDING but had to have assistance getting over the upper cornice. (See note written prior to this climb.) (2)

Akins joined an air circus in 1921 and went on tour. His act included jumping from one plane to another in the air, walking on the wings, and swinging from a trapeze beneath the plane. During an air show in Farley, Iowa where he was attempting a triple plane change in mid-air, Akins' hands became numb from the cold. (3) When he could not climb back into the plane, Akins had to be rescued by another plane that flew beneath him and cut him free of the rope from which he hung.

In 1926 Akins operated a gymnasium on O'Hagen Street and gave wrestling and boxing lessons. He also did steeplejack work with his brother. In 1933 he joined the physical department of the YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (Y.M.C.A.) as an instructor in tumbling and apparatus work. His class was held Thursday evening from 8:00-9:30 p.m.

In 1934 Akins joined with other local businessmen including Harold H. "Buck" Kunz who served as president to form the DUBUQUE AMUSEMENT CORPORATION. The company purchased the dance hall at UNION PARK, dismantled the building, moved it to a site near the airport on Sageville Road, and reassembled it. (4) This became MELODY MILL. (5)

Prior to a "climb," Akins' absolved anyone else of responsibility. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium-Captain William D. Bowell, Sr. River Library-James Wall-Wild, Registrar

During Akins' peak popularity, a group of local businessmen hired him as a special attraction and then had a problem deciding which building he should climb. One suggestion was the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY because it had more "stories" than any other building in Dubuque.




1. London, Michelle, "Dubuque's 'Human Fly' Led a Life of Adventure," Telegraph Herald, August 20, 2023, p. 42

2. "The Year's Events," Telegraph Herald, January 2, 1921, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=3BReAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FWANAAAAIBAJ&pg=5778,2845061&dq=human+fly+dubuque&hl=en

3. "Big Air Meet and Circus at Farley, Iowa," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 18, 1921, p. 9. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-5RSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8MsMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3818,7143286&dq=human+fly+dubuque&hl=en

4. "Union Park Hall Dance Hall Dismantled; Moved to Airport," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Feb. 18,, 1934, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Y75BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xakMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3656,3198470&dq=dubuque+amusement+corporation&hl=en

5. "Huge Dance Palace and Cabaret Will Blaze with Lights and Music," Telegraph Herald, Aug. 5, 1934, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Rc5BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2akMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3055,4522125&dq=everett+akins+dubuque&hl=en