28 January 2021

Speedy, the Champion High Diver of the World Visits Saltair

Speedy diving from his custom platform at Saltair, 1897.
From Keystone-Mast Collection UC Riverside.
In 1897 the champion high diver of the world performed his daring stunt at Saltair.

During the summer of 1897, Salt Lakers were entertained and thrilled with the feats of “Professor Speedy” the “Champion High Diver of the World.”

Twice an evening at Saltair, Kearney P. Speedy (1875-1940) performed the daring act of a headlong plunge from a 100-foot-tall tower into a small pool containing only 3 feet of water. A special platform was built for Speedy at the top of the north tower of the Saltair Pavilion.

He performed alongside Archille Phillion, a tightrope walker, whose show included descending a spiral tower on a wooden ball and through a shower of pyrotechnics.

Speedy was originally booked for 2 weeks in July 1897 at Saltair but his performance proved so popular that he was extended through mid-August. His August shows were even more daring as the platform was raised to 125 feet.
Speedy diving from his custom platform at Saltair 1897.
From Keystone-Mast Collection UC Riverside.

Speedy grew up in Missouri and began his public career by jumping head first from the St. Louis Bridge as a young man.

According to Speedy, the secret to a successful high dive in a shallow pool was twisting in midair to slow the fall, hitting the pool vertically, and then twisting again immediately to merely skim the shallow pool.

By 1918, Speedy had mostly retired. He had toured the US for more than 20 years jumping from towers, bridges, and hot air balloons. In 1907 he performed in Africa and India and was the headliner attraction in England. In Africa he was presented with 65 two-carat diamonds for his performance at a diamond mine. His last world record dive was performed in 1921 by diving 186½ feet into 4½ feet of water.

Most of his dives were injury free but over the years he broke several bones and was blinded in one eye. Speedy died in 1940 in NY at the age of 65.

Sources: SL Herald 1897-07-11; SL Trib 1897-08-02

Saltair Pavilion 1913, from UDSH.

Advertisement from Billboard Fulton County NY ca 1890s

Detail of Speedy's portrait,
from Billboard Fulton County NY ca 1890s

Advertisement from Salt Lake Herald July 19 1897

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