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January 01 , 2010

Careers of Danger and Daring


IN WHICH WE MAKE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF "STEEPLE BOB" DURING the summer months of 1900—what blazing hot months, to be sure!—people on lower Broadway were constantly coming upon other people with chins in the air, staring up and exclaiming: "Dear me, isn't it wonderful!" or "There's that fellow again; I'm sure he'll break his neck!" Then they would pass on and give place to other wonderers. The occasion of this general surprise and apprehension was a tall man dressed entirely in white, who appeared day after day swinging on a little seat far up the side of this or that church steeple, or right at the top, hugging the gold cross or weather-vane, or, higher still, working his way, with a queer, kicking, hitching movement, up various hundred-foot flagpoles that rise from the heaven-challenging office buildings down near Wall Street. At these perilous altitudes he would hang for hours, shifting his ropes occasionally, raising his swing or lowering it, but not doing anything that his sidewalk audience could see very well or clearly understand. Yet thousands watched him with fascination, and a kodak army descended upon neighboring housetops, and newspapers followed the movements of "Steeple Bob" in thrilling chronicle. That is what he was called in large black letters at the head of columns—"Steeple Bob"; but I came to know him at his modest quarters on Lexington Avenue, where he was plain Mr. Merrill, a serious-mannered and an unpretentious young man, very fond of his wife and his dog, very fond of spending evenings over books of adventure, and quite indifferent to his day-time notoriety. I call him a young man, yet in years of service, not in age, he is the oldest steeple-climber in the business, ever since his teacher, "Steeple Charlie," fell from his swing some years ago in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and died the steeple-climber's death
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