Climbing the Matterhorn, nearly falling out of his open-cockpit plane while shooting the first aerial photographs of Mount Everest, and becoming the first person to swim the full length of the Panama Canal. These were just a few of the feats accomplished by American daredevil Richard Halliburton in the 1920s and 1930s, as related to 34 Y’s Men of Meriden on May 16 by author Cathryn Prince.
Prince began her presentation by reading two paragraphs from her 2016 book “American Daredevil: The Extraordinary Life of Richard Halliburton, the World’s First Celebrity Travel Writer”, describing him diving to the bottom of the Mayan Well of Death (Sacred Cenote, 89 feet deep) in Mexico’s Chichen Itza, not once but three times (the last with a reporter and two photographers present). She proceeded to talk about this remarkable man, born in 1900 in Brownsville TN into an affluent family. He was somewhat sickly as a child, spending four months in a Michigan sanitarium for rapid heartbeat, but then his health improved, and he went on to graduate from Princeton University.
With a polished walking stick and neatly pressed trousers, Richard Halliburton became an intrepid globetrotting guide for millions of Americans; indeed, readers waited with bated breath for each new article and book he wrote. He rapidly became the first American adventure journalist, experiencing unusual and dangerous ventures. Many of these were reached in an open-cockpit biplane (named the Flying Carpet) with Halliburton in front and pilot Moye Stephens behind.
Some additional adventures: he climbed the Matterhorn, got himself incarcerated at Devil’s Island, hung out with the French Foreign Legion, spent a night atop the Great Pyramid, rode an elephant through the Alps (as did Hannibal), played Robinson Crusoe on his own desert island, retraced the path of Odysseus, and met pirates and headhunters. He swam the Nile, the Grand Canal of Venice, and even the reflecting pool at the Taj Mahal.
In a grandiose attempt to attend the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, Halliburton constructed a highly decorated 75-foot Chinese junk in Hong Kong, which he named the Sea Dragon. But sometime after setting sail on the three-month trans-Pacific voyage, the ship ran into a severe storm and sank, losing all passengers. And spawned by the occurrence of WWII, American publicity interest changed, and Halliburton became nearly forgotten.
For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.