Several weeks ago, for reasons no good decision maker would ever understand, I was reading an issue of Mr. District Attorney. It’s a comic from the late ’40s about a district attorney who punches. It wasn’t this one where he really fucked up infiltrating The Law Offices of Fishhead, Lionman, Wolfowicz, Sparrowface, Squirrelberg, Ratmaybe, and The Bulldog…
… or this one where he decided a thirty pound alien was an Earth man in a Martian suit…
… but an entirely other issue, where I came across a page which was not part of the story. It was ADVENTUROUS COP:
ADVENTUROUS COP was not an advertisement for anything. It’s not a show or a toy; they simply wanted readers to know about the 30-year-old exploits of Captain Charles Fitzgerald, daredevil boxing cop racer! He probably should have died hanging from girders! He definitely should have died on looping airplanes! Okay, bye! And those last three sentences are the exact thesis statement for the article you’re reading now. Let’s learn more about ADVENTUROUS COP.
The first fact we’re told about Charles Fitzgerald is that he’s an amazing cop but also successful at 18 different dangerous careers. I was curious, so I found a 1921 newspaper article that listed them all. He was a high diver and parachute jumper! A strong man and pugilist! A drugstore clerk, bartender, cigar store clerk, car salesman, hotel clerk, and maybe they could have edited this list a little bit!
I understand a man has to make ends meet between parachute jumping gigs, but do we need to list “Automobile salesman” alongside “Railroad fireman?” This feels like someone sat down to interview Evel Knievel and then wrote a piece on how his garage sale went.
I dug around for every bit of Captain Charles Fitzgerald information I could find. I didn’t turn up a lot of fun stories about his time as a “Produce dealer” from 100 years ago, so I’ll focus on the jobs mentioned in ADVENTUROUS COP.
When men were men, our language was mighty and manly, and there’s no manlier way of putting it than “Charles could handle men, so he mounted up and entered boxing only to tangle with Dick.” No notes. I’m rock hard like a real man. Now let’s take a look at what happened with his boxing career:
It looks like his first fight ended in a draw when he was knocked out by a pop drinker in the crowd. Then his manager was run over by a train. This, along with “other reasons,” convinced him to change careers. Maybe those “other reasons” were too dull to mention, but this is a man who will tell a newspaper reporter about the time he sold fruit. So I don’t think he’s being vague because those details are boring. I’m saying Charles Fitzgerald definitely, definitely killed a man with his hands.
You might have noticed when that newspaper article suddenly screamed, “He Dives Off Rumson Road Bridge, Dropping 86 Feet Into Shallow Water.” They weren’t starting a new article about a different guy. Charles really did that and I Guess Journalists Changed Subjects In This Manner 100 Years Heretofore! Anyway, we’ll get to his suicidal bridge dives in a bit, after He Stood Upon a Looping Plane, Much Like a Goddamn Maniac.
Charles had some experience doing aerial stunts such as “jump off a plane” and “fall out of a plane,” and he used this expertise to develop a new stunt. He wanted to stand on the wing of a plane while it did a loop. No one had ever done it before, and Charles wasn’t sure it would work. Luckily, he was a man of science and performed extensive tests:
The experiment would be simple– he would spin a can to verify the centripetal force of a looping airplane. Or maybe centrifugal? It doesn’t matter because Charles absolutely didn’t know. He didn’t even have a can. He had to borrow one from his landlady. You know the type, “the kind they rush the growler with.” So he put a little bit of water in it, put a bean on top, and whirled it around. We all know it now, but this was the birth of the saying, “If the bean stays on the can, a plane can loop with man.”
The results were good enough for him, so he hired a pilot and politely withheld most details of the plan so as not to implicate the young man in a murder. Things did not go as planned. Well, he stuck to the plane– the bean science all checked out, but halfway into the loop, while he was upside down, the plane’s loop stopped. Wait, that can’t be right. What?
So, holy shit, okay. He sort of… I guess you could say while he was upside down, holding onto a stalled plane with bean gravity alone, he gave it a little kick so it could finish the loop? Is that how I’m meant to understand this? This rules. This fucking rules. He went from swinging his landlady’s growler can to this in one step, and it worked! This young pilot he hired would not be haunted by a dying stranger’s screams!
For this, Charles Fitzgerald should have been made nothing less than Captain of the Skies. Which he was.
Charles was promoted to Commander of the New York Police Aviation Department, which is exactly what you might picture when you think “1920 Sky Cops.” It was a deathwishing maniac who had never held a job for more than a month in charge of a single biplane, and it was shut down almost immediately. Why? Well, other than gorilla, I’m not even sure what type of crime you’d fight with a biplane. They probably had to discontinue the unit after Charles ditched their only plane to fall onto a mugger. I imagine this was what he said during the interview:
“What can I bring to the NYPD? Well, I have some fun airplane ideas and I was successful in flying until September 5, 1917, when I fell.”
Every paragraph of every Charles Fitzgerald article is like this– a series of skeleton-splintering catastrophes between jobs. I would never, ever, fact check a story as rad as this, but when I add up all the months and years he spent in full body casts from botched suicides, it doesn’t leave enough time in a human lifetime for him to be a hotel clerk and a cowpuncher, much less a hotel clerk and a cowpuncher and a produce dealer. For instance:
He fell, on purpose, from a plane and when he detonated against the water at bone-shattering speed, the experts figured he must have hit the bottom. The bottom of the ocean. And according to century old microfilm, this was two weeks after getting out of the hospital from his last stunt, which was jumping a motorcycle onto a boat 45 feet off the dock.
That year, Charles Fitzgerald only did two things and both of them were getting his ass kicked by the ocean. But let’s talk about a fight against water he won– that bridge jumping thing from earlier:
If I’m being completely honest, a lot of these achievements don’t make a ton of sense to me. I think I need some context to understand why Fitz was throwing dummies out of a car. Had something gone wrong and he was rescuing them? Was this a film where they needed it to look like four people took turns abandoning a falling car and three of them were already dead? Because that could be any movie. Shrek, for instance. Back to what I was saying, I found this article about it and it dedicates exactly one sentence to explaining how and why he drove off a bridge throwing dummies from the car. It does not help.
The newspaper writer quickly moved on from the dummy-throwing to talk about Charles’ new job as an Oregon parachute jumper. Unfortunately, a series of accidents turned the jumping team of Godia, Godia, and Fitzgerald into Only One Sad Godia and Fitzgerald, and finally Two Closed Caskets and Fitzgerald. Like in his boxing career, he had to quit after all his business partners died. Wait, oh no. This might be a pattern. I think those bodies he tossed out of the car in his last Hollywood stunt might not have been “dummies.”
Enough about the Earth, assholes. Let’s talk Moon. Here’s an article that ran in several newspapers around the country in 1921:
Charles Fitzgerald, Captain of the Air Police, had so few responsibilities as an airplane cop he was commanding science to shoot him at the moon. He demanded from anyone who would listen, “Which one of you little growler cans is gonna put me in a rocket ball and launch me at the moon?”
This is going to sound crazy, but he wasn’t the only air police captain from that era to suggest something like this.
A year earlier, Captain Claude Collins of Philadelphia volunteered to go to Mars, and he only had two conditions: he needed to see them do it with a rocket first, and there had better be a two-way radio in there. Our hero, Captain Fitzgerald, did not have such cowardly stipulations. He wanted a ball to the moon, any ball, any conditions. Fuck you, Claude. Enjoy history as a little bitch.
But what would a moon trip entail in that era? Well, through sheer serendipity, I was reading a 1921 Boy’s Life article about Captain Charles, and on the very same page was a feature about the fanciful absurdity of moon travel.
In 1921, they didn’t quite have the math to hit the moon with a rocket, but they did have the math to solve how fast it would be going when it missed. And bad news– it was rocket-meltingly fast. And on the same page, completely unrelated to how we’ll never reach the moon, was a story about the man who disagrees, dangling maniacally from a steel girder. He told Boy’s Life he dances and headstands on skyscrapers “just to keep in trim,” which is either a typo or how daredevils told children, “I do this for the pussy” a hundred years ago. I love Captain Charles Fitzgerald so much. But not as much as he loved the idea of dying on the moon.
So they had enough rocket science back then to know a theoretical ball to the moon would be –at best- a one-way trip. Captain Fitzgerald knew this. He wasn’t thinking he would blast up there, recover in a body cast for six months, take a job as a moon rancher, then one as a moon judoka, then come back with moon herpes. He was ready to get in the space bullet that would finally prove whether or not God had the sack to kill him. He literally called it his “last” adventure and said goodbye to his mother before he had even gotten permission from the space people to joyride their moon ball to his death. He was the best.
Fitz never shut up about being the first man to explode on the moon, and neither did the media. There were several more national articles promoting this daredevil air cop’s courageous idea to hurl himself into the stars just to see what happens. Unfortunately, the scientist trying to send people to the moon, Professor Robert Goddard, was getting pretty goddamn tired of explaining how he didn’t want to send people to the moon. Here’s an excerpt from the 2001 book, Sputnik: The Shock of the Century:
Years earlier, Professor Goddard made some throwaway comment about how hard it would be to hit the moon with a cannonball, and hundreds of people screamed, “Did someone say Moon Ball!? Put me in that moon ball!” Goddard was the Moon Ball guy for years, and he hated such foolish nonsense, but maybe stop having such awesome ideas if you want people to shut up about your awesome ideas, Professor. Put those heroes into balls and cannon them into space!
I have to make a confession. Like the comic book where I first heard of him, I have no idea what eventually happened to Captain Charles Fitzgerald, ADVENTUROUS COP.
The comic was like, “LAST WE HEARD, THIS FABULOUS COP WAS IN, I DON’T KNOW, SOUTH AMERICA, MAYBE? DOING GREAT, WE BET!” But after the press junket he did in the early 1920s lobbying for man to Moon Ball him, he vanished from all media. I found no statistical drops in any South American city’s air crime, no obituary, nothing. So here’s my theory– he’s still alive, and… on the moon.
No, listen: dying and getting to the moon were the only things Charles ever tried to do, and every time he failed at the first one he got closer to the second. I call this Fitzgerald’s Balls-to-Moon ratio, and it mathematically proves no man can shake his dick at death this many times without earning a spot on a Moon Ball. It’s maybe obvious in hindsight, but so was swinging a bean on a growler can. You’re welcome, all of science.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme, Aidan Mouat: Who travels to work in a Work Ball, goes home in a Home Ball, and on weekends it’s PARTY BALL TIME BABY.