The Internet’s all atwitter with news of a planking-related death in Australia. Planking, that is the act of lying down in public, sometimes in dangerous places for maximum Internet accolades, is nothing new. It is pole-sitting minus the pole plus the web.
Let us not forget, people did stupid stuff before the Internet. Like with planking, the goal in the 1920s’ most sublime waste of time was to sit on a pole in the most absurd place in the hopes that the highest number of people would praise you. When founding father of pole-sitting Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly climbed atop a pole in 1930, Time wrote that “Mr. Kelly’s theory was that if he thus roosted in mid-air for eight days his reward would be great.” That was all the validation he needed — something “great.”
Kelly first sat on a pole as a dare in 1924. Thirteen hours and thirteen minutes atop a stick would bring him hundreds of gawkers and national acclaim. “Shipwreck” got his name because he survived the Titanic. He was a stuntman, but one can only assume the national trend of pole sitting was a product of the free time newly afforded by Prohibition-induced sobriety.
Was it dangerous? Yes (if you were “good” at it). Was it stupid (and therefore “viral”)? Definitely. Did kids do it? Of course! OldMagazineArticles has a piece on the fad that recounts the exploits of a 15 year-old.
Pole sitting died out at the end of the 1920s, but Shipwreck lives on of course through his Facebook page.