How Battle Creek Found Relief from the Heat Wave of 1931
Just imagine what 100 degree heat was like in 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, with no air conditioning, no money to escape. You were lucky to join the crowd gathered around a Westinghouse electric fan. Battle Creek had some serious heat waves in the early to mid-1930’s. Eighteen different days of all-time records for Battle Creek from the 1930’s still stand today.
How did people get through them? July 16th, 1931 is the day that 21 year old Betty Fox, a professional flagpole sitter, climbed to the top of the flagpole on the Post Tavern. City physician Harry Montgomery asked the Mayor to cancel the stunt, but Mayor Penty said, “It will take people’s mind off the heat.”
Jobs were scarce in 1931, and Betty Fox certainly had an unusual one. She was quizzed about the value of sitting on a flagpole for five days, and agreed that it might be a silly thing. But she told the radio audience on WELL radio that she might provide a welcome distraction. “It has been terribly hot. People are likely to complain in hot weather, to feel sorry for themselves, to talk of nothing else but the weather.” She went on, “I don’t ask you to agree with me, but I would like to have letters on the subject.”
The “Maid of the Mast” was up there for a record 126 hours, 12 minutes. The Enquirer and Evening News reported that, “Sidewalks were jammed and special traffic men were at it again last evening attempting to hurry cars past the intersection of West Michigan Avenue and McCamly Street. “
Fox broadcast from her 12-inch square perch, 52 feet above the roof of the Post Tavern. She sang songs. She talked via the radio to “shut-ins” and people in hospitals. She also answered phone calls coming in to her telephone, 6211. At one point, Betty’s brother climbed the pole to give her a pair of pliers to tighten the guy wires at the top. She stayed on the pole through high winds, a rain storm and temperatures that hit 100 in the shade. And she held her own bible service on Sunday morning, since she couldn’t attend church. She was up there more than five days.
Accounts of the event say the exhibition drew more persons to the business district in one day than any other previous happening in the city’s history. Estimates we that 25,000 were there as she climbed down. She was described as weak, and "a trifle sunburned." The newspaper reported that “a physician on the roof gazed at her searchingly and remarked: ‘She must have a wonderful constitution and exceptional nervous system.” Betty then slept in the window at Jury-Rowe Furniture Company, and was later driven to the LaBelle hotel on Gull Lake and took a swim. Then she went back to Battle Creek to do more “salesgirl” work in the window at J.C. Penney.
It was certainly the big event of 1931 in Battle Creek, and it was hard to complain about the heat when a 21 year old woman was sitting on a flagpole high atop the city in 100 degree heat for five days.