Daredevil flyer Jimmy Ward touches down in the Hub City
By Kris Leonhardt
On a Monday afternoon in late August of 1912, Marshfield residents gathered at the air field awaiting the appearance of the Shooting Star. The early Curtiss airplane would be carrying one of the country’s most famous aviators of the time, Jimmy Ward.
Ward, born Jens Peter Wilson, was of Danish heritage but called Crookston, Minn., his hometown. Handsome but reckless, Ward left his hometown for the big city as a young man. While working as a taxi driver in Chicago, Ward began a career in car racing, where he gained attention for his daredevil moves.
Upon being discovered, he would make his way to the cockpit of an airplane, and his venturesome nature would thrive. With his new moniker, “Jimmy” took his skills to New York, where publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst was financing a challenge for a transcontinental flight. With a purse of $50,000 at stake, Ward made several attempts to make the arduous flight.
An ugly crash would cause him to abandon the project all together, and Ward began his career barnstorming. With air flight in its infancy, Ward would begin an aviation tour that was designed to promote air travel and sell Curtiss airplanes.
Ward’s descent into Marshfield would mark the fourth month of his tour that covered the United States and Canada. Scheduled to coincide with the week of the Marshfield fair, the appearance of the plane alone garnered much excitement as many attendees had never seen an airplane up close.
For the next several days, Ward wowed the crowds with his speed and daring stunts. Adding to the thrill of his daily shows, Ward would select willing individuals to ride with him in the Shooting Star.
Marshfield fair attendees clamored to get a glimpse of the celebrity daredevil that had made a name throughout the country.
Following the Marshfield fair, Ward finished out the year performing two to three acts five days a week, before retiring on Jan. 1. Later Ward would be enlisted to train fighter pilots during World War I.
Though he was a celebrated personality as an aviator, Ward’s personal life was reduced to shambles when his second wife discovered that Ward was already married. After being charged with bigamy, Ward would find himself alone again. A third wife would later die in a hotel fire.
Ward would later enter a state hospital in Florida, where died in 1923. With no money for the family to return him to Minnesota, Jens P. Wilson — Jimmy Ward — would be buried in a pauper’s grave in Chattahoochee, Fla.