Monday, May 01, 2006

Puttin' on the Witz

Showmanship was undeniably part of the bat-wing jumper's routine. Whatever their skills in the air, the batmen of yesteryear were sure to stoke the crowd’s excitement by strutting before them, flapping their wings, and making exaggerated claims as to what they were about to do. Once in the air, an announcer would heighten the drama by shouting for the birdman to open his parachute, as if he were mere seconds from a certain death. Perhaps the greatest bat-wing jumper of all time, in terms of showmanship, is shown here at left, the anonymous “Birdman of Haifa.” Where others faked near death experiences by letting go of an open parachute and reentering freefall before opening a reserve, the Birdman of Haifa took things one step further, terrifying his audiences by adding explosions to his show, chewing blood capsules, and exposing great plumes of body hair. His marketing abilities were matched only by his knack for positioning himself horizontally above the earth: after more than 4,600 jumps he’s still alive to tell the tale.

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