Thursday, June 19, 2014

August Eck, Baltimore Steeple Jack

August Louis Eck
husband of 2nd great-grand aunt, Catherine Judd
b. 02/03/1863 - Baltimore, Maryland
d. 03/08/1940 - Newark, New Jersey

Recently I discovered an interesting article about August L. Eck. The story was featured in the Baltimore Sun Newspaper, April 3, 1903, pg. 8, Baltimore, Maryland. The following is a transcription of the article.

"Mr. August L. Eck, Scales Washington Monument


Lightning Rod on The Figure Needed A New Cap-Perilous Feat Attracts Large Crowd.

"I'll tell you boys, that's a pull, and it's winded me," said August L. Eck, a professional steeple jack, who climbed the statue on the Washington Monument at noon yesterday in order to replace on the lightning rod a cap which had been burnt away some weeks ago. He stood on the shoulders of the statue as he spoke, his arms spread over the crown of the Father of his Country, his head bent on Washington's arm. He addressed a half dozen men who stood on the platform at the top of the column and about 20 feet below him.

The climb gave the spectators several distinct shivers. Mr. Eck weighs 285 pounds, and though his muscles are not trained as those of an athlete, they are tremendous. He is 6 feet 2 inches in his stockings. He has climbed the statue for like work before and has also mounted other places just as high. He explained while waiting at the base of the shaft that this climb was especially difficult because the only aid given were the lightning rod and crannies made in the stone by the curves of the figures and the folds of the mantle. But he was very cool.

Once on the platform he removed his hat, coat, vest, and shoes, and drawing a pair of coarse woolen socks over those he already wore, tied a piece of heavy rope about his body. For one giddy instant he stood on the railing of the platform, then mounted a stepladder far enough to give him a handhold on the step-like arrangement at the foot of the statue. For a minute his legs swung in the air as he squirmed upon the steps. The rest of the ascent seemed easy to those below, though it consisted of Mr. Eck drawing himself up by the slender lightning rod.

The return was more exciting. Mr. Eck threw the rope around the head of the statue as an auxiliary to the rod, but searching for a foothold without his eyes to direct him was dangerous. Several times the feet sought a slippery spot and the spectators below shouted a warning. Once the leg was seized with a nervous shaking which boded ill for the climber. Had he fallen he would have dropped 204 feet to the ground. When he finally reached the steps again, he sat there for five minutes regaining his breath and exclaiming to the people below, "I tell you boys, I ain't as young as I was 10 years ago."

One man attempted a witticism on this, but the others said that, in the nature of the case, he was out of order. Then the ladder was placed with its feet on the rail and Mr. Eck came back to the platform and made himself presentable. He seemed as cool as before he went up. The climb had taken about 20 minutes.

Several hundred persons watched the work from Mount Vernon Square. When told that Mr. Eck was paid $25 for the job one man exclaimed: "Well, I wouldn't do it if they gave me all I could see from the place."

Mr. Eck is 40 years old and lives at 106 North Ann Street. He is a former member of the City Fire Department and lost his right eye in the Sharp street fire, when he fell five stories with a number of others and was the only one hauled out of the ruins alive. It is said that he was just about to take his own life in despair when rescued.

He began steeple climbing in 1878 when a weather vane on Camden Station was out of order. Once in Tennessee in 1884 he feel 81 feet and escaped without breaking a bone. He says he is usually affected by nausea for several hours after such a climb."

To learn more about steep-climbing read "Careers if Danger and Daring" by Cleveland Moffett, published 1908.


  1. Wow! Now, they would have all sorts of scaffolding up and a crane. Takes the excitement right out of it. No, surprise he got nauseous.

  2. Good Lord! I can't believe his weight and height! doing all that. I was bare to the bones in Army and was scared just rappelling! This was a great Story most likely forgotten. Would be good to see if the fire station has memorabilia? Steeplejack!

  3. Very interesting, amazing! Thanks for sharing this incredible story with us! I want to share it with others in the family!

  4. My grandmother was a steeplejack (steeplejill?) in the '20s and '30s, until the love of her life died from injuries sustained after painting a steeple. She was from Newburyport, MA. He was from Exeter, NH. They were in his home town. It was the depression. Someone stole 30-50 feet of rope. He was always hyper-vigilant about safety but didn't check this time because they were in his home town. It cost him his life. The rope was short when coming down it fast after the job was completed. Nothing caught his bosun's chair at the end. He fell on his bottom and the impact damaged his internal organs. He never recovered. My grandmother was devastated. She later married a man in the Army. They moved to Silver Springs, MD, where she was the first female mail carrier there.

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