Plennie L. Wingo sold postcards along the way to help finance his backwards walk around the world.

                   

 

PLENNIE L. WINGO

 

In 1931, Abilene restaurateur Plennie L. Wingo (1895-1993) got the idea of a lifetime while chatting with some teenagers about the unusual stunts people were pulling to grab publicity and make money during the Depression.  Having had to close his restaurant and go to work for $12 a week, Wingo understood why folks were resorting to dramatic gestures.  The youths figured it had all been done: flagpole-sitting, pushing a peanut up Pikes Peak with one's nose, Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, and so on.  Suddenly, Wingo found these words coming out of his mouth: "Well boys, not everything has  been done.  I don't believe anyone has ever walked around the world backwards." A half-century later, Plennie explained the logic behind his sudden inspiration in his autobiography, Around the World Backwards.  "With the whole world going backwards," he wrote, "Maybe the only way to see it was to turn around."

 

Obsessed with the idea, Wingo became a performance folk-artist.  He first secured unexpected approval and enthusiasm for the idea from his wife and daughter.  Then he undertook a rigorous training regimen with a chiropractor who advertised that he could train anyone to accomplish any physical task.  "He said it was a fantastic notion," Wingo recalled.  "He'd never heard of such a thing.  He felt it was against nature and didn't even know if it was possible.  But he was game to help me."

 

Wingo bought special glasses with rearview mirrors that were used by motorcyclists and sports car racers.  He figured the reverse trek would pay off by selling cards along the way and hiring his backwards walking out for advertising stunts.  Shoe companies were reluctant to sign on as sponsors, but the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth kicked in two hundred and fifty dollars for ten days of backwards-walking publicity. "I made my first public appearance," Wingo wrote, "dressed in cowboy clothes, boots, and ten-gallon hat, advertising the Fort Worth Stock Show."  Though he was nervous at first, Wingo's training came in handy, and he maneuvered streets and sidewalks handily.

 

The backwards walker wore a suit when he headed east from Fort Worth in 1931.  His locomotion was aided by a beautiful cane "made of coffee wood carved with mystic symbols and a buffalo horn handle."  When Wingo hit Dallas, the mayor granted him special permission to wear a sign (in violation of the city's sign ordinance) on his back reading "Around the World Backwards."

 

As he backed across the country, newspaper headlines greeted him coming and going. "REACHES ST. LOUIS ON FREAK JOURNEY." announces the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Hiker, Traveling in Reverse, Keeps Up with Schedule on Weird Journey Around Globe," reported the Evening Star of Washington, D.C., noting the it took Wingo only fourteen days to go from St. Louis to Chicago and that he sometimes average twenty miles a day.  The Star also ran a political cartoon that featured a drawing of Wingo under the words :News Bulletin - Man From Texas Starts To Walk Around The World Backward."  A Republican elephant-man and a Democrat donkey-man stand looking at the drawing as one says to the other, "That's nothing new! We've both got lots of chaps been doing that for years."

 

After Wingo ceremoniously backed down the gangplank before crossing the ocean citizens on the European continent found him just as intriguing, though the paper in Budapest welcomed him as a "Crazy Texan."  Things went long swimmingly until he arrived in Istanbul, where his unusual quest got him thrown in the pokey for several days.  Eventually, though he was unable to walk backwards completely around the world, he made it to California by boat and put himself in reverse to trek back to Texas.

 

In the eighteen months since he had set out, Plennie L. Wingo had earned a lifetime of experience, and he reprised his transportation performance decades later.  To celebrate the nation's Bicentennial in 1976,  he walked backwards from San Francisco to Santa Monica and appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. 

 

Excerpt from Dr. D. Weeks and J. James book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness. 1995


Last Photograph - Literally looking back on the old year are Mr. and Mrs. Plennie Wingo of Abilene, Texas. Equipped with rear view mirrors on their spectacles, they have begun a four-year hike, walking backwards all the way. Mr. Wingo, 53, already has won the world's championship at walking backwards by walking around the world that way. They started at Hollywood, and intend to walk backwards into every state capital.

Photo dated: January 2, 1948. (LAPL/Herald-Examiner)


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