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
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.
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
"REACHES ST. LOUIS ON
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Hiker, Traveling in
Up with Schedule on Weird Journey Around Globe," reported the
Evening Star of
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."
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
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
Dr. D. Weeks and J. James book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and
Last Photograph -
Literally looking back on the old year are Mr. and Mrs.
Plennie Wingo of Abilene,
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
January 2, 1948. (LAPL/Herald-Examiner)