Traveling Water Show
Paul Boyton (often misspelled
Boynton) (b. June 29, 1848 in Rathangan,
County Kildare, Ireland — April 19, 1924), known as the Fearless Frogman, was
a showman and adventurer some credit as having spurred worldwide interest in
water sports as a hobby, particularly open-water swimming. Boyton, whose
birthplace is variously listed as Dublin or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is best
known for his water stunts that captivated the world, including crossing the
English Channel in a novel rubber suit that functioned similarly to a kayak.
Boyton attended Saint Francis University, Loretto, Pennsylvania. Boyton,
eager for adventure at a young age, reportedly joined the Union Navy during
the American Civil War when he was 15, and in his young adulthood served
stints with Benito Juárez's Mexican Navy and the French Franc-tireurs during
the Franco-Prussian War. He eventually returned to the United States and
helped organize the United States Life-Saving Service, one of the precursors
to the modern-day United States Coast Guard. He was later appointed captain of
Atlantic City, New Jersey's lifesaving service.
While in Atlantic City, Boyton began toying with a rubber suit invented by C.
S. Merriman as a life-saving device for steamship passengers. This first
immersion suit, which would become Boyton's trademark, was essentially a pair
of rubber pants and shirt cinched tight at the waist. Within the suit were air
pockets the wearer could inflate at will using tubes. Similar to modern-day
drysuits, the suit also kept its wearer dry. This essentially allowed the
wearer to float on his back, using a double-sided paddle to propel himself,
Boyton made numerous expeditions
in this suit, swimming up and down rivers across America and Europe to
publicize its uses. Boyton would tow a small boat behind him in which he
carried his supplies and personal possessions, and sometimes invited newspaper
reporters to accompany him. A canny publicist, Boyton's arrival in small river
towns was often heralded by great fanfare.
Among his exploits were: crossed English channel in 24 hours (1875); paddled
Rhine 430 miles (1875); Alton, Ill. to St. Louis, Mo. on the Mississippi
(1876) and same year Bayou Goula to New Orleans, 100 miles in 24 hours; 400
miles on the Danube insix days (1876); navigated all important rivers of the
continent, passed through canals of Venice and crossed the straits of
Gibraltar; returned to the U.S. and floated from Oil City, Pa. to the Gulf of
Mexico-2,342 miles in 80 days. His longest voyage was in 1881 when he started
at Cedar Creek, Mont. and ended at St. Louis, Mo., 3,580 miles.
An active Freemason he Raised in Lodge of Friendship No. 206, London, England
on May 21, 1875.
In 1885, Boyton was involved
in the fatal leap from Brooklyn Bridge of Robert Emmet Odlum, brother of
women's rights activist Charlotte Odlum Smith. Catherine Odlum, mother of
Robert and Charlotte, blamed Boyton for her son's death. Boyton wrote Mrs.
Odlum a letter disclaiming responsibility, which he also published in The New
York Times and other periodicals. Mrs. Odlum subsequently traveled to New York
City to see Boyton. According to her account, Boyton sent two men to see her
who claimed to be a lawyer and a judge, and who warned her not to say anything
against Boyton to avoid prosecution for slander. Catherine Odlum claimed in
the biography she wrote of her son that Boyton hid or destroyed letters and
telegrams from himself to Robert Odlum urging him to travel to New York and
make the Brooklyn Bridge jump.
Boyton formed an aquatic circus and toured for several years. In 1894, he
opened the first "permanent" amusement park (Paul Boyton's Water Chutes) in
Chicago, which was also the first park of any type to charge an admission. The
following year, he bought 16 acres (65,000 m2) of land and opened the Sea Lion
Park on Coney Island in 1895, fenced the property and charged admission. It
would later become Coney Island Amusement Park. Boyton and his sea lions also
performed in silent films including Feeding Sea Lions.
In 1902, Boyton sold Sea Lion Park to Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, who
redesigned the park and renamed it Luna Park, the first of many of that name
to come. Paul Boyton's Water Chutes was permanently closed in 1908, a casualty
of increased competition from White City amusement parks, Electric Parks, and
Luna Parks that arose in the dozen-plus years after the World's Columbian
Boyton's rubber suit was featured by Jules Verne in Tribulations of a Chinaman
in China as a life saver for the hero and his three companions.
Paul Boyton is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
THE STORY OF
VOYAGES ON ALL THE
GREAT RIVERS OF THE WORLD,
PADDLING OVER TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND
MILES IN A RUBBER DRESS A RARE TALE OF
TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE THRILLING
EXPERIENCES IN DISTANT LANDS, AMONG STRANGE PEOPLE. A BOOK FOR
BOYS, OLD AND YOUNG.
To my beloved and
gentle wife, whose patience and help have enabled me to present
the public the story of my life. --Paul Boyton
CHAPTER - 15
CHAPTER - 16
CHAPTER - 17
CHAPTER - 18
CHAPTER - 19
CHAPTER - 20
CHAPTER - 21
CHAPTER - 22
CHAPTER - 23
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