By 1964, Georgia Ann “Tiny “ Broadwick was a grandmother. But a story by Grady Jefferys recalls her younger high-flying days, which began near her home in Henderson NC in 1908.
“I was about 15 years old at that time, Miss Broadwick recalls. “My daughter had been born about a year before and I was working in a cotton mill at Henderson trying to support her because her father and I had separated.”
In attempting to explain how she became interested in the new and dangerous sport of parachuting, Miss Broadwick simply shakes her head in puzzlement.
“I was always something of a tomboy,” she says, “and I remember the balloon act at a carnival between Raleigh and Durham simply fascinated me.”
The young mother was so fascinated she talked the owner of the act, Charles Broadwick into hiring her. Shortly afterwards, she adopted the name Broadwick and has used it ever since.
For almost three years, Miss Broadwick toured the nation with Broadwick, appearing at carnivals and amusement parks. After a brief training period, she began the act which spread her name and face over the pages of many of the nation’s newspapers and magazines.
Miss Broadwick’s specialty was leaping from a balloon over the carnival grounds -- to the amazement of the crowd, many of whom had never seen a balloon, much less a parachutist who was a girl.
“We received $250 per week,” Miss Broadwick remembers, “for a week’s performances. And that included two jumps daily -- one in the afternoon and one at night.”
In the night jumps, Miss Broadwick would soar aloft in the balloon carrying an assortment of torches and flares which made the fall a colorful, dramatic spectacle.
The balloons from which the “Doll Girl” made her spectacular jumps were home made contraptions constructed by Broadwick. They were filled by mounting them on a stand above a blazing coal-oil fire, Miss Broadwick remembers. If they were scorched during the filling process, they would sometimes rip apart during ascent.
Broadwick also made the parachutes used in the act. At first, they were made of cotton muslin which would tear in a strong wind.
The combination of homemade balloon and homemade parachute brought some narrow escapes for Miss Broadwick, but her only injury during more than 1,000 jumps was a broken wrist and a scratched face.
Scared? “Often,” Miss Broadwick recalls, “but never too scared to go up again.”
When the Broadwick act arrived in California, Miss Broadwick began doing exhibitions at the beaches to attract crowds on Sundays and holidays.
It was during one of the exhibitions that she met airplane manufacturer Glenn L. Martin.
Martin and Miss Broadwick immediately teamed up in an act which achieved fame throughout the U.S. During her association with Martin, Miss Broadwick made the world’s first parachute jump from a trap-seat on an airplane. The trap-seat was mounted directly beside the aircraft’s propellor and by pushing a lever, Miss Broadwick dropped into the windstream of the plane.
It was also with Martin that Miss Broadwick became the first person to jump from a pontoon-equipped aircraft and land on the water. The event was in Chicago in 1913. The landing was made in Lake Michigan before several thousand spectators.
In addition to her other firsts, Miss Broadwick is the first person to demonstrate a parachute for the U.S. Government. She credits the idea for the “airplane life preserver” to her mentor, Charles Broadwick.
Miss Broadwick and Martin demonstrated the chute to military personnel in California. “However, they didn’t take to the idea too quickly,” she recalls.
“It seems they were afraid that if pilots were equipped with the life preservers they would jump out of the planes at the first indication of trouble and let the plane crash. And at that time, the United States only had about three airplanes.”
Miss Broadwick retired from parachute jumping in 1922 and began working as a practical nurse. However, during World War II, she worked in a California aircraft factory.
Despite her age and the number of years which have elapsed since her last jump, Miss Broadwick has never lost her enthusiasm for parachuting.
“It’s hard to explain,” she says. “There’s just nothing quite like the feeling you get when you plunge down and then the chute opens.” -- The News & Observer 2/2/1964
Tiny Broadwick died in California in 1978 and is buried in Vance County.
(Photos courtesy of the NC State Archives)