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As It Was: Touring Sky Circus Brings Thrills to Medford in 1947

On a warm July day in 1937, stores and offices closed early as 8,000 people headed for the Medford Airport. It was opening day of the Oregon Air Tour’s Sky Circus, featuring some of the country’s top stunt pilots and air acrobatics. Medford was the first stop in a 10-city, 10-day barnstorm across the state.

Spectators watched petite parachutist Dorothy Barden heft a large sack of flour and step off the wing of a plane circling 5,000 feet in the air. Plummeting toward the ground, she deployed her parachute but it ripped as it inflated. For a moment, it seemed her jump might end in disaster, but she activated her backup chute and to tremendous applause glided to safety.

Tex Rankin brought his monoplane in for a landing, but just above the ground he looped and flew upside down, dipped a wing, landed on one wheel, and hopped out to sign autographs. Bernadine Lewis King, record-holder for flying upside down, demonstrated her championship skills by writing smoke messages.

By the time the tour ended, an estimated 100,000 people had witnessed Oregon’s largest aviation event of the year.

Sources: Weaver, Gerry. "Among the Stars to be in the Oregon Sky Tour." Oregonian, 20 June 1937, p. 52; Other Oregonian stories by Gerry Weaver; "Circus to Showcase New Air Stunts." 20 June 1937, p. 52; "60 Planes Enter Oregon Air Tour." 2 July 1937, p. 47; “Oregon Air Tour Starts." 3 July 1937, p. 7; Weaver, Gerry. "Thousand View Medford Circus." 3 July 1937, p. 10.

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Lynne Hasselman has a passion for storytelling and a heart for history. As a freelance historical writer for the Oregonian, she’s drawn to the experiences of ordinary people living in extraordinary times.