Learn about the man who de­scended the Washington Mon­u­ment’s stairs on his hands.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - John Kelly's Washington Twit­ter: @johnkelly Send your ques­tions about the Washington area to an­swer­man@wash­post.com. For pre­vi­ous col­umns, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/johnkelly.

Thou­sands of peo­ple have walked up the Washington Mon­u­ment’s stairs. Thou­sands more have walked down. Some have done both.

But few have tack­led the mon­u­ment’s stairs in the

man­ner of Max Duf­fek. In 1907, Max walked down on his hands.

He’s just one of many thrillseek­ers who have seen the Washington Mon­u­ment not as a time­less me­mo­rial to our first pres­i­dent but as some­thing to be con­quered.

Duf­fek was a pro­fes­sional ath­lete (more on him later), but plenty of en­thu­si­as­tic am­a­teurs have sum­mited, too. Af­ter last week’s col­umn on why tourists may no longer use the stairs, An­swer Man heard from many read­ers who have fond mem­o­ries of scal­ing the 555-foot obelisk.

Jerry Hos­pi­tal of Fair­fax and Paul Wahler of Solomons Is­land, Md., both played Catholic Youth Or­ga­ni­za­tion football on the El­lipse in 1962.

“One Satur­day morn­ing, there was a foul-up and our game time was pushed back by two hours,” Paul wrote. “Bored with a long wait, my team­mates and I de­cided to go see the Washington Mon­u­ment.”

The team climbed in their football cleats. “This prob­a­bly wasn’t the best idea for a pregame ex­er­cise since we lost the game by a large mar­gin,” Paul wrote.

Jerry said his team climbed af­ter they’d won their game. “Un­for­tu­nately, we lost the cham­pi­onship game the next week to St. Am­brose,” he wrote. “Maybe we were still ex­hausted from our climb.”

In 1960, a re­tired chicken farmer named Daniel J. Collins walked up and down the mon­u­ment ev­ery day for a month. “I did it so when I get older, I’ll have more to look back upon,” Collins told a Washington Post re­porter. Collins was 86 at the time. Ar­ling­ton reader Hi­lary

Dono­van re­mem­bers read­ing a

book by Julie Nixon

Eisen­hower called “Spe­cial Peo­ple.” Each chap­ter is about a dif­fer­ent fa­mous per­son the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter in­ter­viewed. Among them was

Prince Charles, who vis­ited Washington in 1970. The heir ap­par­ent to the throne, 21 at the time, was shown the sights by Julie and her friends.

“It was a hot sum­mer day, and they’d all taken the el­e­va­tor to the top of the Washington Mon­u­ment,” Hi­lary wrote.

“When it was time to de­scend, Prince Charles said, ‘Let’s run down the stairs!’ And so he, to Julie’s amaze­ment, ran down the stairs ac­com­pa­nied by David


Such im­promptu com­pet­i­tive acts were once com­mon. In 1904, tourists from Eas­ton, Pa., were vis­it­ing the mon­u­ment. The el­e­va­tor was bro­ken so they started trudg­ing up. A one­legged man, M.R. Ma­haney, chal­lenged his friend Frank

Ken­nard to a race. They were neck and neck for the first 200 feet, The Post re­ported, “but then Ken­nard’s av­oir­du­pois be­gan to tell on his speed, and the one-legged man took the lead.”

Ma­haney reached the top in 15 min­utes. The winded, two­legged Ken­nard ar­rived six min­utes later.

Although An­swer Man could find no of­fi­cial record for climb­ing the mon­u­ment, in 1937 The Post re­ported that

Ben­jamin K. Mor­row held the “up-and-down” record of 11 min­utes, 45 sec­onds. Mor­row was a guard at the mon­u­ment, so he must have had some prac­tice.

Even­tu­ally, these an­tics be­gan to ir­ri­tate author­i­ties, who an­nounced that of­fi­cial per­mis­sion would be needed to race.

“I fa­vor keep­ing the Mon­u­ment as a me­mo­rial and not an ath­letic sta­dium,” said the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s B.C.

Gard­ner in 1937. “There are rules against run­ning up and down the steps. I think they should be re­laxed only for sci­en­tific pur­poses.”

Science was prob­a­bly not on the mind of Max Duf­fek when he tipped over onto his hands at pre­cisely 3 p.m. Nov. 9, 1907. “He took off only his over­coat, wear­ing a reg­u­lar street suit, derby hat, high col­lar and tie,” wrote The Post. “The first four flights he de­scended with the ease and speed of a pedes­trian, but at the height of 390 feet he re­moved his hat, and at 370 feet dis­carded his col­lar and tie.”

Half­way down, Duf­fek fal­tered. He rested his feet against the wall and was re­vived with a brandy-soaked ap­ple and a sniff of am­mo­nia.

The stakes were high. Duf­fek had wa­gered a cer­tain Herr

Stein­gu­ver that he could palm his way down all 898 steps in un­der 60 min­utes. A cer­ti­fied check for $500 was wait­ing at ground level.

Duf­fek plod­ded lower, weak­en­ing with ev­ery flight. “Sev­eral women in the crowd wanted to have him stopped, but no one vol­un­teered,” The Post wrote.

He seemed to be in a trance for the last 50 feet. Duf­fek suc­ceeded in 58 min­utes, 30 sec­onds. He took the $500 check, then boarded a cab to be whisked to a Turk­ish bath.

Oddly, The Post did not note that Duf­fek was ap­pear­ing that week at Chase’s Vaude­ville Theater. An­swer Man sus­pects the en­tire thing was a pub­lic­ity stunt.

Fi­nally, Mike Lit­terst of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice notes that while there orig­i­nally were 898 steps from top to bot­tom, there are now 896. “There used to be a step up into the door­way of the mon­u­ment that was re­placed with a ramp for ADA pur­poses,” Mark wrote. “And they re­con­fig­ured the stairs lead­ing from the 490-foot to the 480foot level and lost a step in the process.”


Imag­ine de­scend­ing all 555 feet of theWash­ing­tonMon­u­ment while per­form­ing a hand­stand. In 1907, Max Duf­fek did just that. Duf­fek was a vaudevil­lian per­former who took re­port­edly took a $500 bet.

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