Watch These Daredevils Take a Spin on 55-Foot Windmill Sails - Atlas Obscura
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Watch These Daredevils Take a Spin on 55-Foot Windmill Sails

It’s like revolving on a much less secure Ferris wheel.

In 1908, San Francisco built two large windmills, the southern Murphy Windmill and the northern Dutch Windmill—structural oddities in a bustling port metropolis. The windmills’ massive four vanes, or arms, used the powerful coastal winds to pump up water for the Golden Gate Park. But, in this clip, the wind also propels two daring men clinging firmly to the vanes of the approximately 75-foot-tall Dutch Windmill for a rickety, revolving ride.  

“The cleaner injects a thrill into his job by riding on the 55-ft. wings,” an International News title card states.

The Dutch Windmill worker climbs up the vanes with confidence to make annual repairing and painting of the mill. He smiles merrily and clasps the lower edge of a vane before becoming a mere speck on the screen, his cap all the while remaining secure on his head.

“And International’s cameraman tries it too—turning the crank as he rides—with picturesque results.”

It’s true. The views of San Francisco (while dizzying) are spectacular. At the 55-second mark you can spot San Francisco’s long defunct Big Dipper wooden rollercoaster at the once popular amusement park, Playland at the Beach.

The cameraman and cleaner aren’t the only ones that realized windmills can serve as cheap thrills. In 1921, daredevil Velma Tilden spun around the sails of the Murphy Windmill for 25 full rotations. Young local boys also used to climb windmills in Massachusetts when they were still grinding corn. They would grasp onto the arms of the Godfrey Windmill and others that dotted Cape Cod before they had to jump off and run at sight of the miller.

In the video below, a camera is strapped to one of the arms of the Chatham Windmill in Massachusetts to visualize just how dangerous these stunts were on particularly gusty days.

Both the Murphy Windmill and the Dutch Windmill stopped their operations in 1913 when they were replaced by electric pumps. Today, the Dutch Windmill stands as landmark among the thousands of tulips in Golden Gate Park’s Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden.

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