Pranks and stunts, close calls and tragedies have become part of the lore of Golden Gate Park over the years! Here’s a report of some incidents involving the Dutch Windmill! (courtesy of Woody LaBounty; posted in The Ocean Beach Bulletin)
This “old newsreel footage from the 1920s . . . [a] depiction of ‘annual cleaning’ of the 50-foot-long blades seems to be farcical, but the prancing around with a hanky a hundred feet off the ground is no joke.
The windmills were erected not as picturesque curiosities, but as working apparatus to pump up aquifer water for irrigation purposes. A city-paid windmill keeper had to furl and unfurl sails on the wings, often in high winds or stormy weather. It was a dangerous job. On April 5, 1906, windmill keeper John L. Hansen was carrying out his duty of securing the great blades for the night when he fell off the upper platform.
Hansen died from a fractured skull after landing on the lower platform 50 feet below.
Beyond accidents, the windmill attracted suicides. Hansen’s successor as keeper, Heliodor Hammerstrom, reported in 1920 that in his tenure no less than 25 people had climbed and leaped off the Dutch Windmill.
None of this history stopped Miss Velma Tilden from taking a bet to ride the blades. A resident of 528 25th Ave., Tilden was known as “a taker of dares for many a thrilling stunt on sea or land.” As part of a publicity campaign by the American Legion for former servicemen out of work, Tilden agreed in November 1921 to get a box of candy for every rotation she hung on. Strapped to a blade, the young lady did 25 rotations in a stylish hat and stole.”