Who was the ‘real’ Ethel Dare?

Ethel Gilmore (aka Munn, Mrs. Arthur Johnson)

This writing provides key dates and information to consider and which I believe shows Ethel Munn (my grandmother’s cousin, pictured far left above) is the true, original Ethel Dare.

Consider this November 1924 story in The Billboard on page 80, which reads:

“Sgt. Jack Cope informs The Billboard that considerable confusion as to identities has been occasioned by the death of Ethel Munn in Cassopolis, Mich., recently … Sgt. Cope said the name of Ethel Dare was originated by Elmer Partridge for Ethel Munn. Later he transferred the name to another girl who worked but a week. Next, Mr. Partridge employed Lillian Boyer for parachute jumping and she was billed as Ethel Dare for a season, after which she took her own name. …”

Margie HOBBS (middle photo) performed as “Ethel Dare” and claimed to be the first, saying she “hired” Ethel Johnson (aka Mrs. Arthur JOHNSON)1 to perform for her after “she retired from aerial acrobatics,” but news stories contradict both statements. Perhaps she is the “girl who worked but a week.” Or, that girl could be person referenced in The Times (Munster, Indiana) story on page 1 that noted “Ethel Dare, of Marion, O.”2 That Ohio Ethel Dare performed an aerial transfer at Crown Point, Indiana.

An interview with Lillian BOYER3 (far right photo) says she was approached to take over for Ethel Dare when she left in April 1921 to get married. Could this be the Ohio woman or Margie? A 1959 article4 quotes Margie as saying she quit because the pilots would not fly with her because they were concerned she would get killed “if we kept on.” Margie says she performed stunts in 1919 and 1920, but Ethel Gilmore (using Munn name) began in 1914 or 1917. 5

Ethel’s first balloon flight and landing occurred at Ramona park where she temporarily became known as “Lady Anomar,” a reverse spelling of Ramona.6 It was the park’s manager, Daniel Boon, who made public that the Ethel Dare (Margie Hobbs) performing at the 1920 Michigan State Fair was not the woman (Ethel Gilmore) he met, but someone else. Ethel was to appear, but she had hurt herself at a prior engagement and asked Margie to fill in. An article, Surprise! She’s Not Ethel Dare, notes that Margie “took the job as substitute for the original Ethel Dare, who was Miss Ethel Munn of Kalamazoo.”7

Ethel Dare
Ethel Dare. This photo was found on the website for Gloomth & the Cult of Melancholy at gloomthzine.com. The owner, Taeden Hall, emailed to say it was found on “another blog” but doesn’t remember where.

Ethel Gilmore
b. 20 Jan 1896 in Grand Ledge, Michigan
d. 15 Nov 1924 in Cassopolis, Michigan
Married: (1) Frederick Harris; (2) Arthur Johnson
Known as: Queen of the Air, Gamest Girl in the World, Tiny Parachute Artist, and Lady Anomar
Accomplishment: 1st woman to change from one plane to another while in air

Susan Margaret “Margie” Potteiger
b. Jan 1897 in Jackson, Pennsylvania
d. possibly May 1970 in Miami, Florida
Married: (1) Earl Spears; (2) Shirley “SJ” Cowing; (3) Roy Hobbs
Known as: The Flying Witch

Lillian Boyer
b. 15 Jun 1900 in Hooper, Nebraska
d. 1 Feb 1989 in San Marcos, California
Married: (1) Emory “Swan” Peterson, a race car driver who died in 1934; (2) Ernest Werner
Known as: Empress of the Air
Accomplishment: 1st woman to move from automobile to airplane

Key moments ….

1914 – Ethel Munn may have started her career at age 18. A Battle Creek Enquirer story about her death, leads off: “For 10 years a home-loving woman named Mrs. Arthur Johnson, known professionally as Ethel Dare, played with the fates …”5,6 The story also notes that Ethel saw an ad for the Grand Rapids Fair looking for females to make balloon drops and she answered the ad, becoming “Lady Anomar.” It notes that she performed in Chicago at Pageant of Progress and was rescued by a motor boat, and how she met Mr. Johnson in 1919. It glosses over her first marriage. Arthur Johnson told the paper that he met Ethel when she was working on changing planes for the first time and he helped her prepare. He also said they married in 1919 but kept their marriage secret because Ethel felt she would be less attractive to the audience if she were married.

1917 – Some newspapers reported Ethel Dare “risked death almost daily since 1917.”5 Another report notes that “Mrs. Johnson,” who had narrowly escaped death in 1922, has made more than 200 leaps since her career began in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1914.7 It also was reported that Ethel began her career at age 14, which would have been around 1910, but that seems unrealistic.8 In 1917, Margie was performing in Barnum and Bailey Circus as part of The Flying Valentinos.9 She left in 1918 to care for her sister’s two young children.10  So right away – how could she be the original Ethel Dare?

11 Jan 1919 – Soldier’s Wife Swallows Poison: Mrs. Earl Spears, Taken To Homeopathic Hospital, Will Recover notes that Margie’s concern about the death of her sister and husband during a recent epidemic led her to attempt suicide.11

20 Nov 1919 – Numerous briefs in newspapers state Miss Ethel MUNN, 18, is the first woman aviator to accomplish the feat of going from one airplane to another while both were in motion.12 Munn is the name Ethel used when she lived with her mother, stepfather and step-grandparents in 1900.13 There are no records that show Margie Potteiger Hobbs has ever used the name Munn. A photograph in a newspaper also identifies Ethel Dare as Ethel Munn.14

30 Mar 1920 – Fred HARRIS, of Long Beach, former Canadian soldier, divorced Ethel GILMORE HARRIS, known as Ethel Dare, who does a parachute “stunt.”15 (They married 20 Jun 1914 in Lansing, Michigan, according to their marriage record which incorrectly lists her grandfather H.M. GILMORE as her father and mother as Josephine GILMORE. Ethel was “illegitimate,” and her father’s name is unknown.)

19 May 1920 – Girl Shifts Planes in Air: Crowd Saw Ethel Dare Climb Rope Ladder 1,500 Feet Over Swope16 says Ethel Dare, 18, rehearsed her aerial act in Kansas City and today in Swope Park did it successfully. Curtiss plane piloted by G. W. PARMLEY and E.L. PARTRIDGE. She performed in her stocking feet. Numerous articles in March and May 1919 identify Ethel Dare as “of Kalamazoo, Mich.,” and there is no evidence Margie Hobbs lived in Kalamazoo. She is consistently identified as “of Chicago,” where Ethel also lived.

24 May 1920 – Aviatrix is Dropped Into River When Her Daring Trick Fails IDs Ethel Dare as aviatrix of Kalamazoo, Michigan.17 There are numerous stories that ran in multiple newspapers. Headlines included: “Ethel Dare Got a Ducking.”17

1 Jul 1920 – A photograph identified as Ethel Dare shows a woman on a plane’s wing and the cutline indicates the woman is of French parentage.18 This photograph is widely believed to be Margie Potteiger, who said it was her in a 1959 article in a Florida newspaper.3 In this 1959 article, Margie, whose name is Hobbs, holds clippings of herself as Ethel Dare that clearly show the same photo that was also used to identify Ethel Johnson as Ethel Dare. I believe what happened is what newspapers do typically – they used file art anytime “Ethel Dare” performed in their area without realizing that it was two separate women.

18 Aug 1920 – Ethel Dare Equally Capable of Changing Planes in Midair or Washing Own Curly Hair19 says Ethel Dare is “married and her name isn’t Dare at all.” It notes in her party is her “husband and manager, S.J. COWING” and pilots Partridge and Parmley. However, Margie’s divorce from first husband Earl Spears did not come until at least August 1924.20,21 I found no documents showing Ethel Gilmore married S.J. Cowing so this “Ethel” must be Margie.

23 Sep 1920 – An article, Surprise! She’s Not Ethel Dare, notes the girl who performed stunts at the Michigan State Fair was Margie Spears – “who took the job as substitute for the original Ethel Dare, who was Miss Ethel Munn, of Kalamazoo.”7 There is no evidence that Margie resided in Kalamazoo.

Apr 1921 – An interview with Lillian BOYER, 19, notes that she was working for a railroad company when “the offer came to take the place of Ethel Dare, stunt aviator, who was leaving the business to get married.”22,23 It indicates this occurred in April 1921. Ethel was already married to Arthur Edward JOHNSON in 1921 and Margie was still legally married to S.J. Cowing.

24 Sep 1921 – Daring Aviatrix is Miss Ethel M. Dare24 notes Ethel is 24, and that Ethel Dare is her “Barnum name,” but in private life she is “the wife of E.A. Johnson, residing at 1840 North Ballou Street, Chicago.” Clearly this is Ethel Munn Dare, aka Ethel Gilmore Johnson.

26 Aug 1922 – Spectacular Air Derby and Flying Circuit25 is the first reference I found that notes the “Original Ethel Dare” and describes her as “the tiny parachute jumper,” which is consistent with Ethel, not Margie. She is again referred to as “the Original Ethel Dare”26 in an advertisement and 1923 article previewing an appearance.

15 Nov 1924 – Ethel Dare fell to her death during a show at Cassopolis, Michigan. News stories vary on the height – 700 feet to 1,000 feet.27 She is identified as Mrs. Arthur Johnson; a former Battle Creek woman; an Aviatrix; and Ethel Dare as well as daughter of Mrs. Frank Shattuck. Stories also noted that she is the Ethel Dare who worked with Lt. Ormer LOCKLEAR28 and that “others aped her performances – used her name. Made capital of her bravery.”28

There is no question the Ethel Dare who died Nov. 15, 1924, is my cousin and that she is the original Ethel Dare. (She is a first cousin to my maternal grandmother Doris Gilmore.)

Unfortunately, Margie Hobbs continued telling the world she was the original Ethel Dare.29 She carried this charade immediately following Ethel Gilmore Johnson’s death. In a Nov. 18, 1924, article, Margie said she is “the real Ethel Dare” and is “very much alive.”30 There is no way to know definitely if these are Margie’s lies or the reporters’ error. Considering it was repeated so many times, it’s possible it was simply Margie’s lie.

It is true: Margie Potteiger Hobbs was an aviatrix who performed stunts on the wings of airplanes, but she wasn’t – never has been – the original Ethel Dare.

The inaccuracies – presumably based on the incorrect reporting at the time and inaccurate stories told – regarding Margie Hobbs as the original Ethel Dare continued in numerous publications and books throughout the years, including one in March 11, 1984, that said it was Margie who performed the first transfer in November 1919.

Incredibly, The Billboard31 reported Nov. 17, 1924, that “Ethel Munn, not Dare, Parachute Jumper, Dies” and that “Miss Dare … in private life is Mrs. S.J. Cowig,” who “engaged Ethel Munn to continue her parachute work.” If Margie Hobbs left because pilots wouldn’t risk her life, why would she need Ethel to sub for her? Surely pilots wouldn’t risk Ethel’s life? The audacity of Margie Hobbs’ claim just days after Ethel’s tragic death is an insult.

Fortunately, The Billboard corrected itself weeks later when it ran its interview with Sgt. Jack Cope, who said Partridge originated the name Ethel Dare for Ethel Munn.32

There is one more “Ethel Dare” – sort of.

Deb DeCostello
Deborah DeCostello (Source: Leelanau Enterprise)

Deborah DeCostello also was an aviatrix and while some have written that she was Ethel Dare, that was not her name, but the name of her plane. According to a 1920 poster for a fair in Empire, Michigan, the Tinney Flyers hired Deborah to stunt fly. She was born about 1896 according to her Michigan death certificate or 1893 according to her headstone. She died 1 Oct 1920 in Empire, Leelanau, Michigan, after drowning when her parachute blew into a lake. She apparently had no family and the towns people buried her in St. Phillipe Cemetery in Empire, Michigan.

Original Ethel Dare’s Career accomplishments33

  • 1st woman to change airplanes in the air
  • 2nd person in the world to change airplanes in the air
  • Made over 500 parachute descension, 30 plane changes
  • Dropped from an airplane into water (may have been when the pilot dumped her there when she could not pull herself back up)
  • Made “two of the most perfect” balloon descension “ever known at Nashville during a fair”
  • Contributed to development of aviation by testing parachutes

Sources:

  1. Dead Aviatrix Not Ethel Dare In Vaud Here, Daily Register-Gazette (Rockford, Illinois), Nov. 17, 1924, p. 13, col. 2. At this time, Margie’s name was Cowing from her second husband Shirley Cowing.
  2. Girl Does Daring Feat At Fair Grounds: Miss Ethel Dare Leaps in Mid-air From One Plane To the Other. The Times (Munster, Indiana), June 21, 1920, p. 1, col. 3.
  3. Talks of Chewing Gum and Love, Then Risks Her Neck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Aug. 29, 1922, p. 12, cols. 5-6.
  4. She Sells Sea Shells: Trapeze, Stunt Plane, Now, The Miami News (Miami, Florida), June 5, 1959, p. 1C.
  5. Battle Creek Enquirer and The Evening News (Battle Creek, Michigan), Nov. 16, 1924
  6. Her Life to Air Science: One More Leap – But Somehow It Was Not To Be, Battle Creek Enquirer on Nov. 17, 1924, p. 1 and p. 7, col. 3. Page 1 includes a photograph that says, “Sincerely, the Original Ethel Dare.”) Back To Earth From Which She Invariably Fled: Funeral Services for Ethel Dare, “Gamest Girl in the World,” Battle Creek Enquirer, Nov. 18, 1924, p. 1
  7. Surprise! She’s not Ethel Dare, Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, Michigan), Sept. 23, 1920, p. A16.
  8. Dixon Evening Telegraph (Dixon, Illinois), Nov. 17, 1924
  9. Daring Aviatrix is Miss Ethel M. Dare. Forest Park Review (Forest Park, Illinois), Sept. 24, 1921, p. 1, col. 5-6.
  10. She Sells Sea Shells: Trapeze, Stunt Plane, Now … The Miami News (Miami, Florida), June 5, 1959, p. 1C
  11. Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), Jan. 11, 1919, p. 1 (received from Robert Mainfort).
  12. The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana), Nov. 20, 1919, p. 6; Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, Indiana), p. 1, col. 6; The Huntington Herald (Huntington, Indiana), Nov. 12, 1919, p. 5, col. 1; Los Angeles Evening Herald (Los Angeles, California), Nov. 19, 1919, p. 10; Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, Indiana), Nov. 21, 1919, p. 10, col. 7; Moving Picture Age 3(9):24, 29 in January 1919; and Aerial Age Weekly 10(13):492 on Jan. 12, 1920.
  13. 1900 U.S. Federal Census, District 6, enumeration District 46, Sheet B3 for Lansing, Eaton, Michigan.
  14. I received the photograph in November 2017 from Robert Mainfort. Original source unknown.
  15. Parashute [sic] Leap Breaks Bonds of Wedlock: Wife Had ‘Show Business on the Brain,’ Says Canadian Soldier in Divorce Plea, Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California), March 29, 1920, p A12. (Received from Robert Mainfort) and Divorces Show Girl: Former Soldier Deserted by Woman Parachute Jumper, The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California), March 30, 1920, p. 23, col. 1.
  16. Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri), May 5, 1920
  17. Denver Post (Denver, Colorado), May 24, 1920, p. 3, col. 1; The Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois), may 24, 1920, p. 1; El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas), May 24, 1920, p. 7, col. 7; Elkhart Truth, May 24, 1920; Kansas City Star, May 24, 1920; Muncie Evening Press (Muncie, Indiana), May 24, 1920, p. 6; The Pantagraph, May 24, 1920, p. 1, col. 6; and San Diego Union, May 24, 1920.
  18. The World’s Most Daring Airwoman is a photo of Ethel Dare (aka Margie Hobbs) on a plane’s wing and the shot of her sitting. Cutline notes she “just passed her 18th birthday” and is of French parentage. The Buffalo Enquirer (Buffalo, New York), July 1, 1920, p. 1. (Same photo used throughout the country multiple times.)
  19. The Davenport Democrat and Leader (aka Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa), Aug. 18, 1920, p. 3.
  20. Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), Oct. 29, 1924, p. 12, which is a legal notice: “Divorce Notice to Susan Margaret Spears, late of Reading, Pa., whereas Earl Spears … has filed a libel in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County of September Term, 1924, No. 20, praying a divorce against you …”
  21. Circus Ring Outdraws Wedding Ring, Charge which notes Earl Spears testified in his divorce suit in Reading (dateline Aug. 15) that Mrs. Susan Margaret Spears “left him to return to the sawdust circle.” She left after “two years of wedded life” that had her talking “incessantly of her love for circus life. Her name on the circuit is Ethel Dare.” The Indiana Gazette on Aug. 15, 1924.
  22. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Aug. 29, 1922, p. 12, cols. 5-6.
  23. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Aug. 29, 1923, p. 13.
  24. Forest Park Review (Forest Park, Illinois), Sept. 24, 1921, p. 1, col. 5-6.
  25. Spectacular Air Derby and Flying Circuit, Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Aug. 26, 1922, p. 10 and p. 12.
  26. Mammoth Air Derby advertisement in Forest Park Review (Forest Park, Illinois), July 7, 1923, p. 8; and Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), July 8, 1923, p. 19.
  27. Davenport Democrat and Leader (Davenport, Iowa), Nov. 17, 1924, p. 12; Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), Nov. 16, 1924.
  28. Back To Earth From Which She Invariably Fled: Funeral Services for Ethel Dare, “Gamest Girl in the World,” Battle Creek Enquirer and The Evening News, Nov. 18, 1924, p. 1, col 3. and p. 12, col. 2.
  29. Dead Aviatrix Not Ethel Dare In Vaud Here, Daily Register, Nov. 17, 1924.
  30. Ethel Dare Alive: Real Parachute Jumper Not Dead As Reported. Variety 77(1), 1924, p. 39. In the brief, it notes that “the real Ethel Dare … is very much alive. She retired from the stunt game in 1922, making her last plane to plane change in Grant Park in that year. The girl killed was a former employee of Ethel Dare’s.” (I received this from Robert Mainfort in November 2017.)
  31. Ethel Munn, not Dare, Parachute Jumper, Dies. The Billboard, Nov. 22, 1924, p. 100
  32. No headline. The Billboard, Dec. 6, 1924, p. 80.
  33. Her Life to Air Science: One More Leap – But Somehow It Was Not To Be, Battle Creek Enquirer on Nov. 17, 1924, p. 1, col. 1.

Please note: Information for this writing is compiled from more than 260 news articles, many of which included duplication and sometimes contradictory information, and advertisements about Ethel Dare performances. These articles were found with assistance from Robert Mainfort, whom I thank for sharing the articles and photographs that I did not have.

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