On April 6, 1923 a young man named Ray Royce arrived in Murfreesboro. Royce touted himself as the “The Human Fly” and began to tell everyone that he was going to climb to the top of the Rutherford County Courthouse using only his hands and bare feet. The eager daredevil produced newspapers detailing other successful climbs and convinced leery city officials to let him climb the courthouse.
After raising $12 from people around town the Fly began his ascent that night in front of 200 people. With a spotlight from a fire engine highlighting his every move, Royce began to shimmy up between the columns of the courthouse. After 30 minutes, the Fly reached the top of the courthouse and straddled the weather vane on top of the cupola as he waved to onlookers below.
Unfortunately for the Human Fly, as he began to make his descent to the top of the clock, a light rain began to fall. He lost his balance in the damp conditions and fell forty feet to the roof.
When paramedics finally reached Royce, they found he had died from a broken neck.
A few days later it was discovered that the Fly’s name wasn’t Ray Royce; it was actually James Dearing. Dearing was a veteran of World War 1 who had recently become estranged from his wife. Having fallen on hard times, the veteran became a vaudeville entertainer and later a steeplejack. James’ body was eventually claimed by his family and taken home and to be buried in St. Louis.
Ever since the tragic fall, shadows have been spotted darting around on the roof of the courthouse late at night. Some have even claimed to see a man in older-style clothing looking out of the cupola on occasion.
If you’d like to learn more about the hauntings in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, please check out our book Southern Ghost Stories: Murfreesboro, Spirits of Stones River.