Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!
DeKalb County has seen its share of adventurous spirits, especially in the realm of transportation, from aviators to designers and drivers of automobiles. One DeKalb County resident had a background in both of those fields: “Wild Bill” Fitzsimmons.
He was born Guy P. Fitzsimmons on October 2, 1891. It was a name he never cared for, later shedding it in favor of “Bill.”
According to late historian John Martin Smith, Bill was “intensely interested in automobiles, motorcycles, and airplanes” from a young age, learning to drive at age 14 and acquiring his own Wagner motorcycle. In 1905, he and a friend assisted with setup and tear-down for a Wright Brothers demonstration and were asked to continue on with the crew—an idea that Bill said was promptly shot down by his father, Enos Fitzsimmons.
“Set my flying back several years,” he said of the decision in John Martin Smith’s 1987 DeKalb County History.
He stayed on the ground for several years after that, road-testing automobiles for various people and companies in Indiana, including Haynes-Apperson, Premier, and the Auburn Automobile Company. A job as automobile dealer Bill Eikenberry’s chauffeur earned him his new name. According to Fitzsimmons, when he came to Auburn to do road-testing for the Auburn Automobile Company, “They didn’t know my name, and I didn’t tell them because I didn’t care for it, so they called me ‘Bill’…” because of his association with Bill Eikenberry, a friend of Morris Eckhart.
In 1921, his interest in flying returned, and he began taking flying lessons in secret, “because in those days, it was thought that anybody who flew an airplane was crazy.” Eventually he started to do stunt flying, the reason for the “Wild” in Wild Bill Fitzsimmons. It was a pursuit he got into for safety reasons, oddly enough.
As Bill put it, “I taught myself acrobatics to try to see if I could get an airplane in a position that I couldn’t recover. . . . They thought I’d lost my mind, but it wasn’t that—I wanted to feel that I couldn’t get an airplane in a position I couldn’t get out of.”
Over the years, Bill taught a few others to fly, took up sky-writing, and began working full-time flying for Rieke. He retired as their chief pilot in 1955, though he continued to fly for fun. He died on September 13, 1985.
Want to see more local history? Feel free to search our online photo database, or head on over to the Genealogy Center’s official Facebook page. You can also check out our “Fitzbob” Collection of c. 1940s aerial photographs taken by Bob Close while Wild Bill piloted the plane.