Published in the January 2018 Stereoscope
Diving Thrills By Patti Simpson
In the 1920’s, Holdrege was the scene of popular auto races organized by “Doc” Carver. The races were held on a dirt track in the northeast part of town, believed to be near what is now 18th Avenue and Lincoln Street. The Holdrege Auto Races had become a big event by the mid 1920’s, and in 1926, it was decided to add additional stunts to further “wow” the crowd. One of the additional attractions at the race grounds in 1926 was the fancy diving of Ernest Borchert, a local resident and engineer. At that time it was not generally known here that Mr. Borchert was an expert diver and his work thrilled the audiences each day for about a half hour, when Ernest demonstrated every dive imaginable from a two and a half somersault, to a John Gibbons special. Mr. Borchert had taken part in the Detroit Daily News aquatic Carnival in the Belle Isle Casino lagoon in 1922, which was witnessed by some ten thousand people and participated in by the great divers of the central states. In that contest, Mr. Borchert won second place. His diving here in Holdrege showed his expert training. His backward dive from the top of the thirty-foot scaffold was especially pretty and well timed. On a side note, my husband, Doug and I met Ernest and his wife, Gladys in the late 1970s when we first moved to Holdrege. At that time Ernest still had a large water tank in his basement where he had rigged up a harness. With the harness on, he was able to swim in the small tank without hitting the sides. He said it was great exercise.The second of the additional stunts in 1926 is still talked about. Before I was involved with the Museum, I heard about it myself. The only first-hand stories one can get today, however, is by reading old newspaper clippings from the Holdrege Citizen, or reading the write-up in the Phelps County History Book. But needless to say, a horse diving off a 40-foot scaffolding with a young, local girl rider clutched on its back was quite an ordeal and a thrill to watch.History tells that in 1926, “Doc” Carver brought in four (some articles say five) horses and two professional diving girls to dive from a homemade 40 ft. scaffold into a water-filled pit below. The rider was to be unaided by saddle stirrups or strappings and must cling to the harness on the horse during the fall. Three dives were held daily during the three day Holdrege Auto Race on September 16th, 17th and 18th. To make the jump more exciting, “Doc” Carver offered $100.00 to any girl in southwest Nebraska who would ride the jumping horse. Holdrege High School’s Miss Jo. C. Ireland accepted the dare, and her jump took place on the last day of the race.The Citizen described the event as follows: “Many thought that Miss Ireland would back out at the last moment, but in this they were doomed to disappointment, for the young lady ascended the scaffold with a firm step and confident look, mounted the snow white Arabian mare and took a strong grip. With breathless and keen interest, six thousand people watched. The horse started and then hesitated with the rider sticking like a leach. Then the horse turned a three-quarters somersault in the air, women in the crowd screamed, but the plucky Miss Ireland stuck to the horse until the surcingle (harness) broke. The horse hit the water first, tail down, and the rider going in at its side, both coming up uninjured. Pandemonium broke loose and there were rumors of a trick horse, etc. Everyone was excited and everyone seemed to see the dive differently than the other. Fully half of the crowd thought the horse lit on his back with the rider underneath, but pictures of the dive show differently.”In a conversation with “Doc” Carver, owner of the horse, he said it was the first time that horse had performed in such a way and the horse was used for the local girl’s ride because he considered it the safest. However, that horse was not ridden from the scaffold by either of the regular girls during the daily events. For that reason there were rumors of it being a trick horse, being kept for such occasions, but this was stoutly denied by Carver. At any rate, it was an unexpected thrill – and as no one was hurt in the accident, it was reported that “everyone was happy.”It’s hard for me to imagine a dirt race track here in Holdrege with six thousand people in attendance, let alone a young girl riding a horse as it jumped off of a forty-foot scaffolding! I can’t imagine what those people were thinking. I’m so glad it turned out for the best, and I’m really glad that we have a photo of the jump to help us envision it.