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The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Updated: Jun 18

I'm going to take a little break from Joshua John Moore -- I have found a lot more information about him -- and discuss some newspaper clippings I found for my grandfather, Joshua John's great-grandson, Walter Moore Watts, Sr. Walter is shown above at various ages; the bottom photo also includes his older sister, my namesake, Ruth Elizabeth Watts, and his mother, Mary Moore Watts, in about 1902. Walter was nine years old and Aunt Ruth was thirteen. That's the year Mary left her husband (but never divorced him) and relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, from her hometown of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, with her older brother and sister.

We heard very little about Walter M. Watts, Sr., growing up because my father, Walter M. Watts, Jr., M.D. was estranged from him since 1940. Walter Sr. had an affair with another woman (whom he later married) and his wife, Helen Neely Watts, divorced him. This is covered in Vol. I of my e-book.

A few years after I published my e-book, I found some clippings from the Asheville Citizen-Times that had not been available before. I was amazed to realize that Walter Sr. was an excellent gymnast as a teenager and young man. He was even a trapeze artist! Who knew?

Here are excerpt's from the Asheville Citizen on December 20, 1913. He would have been 18 years old and a senior at Asheville High School:

The balcony of the Y.M.C.A. gymnasium was crowded last night by the spectators who came to attend the exhibition of all the classes under the direction of Harry Dill, physical director at the local association . . .

The feature of the program was the work of Walter Watts on the trapeze. Time and again he made the audience gasp at some of his daring performances, which were loudly applauded. Also the work of Mr. [Harry] Dill and Carlin McIntyre on the parallel bars, the Irish jig given by a class of high school boys, and the work of Watts and Dill on the horizontal bar won generous applause. . .

A few months later, on March 7, 1914, the Asheville Y.M.C.A. put on a circus:

A crowded house greeted the performers in the fourth annual Y.M.C.A. circus at the gymnasium of the association last night. The circus, which began at 8:30 o'clock, was proclaimed by many to be the best that has ever been held here and both the gallery and the outer floor space of the gymnasium were crowded with interested spectators. Generous applause was frequently given to the different performers and many of the numbers on the program were of such daring character that the spectators held their breath for fear of an accident.

The work of Walter Watts on the trapeze and the horizontal bar work of Dill and Watts probably attracted the largest share of attention and the most applause. The work of Watts especially would do credit to many professionals and his exhibitions of strength and agility were revelations to many who attended the performance.

Among the other features worthy of mention was the tumbling act of Watts, Willey, Cooper, Bean, Harris and Dill . . .

Three years later, on March 10, 1917, Walter participated in the Y.M.C.A. circus again. He would have been almost 23 years old, and would marry Helen Neely eight months later in November. He would have been working at the time at his Uncle J. Walter Moore's plumbing store in downtown Asheville.

Walter Watts, the trapeze performer, was "up in the air" during most of his act, but he neither lost his nerve or his balance and his work was above that of the amateur.

He also participated in the high and long diving, whatever that was. (I would also add that I was always terrible at team sports, but was great at gymnastics and tumbling, so maybe that's where I got a little bit of that.)

Later that year the U.S. entered World War I, and Walter volunteered to join the army. He was sent to Georgia for Officer's Training Camp. The following appeared in the Asheville paper on Saturday, July 7:

Asheville Man Lauds Oglethorpe Y.M.C.A.

Walter M. Watts, an Asheville boy who is at the officers' training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, has written an unsolicited letter to Secretary Ed. Brown of the local Y.M.C.A., in which he lauds the Y.M.C.A. and the work it is doing for the boys in the camps.

Following is the letter:

Just a line to wish you success in your campaign to raise money for the army Y.M.C.A.

It is the best work one can boost at the present time. I do not know what I would have done without the Y.M.C.A. at Fort Oglethorpe. It has furnished recreation for the boys that they would otherwise have missed, such as games, reading, music, etc., to say nothing of moving pictures every Saturday night which makes one feel quite at home.

Then, too, the spiritual side is not neglected. Sunday services are held and everything that can be done for the boys is amply attended to.

The writing tables and materials are a great feature of the work, and one fully appreciated by the boys.

At the present writing I am located at Catoosa for a week's firing on the rifle range. We hiked fourteen miles with full equipment and it was a welcome sight to see the Y.M.C.A. banner staring at us and to hear the every-ready Victrola playing as the dust rose over our heads in dense clouds as we marched up to pitch camp.

This part of Georgia is very much like our North Carolina mountain section. Not on as grand a scale, of course, but at the same time a good imitation.

In my opinion the Y.M.C.A. work in the army is absolutely indispensable and ought to be carried to the hightest efficiency possible. I wish you the best of success in raising your part of the $3,000,000 (not sure if this figure is right, but that's what it says).

This is the only time I've read something Walter Watts, Sr., wrote. He was certainly very literate and thoughtful; it was apparently very unusual at that time for the Y.M.C.A. to get an unsolicited letter from a young man.

Walter married Helen later that year on November 15, 1917 at the Neely's Flint Street home. After the wedding, Walter was stationed at Camp Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, and Helen joined him there. They later moved to two more army bases in Louisiana and Arkansas, but within a year he was honorably discharged from the Army due to asthma.

I had no idea he suffered from asthma, which he passed on to his son Walter Jr. and grandson Nelson Watts. I was always told that Walter Jr. was not athletic due to his asthma, and as a consequence disappointed his father.

Here is an article from the Asheville Citizen dated July 3, 1918, which I will show in its entirety:


Given Honorable Discharge on Account of Asthma

After a Year's Service in the Army.

Lieutenant Walter M. Watts. of Asheville, has been honorably discharged from Active service in the United States army on account of asthma to which he has been subject for some years.

Mr. Watts resigned his position with the Moore Plumbing company in May, 1917, and volunteered for service entering the first officers' training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, where he received his commission as first lieutenant, 318 machine gun battalion. After entering the training camp his health improved to such a degree that he seemed likely to throw off his old malady entirely. A few months ago however, after he was transferred to Camp Beauregard, La., the attacks of asthma returned with considerable violence.

Lieutenant Watts was then transferred to Fort Pike, Arkansas, where he spent some weeks in the army hospital under observation. He was notified a few days ago that his malady disqualified him from active service and that he was therefore honorably discharged.

Lieutenant Watts was married November 15 to Miss Helen Neely daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Neely, and they now have returned to Asheville where they will make their home.

Walter Watts, Jr. was born four months later.

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