It never fails to amaze me how research on one subject can often lead to a column on something completely different.
When I was looking for information on Preston Tucker, I stumbled across a story that appeared in the Noblesville Daily Ledger shortly after daredevil stunt car driver Earl “Lucky” Teter was killed during a benefit show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in 1942.
The article pointed out that Teter wasn’t the first famous Noblesville native to die while attempting a dangerous feat. A few years earlier, Dr. Isaac B. Austin, a trustee of Riverside Cemetery, had related the tale of circus acrobat Frank Stark, a daring young man who happens to be buried in Riverside Cemetery.
Stark died in 1862 at the age of 20 (provided his headstone is correct) while attempting to execute a triple somersault over several horses.
According to Dr. Austin, Stark was the son of Jennie Ferguson, owner of Noblesville’s Ferguson House hotel. (If you remember my columns on the Orphan Train, lunch at the Ferguson House was the first stop for the orphans when they arrived here in 1859.)
Since Dr. Austin was one of the city’s leading citizens in his day, I was reasonably sure he was right about Stark’s Noblesville background, but I wanted to verify it for myself, so I went digging through the old newspapers and census records.
The hunt was only partially successful because many newspaper issues from that particular time period are missing.
What I pieced together was that A. Virginia “Jennie” Ferguson and her husband, Archibald G. Ferguson, owned Ferguson House, a hotel located on the southwest corner of Eighth and Conner in the mid-1800s.
Archibald, who served as Hamilton County Sheriff from 1858 to 1860, must have been Jennie’s second (at least) husband because two teenage Starks, George and Mary, appear in the Ferguson household in the 1860 census.
I couldn’t find Frank Stark in that census, but that’s probably because he was traveling with a circus then.
I wish I could tell you how and when he became “Master Frank Stark, the Renowned Double Somersault Thrower,” but that information eluded me.
What I did discover was a St. Louis newspaper’s story about triple somersault attempts that made the rounds of the country in 1887.
That article states that Stark was the first performer to accomplish a triple somersault in public. The feat took place at the Indianapolis fairgrounds and was done to win a $100 bet.
Stark refused the money, however, arguing that he didn’t win it fairly because he’d landed on his hands. When he repeated the leap and tried to land on his feet, he hit his head and died a short time later.
I wonder how much of that account is true, though, because according to it, Stark died in 1870, which I know is incorrect.
Dr. Austin told a slightly different version of the incident. He said Stark attempted the leap three times: the first was successful, the second failed and the third led to his death.
The May 27, 1869 Hamilton County Register notes that the band from Forepaugh’s Menagerie and Circus had paid tribute to Stark the previous evening by playing a dirge over his grave. In fact, Stark was so well known and respected by circus folk, that for years every circus that played Noblesville conducted a similar graveside ceremony in his  honor. 
I found Stark’s grave at Riverside. He’s buried between his brother, George, and stepfather, Archibald, both of whom served in the Union Army during the Civil War. (Poor Jennie! Archibald died in the war less than a year after Frank’s death.)
Thanks to Nancy Massey and Amy Norris for their research help.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Wednesday in The Times. Contact her at