Corsicana has a history of interesting characters.
One of the most notable legends is that of the rope-walker, a man who walked a tight rope over an intersection of downtown with a stove on his back. Unfortunately, the rope broke and the walker was crushed, dying shortly after. But, the rope-walker isn’t the only man who was trying to accomplish a unique feat.
A new book chronicles another American dreamer’s journey through Corsicana.
The Man Who Walked Backward, written by Ben Montgomery, details the trials and travels of Plennie Wingo and his dedication to walk backward across the world.
In the mid-1920s Wingo, the owner of a cafe in Abilene, was just another ordinary man who lost everything during the great depression. Wingo had a wife, Idella, and a daughter, Vivian, who he supported.
After the bank took his business, he worked at a different cafe to make ends meet during his time of desperation.
“He was working 10 hours a day, seven days a week, and his take-home pay was a measly 12 bucks,” Montgomery said.
Wingo decided he wanted to do something unconventional to make money. This is when he came up with the idea to walk backward across the globe.
Convincing his family was only part of his plan. Wingo easily convinced young daughter Vivian of his idea. However, Idella was not as enthusiastic about his adventure. After speaking with his physicians and getting the all-clear to begin the walk, Idella was ready for the money to come back into their empty savings account.
He then stumbled upon a magazine advertisement for reflective glasses, usually used for race car drivers and motorcycle riders, and decided they would be the tool he needed to succeed while walking.
“Plennie Wingo is among a long line of Texans who decided to do things differently,” Montgomery said. “He wanted fame and fortune, yes, but he also wanted to see the world and make his mark in an era when so many were struggling to get by. And he did.”
An article in the Wednesday March 4, 1931 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun titled “Reverse walker in Corsicana Tuesday Advertising Show,” promoted Wingo’s walk through town.
While walking through Corsicana and many of his other destinations, Wingo allowed people to try on his glasses, hold his balancing cane and ask questions.
He would often have long conversations with people of the towns he passed through but always remembered his time was precious.
“He’d chat and finally say, ‘well, it has been nice talking to you, but I had better be going. It’s a long way around the world’,” Montgomery said.
After walking for several years Wingo passed through many states including Oklahoma, Missouri, all the way to Boston and then hitched a ride to California where he began his walk back home to Texas. He then went across the Atlantic, through Germany, Turkey and beyond.
Sadly, Wingo never made the kind of money he had originally set out to profit. After forty-five years of walking, he was still looking for a sponsor.
“I hope readers will come to understand that while his stunt was novel, Plennie was a complicated man,” Montgomery said. “His wife and daughter literally suffered while he was gone. These were the hardest years in American history. He left that part out of his memoir.”
Wingo appeared on The Tonight Show and received a newspaper strip feature from “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” He earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest backward walk at 8,000 miles. He also wrote a book documenting his experience.
“He was his story, a thread in the tapestry of his era, and his book, at least, would survive in the dusty bins of a handful of Texas libraries,” Montgomery said.