Shepherd, Dolly (d. 1983)

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Shepherd, Dolly (d. 1983)

British parachutist and balloonist. Born in England; died in 1983.

Known as Britain's "Parachute Queen," Dolly Shepherd was waiting tables at "Ally Pally" in London's Great Hall when celebrated parachutist and balloonist Captain Auguste Gaudron turned up at one of her tables. Purportedly, before Gaudron finished dining, he had convinced the 17-year-old to take to the skies. Shepherd made her first jump from a gas-filled balloon after only 30 minutes of training. According to another version of the story, however, she was attending a London performance of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show in 1903 when she was plucked from the audience by Buffalo Bill himself. She helped him out with a stunt he usually performed with his wife, and in gratitude Cody introduced her to a balloonist. However she got started, Shepherd soon joined a troupe of parachutists which toured Britain performing daredevil jumps before enthralled onlookers. Jumping from hot-air balloons 1,000 feet in the sky and sailing to earth with only a rudimentary wood-and-canvas parachute, she saw some of her fellow parachutists killed in accidents and was herself injured several times. In 1912, a woman with whom she was performing discovered too late that her parachute was faulty, and both jumped with only Shepherd's parachute to protect them. Shepherd ended up badly hurt, perhaps paralyzed, but with the aid of unorthodox treatment was able to walk, and jump, again. Unnerved, however, she finally quit parachuting, and during World War I worked as a driver and mechanic in France. Shepherd chronicled her adventures in the 1997 book When the 'Chute Went Up: Adventures of a Pioneer Lady Parachutist (written with Peter Hearn and Molly Sedgwick ).

sources:

"Books," in This England. Autumn 1997.

suggested reading:

Cadogan, Mary. Women With Wings: Female Flyers in Fact and Fiction. Chicago, IL: Academy, 1993.