High-Pressure Hijinks

What are the odds this scene is real? Not very good, I'd say. The photo is from 1923. I found it in a book by Mark Sloan titled Hoaxes, Humbugs, and Spectacles. Despite that title, most of the photos in the book are not fake. The majority show circus performers and publicity stunts. Sloan titled this photo "High-Pressure Hijinks." He provides a short caption:

Perhaps this soldier needed a lift. Experimenting with water pressure outside his barracks, he discovered an ingenious alternative to mounted patrol.
(The New York Times; courtesy National Archives and Wide World Photos)

Pressure from a fire hose would be enough to lift a man straight up. Check out this youtube video of a car being lifted by water pressure. But I doubt a man would be strong enough to keep the hose pointed downward. The tendency would be for the hose to kick him straight back. I'm guessing the photo is a composite -- the soldier having been cut-and-pasted onto the background shot.


Posted on Mon Jun 09, 2008


My first impression when I saw this picture was that it was of Buster Keaton, but my small bit of internet research came up with nothing. The year is just about right--can anybody confirm or disconfirm that it's him???
Posted by Gloria  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  09:14 AM
If it is Buster Keaton, then it's probably not a composite shot. Maybe the guy is attached to a wire that's lifting him up.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  09:16 AM
The hose isn't pointed at his center of gravity, so it certainly isn't keeping him up in the air. I'd guess it was a movie stunt, too.
Posted by Terry Austin  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  10:14 AM
My guess would be a very early beta version of Photoshop.
Posted by Gabriel  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  10:28 AM
perhaps the hose is an iron (or other metal) tube made to look like a hose?
Posted by Snowowl  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  04:50 PM
What I see is a picture where the guy might have jumped and been aided by the pressure of the water hose. Why'll I have no idea if the picture is fake or not, it's entirely plausible considering someone with only decent jumping ability.

I assume some people are assuming he's being continually suspended like that? It's a photo, so it might be capturing a jump mid-air. This would make sense of the slightly crooked water.
Posted by Physics Guy  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  05:18 PM
Gowing with Snow's theory of a metal rod, or length of pipe. Tere could even be another length of rod under the blast of water.

Photogaphy of the time wasn't good enough to capture such an action scene without blurring, remember..
Posted by Robin Bobcat  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  05:21 PM
The shadows seem too accurate for cut and paste- just a fairly good jump, I think!
Posted by Chandler  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  06:04 PM
We are not talking about daguerreotypes. Celluloid film had been around for years. The idea of "snapshots" started around 1900.

This camera from 1923 had up to 1/1000 shutter speed.
Posted by Physics Guy  on  Mon Jun 09, 2008  at  06:08 PM
Yeah, I have to agree, he jumped up - that's why his legs are bent (if it was a composite, his legs would be straight). I don't think it's Buster keaton - the face isn't quite right.
Posted by Nona  on  Tue Jun 10, 2008  at  05:37 AM
...A picture could be taken of someone squatting...his legs wouldn't HAVE to be straight. But I am going with him being suspended somehow, or the hose itself being a stationary object... Although, you have to figure if it's stationary, the spray from the hose would be channeled into something, rather than just hitting the mud. Because a continuous stream (from a hose shaped fountain) would leave a decent sized hole in dirt. Not a single splash. Trush me...I've ruined plenty of my mom's gardens from a little zealous watering. It doesn't take very long at all for a strong stream of water to put a hole in the dirt.
Posted by Maegan  on  Tue Jun 10, 2008  at  07:12 AM
>>What I see is a picture where the guy might have jumped and been aided by the pressure of the water hose. Why'll I have no idea if the picture is fake or not, it's entirely plausible considering someone with only decent jumping ability.<<

It looks to me like he's at least 4 or 5 feet in the air. But I think the average person is lucky if they can jump 2 or (at most) 2 1/2 feet in the air. And as Terry pointed out, the hose isn't pointed in the right direction to be giving him any vertical lift.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Jun 10, 2008  at  08:37 AM
Maegan - Assuming they knew they were about to take the photo, isn't it plausible the hose was turned on full blast, he turns it downwards and leaps. The picture is taken within seconds without the need to continually run water (for a fake).

Alex - Considering this was a person of talent and the photo involved jumping, we'll have to assume he had some leaping ability to begin with. I have a 36" vertical leap personally, which is better than average. Lifting my feet up I can clear a platform up to my armpits. That is nearly 5 feet off the ground. The hose would have to provide very little lift to obtain the height pictured. That's part of the beauty of the photo, it makes it LOOK phenomenal. If he straightens his legs, he would look considerably closer to the ground. Show this picture to anyone with jumping ability and they will not be all that impressed, it's easily doable.

And I'd like you to consider when is the last time you were able to jump completely razor straight up into the air? The slight crookedness of the water stream only lends itself to a realistic picture of someone jumping. Watch that video of the car being lifted by firehoses, did they all need to point straight down at exactly 90 degrees?

Honestly, I think this picture could be upgraded to probably real. In fact, I could nearly imitate it with a garden hose. The stance would just be slightly different without some assist from the water pressure.
Posted by Physics Guy  on  Tue Jun 10, 2008  at  02:57 PM
The photo is absolutely, 100%, a hoax!!! Although a wild hose can knock the crap out of a grown man, lifting one off the ground is a whole other story... I graduated from firefighting school, and one of the things they teach you, is how ONE MAN can take control of a wild one!!! We played with the 2.5" hoses and the 4" hoses. Besides, all you gotta do is look at the ground!!! There's not enough water coming out of that hose to accomplish the task the photo suggests. Number two, that hose is not large enough to produce the volume required to lift that fellow off the ground either...
Posted by Christopher  on  Tue Jun 10, 2008  at  04:38 PM
I completely agree with Christopher. Right in the first place you'll notice that there is not enough water on the ground.
It is impossible that he reached such height and all one can see is just a tiny splash.
Posted by Manish  on  Fri Jun 13, 2008  at  08:12 AM
My guess is that it is real, but seriously staged. I doubt that the hose lifted the solider up like that, I think he jumped and the hose lifted only a couple of inches, if at all.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Sat Jun 14, 2008  at  05:11 PM
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