by: Wanda Ruegamer
Santa Rosa, California
WHEN I SAW THE AD FOR A FLAGPOLE SITTER IN 1951, my husband bet me I couldn’t get the job. Yet somehow, I beat out five other women who had applied. This was to be a publicity stunt for the grand opening of Montgomery Village, a new shopping center in Santa Rosa, California. It paid well, too—$15 a day —big money then.
My home for 2l days was a 6-by 6-foot glass-enclosed cubicle atop a 40-foot pole. It had a cot, toilet, sink, running water, electricity and a phone. There was no place to stand unless I closed the trapdoor, where I entered the room via a rope ladder.
As I went up the ladder the first time, I was a little nervous about people watching me . It was windy and the pole swayed a little. Three meals a day were delivered by a restaurant and they were delicious—I gained 6 pounds.
I was interviewed by the local radio station every morning, and my phone number was listed in the newspaper. It never stopped ringing. I received fan mail, and people even brought me gifts, including a cocker spaniel, a white rat, magazines, perfume and more food.
1 had man visitors. One night a man showed up with champagne to celebrate his wife having twins at the nearby hospital. A busload of people stopped by from a party nearby and sang “Wanda, we’re always thinking of you, Wanda” to the tune of “Margie”. Another time, a first-grade class visited and sent up little notes asking questions like, “Why are you up there?” and “Do you get lonesome?”
Set a Record
While on my perch, I bought a featherweight portable sewing machine, which I still have. When the salesman climbed the rope ladder to demonstrate it, he said I was the only person in the world who’d ever purchased a sewing machine while sitting on a flagpole.
It was fun to watch the people watching me. It could be dangerous, though. Once a woman who was driving her car was looking up at me as another woman was walking along the sidewalk. The walker had to run to avoid the car when the woman drove right up on the sidewalk!
One time I counted 43 cars that had stopped so their drivers could watch me. When I looked down at people with a pair of binoculars, I found they were using their own binoculars to look back at me! It was very funny.
I even got a marriage proposal, which didn’t sit too well with my husband. And someone actually wrote a poem about me:
An ode to Wanda,
the Flagpole Queen,
the girl with the golden hair,
who soon will view
the village scene
from high in the air.
A penthouse on a length of pipe
will be her new abode.
May her days be full and ripe
and her life be a la mode.
During my stint, I never had time to get bored. I answered fan mail and took a lot of telephone calls. I ended my flagpole stay when I was offered a job in the office of the contractor who was building the shopping center. There was no fanfare when I left the cubicle—just a night out with my husband.
The job was a great experience I’ll never forget. I’ve had so much fun telling the story over the years. Oh, and that bet with my husband? In our 47 years of marriage, he’s never made another wager with me. He said he was afraid to!
Sept./Oct. 2002. (Pg.14.)
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