Clem Sohn, Michigan’s “Bat Man”, 1910-1937
He was Bat Man before “Batman” was even created.
The comic book character “Batman” first appeared in 1939.
Michigan's “Bat Man” began in the 1930s until his death in 1937.
Whether you want to call him 'Bat Man' or 'Birdman' – Charles “Clem” Joseph Sohn was a universal daredevil, born in Fowler, Clinton County, Michigan in 1910. He created his own wing suit that allowed him to glide through the air after jumping out of planes at approximately 20,000 feet. When he was about 1,000 feet from the ground, he opened an attached parachute to safely land.
Clem made his wings from zephyr cloth with steel tubes that formed his 'bat' wings and attached to his arms. His legs had another web-like cloth attached that acted like the tail of a bird (or plane). It's not clear who gave him the name “Bat Man” - it could have been a reporter, critic, observer...or very possibly Clem himself. He was also called “The Batwing Jumper” but more commonly known as the “Bird Man”.
Clem performed his feats of dare-deviltry all over the world. He was injured in London, England when he got tangled up in his parachute. Scrambling, he got his emergency parachute open by 200 feet above-ground and ended up crashing into a taxi, breaking his shoulder.
Undaunted, he kept doing his stunts.
Then, on April 25, 1937 while performing in France, it all came to a crashing halt. During his fall, his parachute failed to open. So did his emergency chute. As 100,000 spectators watched, Clem's life came to an end. He was only 26 years old.
Clem is buried in Most Holy Trinity Cemetery in Fowler.
Upon Clem's death, another Michigan man picked up where Clem left off. Charles Zmuda from Middleton in Gratiot County became Michigan's second “Bat Man”. He had a successful career doing his stunts but only for a few years. He later took a job piloting at American Airlines. He passed away from a heart attack in 1959 at the age of 44 and is buried in Palo Cemetery, Ionia County.
Clem Sohn's original 1930s batwing suit became the model for chutes used by the United States and England for the Special Forces.
Clem Sohn's last words before he made his final leap:
"I feel as safe as you would in your grandmother's kitchen".
Clem Sohn, the Bat Man/Birdman of Michigan
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