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The Swinging Abby Saga

Swinging Abby Part 1: The Lightbulb Moment

Whenever I regale someone with the story of two weeks living on a swing set in a public park, it's inevitable that I will be asked "why in the world would you do that?" or "what gave you the idea?" These are actually two different questions with two very different answers. I'll begin with the second one.
The summer of 1979 was a good one for me. I had lost 20 lbs. on my first ever self-imposed diet, had attended and learned a lot from my art teacher's summer class, was regularly adding new items to my Beatles collection and had pen-pals far and wide who shared my interest in that hobby. One afternoon in August I was reading the latest issue of Seventeen magazine and looking at all the fashionable clothes I wanted to wear when a silly little article caught my eye about how summer was almost over and how to enjoy what was left of it. One of the suggestions under "do something crazy" (I'm paraphrasing - I don't actually have the article anymore) was the suggestion "try to break a world record". Now I had always loved reading the Guinness Book of World Records. I also loved swing sets (and roller coasters, but you can't put those in the back yard). A little kernel of an idea began to form and it percolated for several days before I said something to my mom. Honestly? I don't remember how I convinced her to let me go through with it. But I did. Next thing I know, I'm in a small park in Athens Pennsylvania on the evening of August 21st with my family, my aunt Mary Lou and Glenn Rolfe, reporter for the local newspaper, to cover me jumping onto a swing and starting…NOW. Here I am that evening, both before and long after sunset, all fresh-faced and full of energy!

Abby, day one.    Abby, day one evening.

 As to the question of "why?" I could write a bunch of clichés like you only live once or he who hesitates is lost, which are both very true, but the answer is "why not?" Once I get an idea into my head, I'm pretty darned determined to make it happen. Even as a child my response to the word "no" was "don't tell me that", and unless you have a more logical response to my "why not" than "because I said so", rest assured you've wasted your breath with the "no". The bottom line was that I wanted to end the summer with a bang by doing something "wowza" that no one I knew had ever done before**. Something that would be fun, attention-getting, and leave a mark in history. How to do that all in one fell swoop?
Try to break the world's swinging record, of course. Aaaaand here we go!
**Note: my maternal grandfather, John "Freddy" Rumpff, beat me to it. Unbeknownst to me until this saga began, he, his brother, and two friends tried to set a record in 1931 for keeping a bicycle going. Here they are in a newspaper article. The things you learn when you set a strange goal!

Grandpa John Rumpff, 1931 bike record.

Swinging Abby Part 2: The Beginning, Revisited

"What's it like to sit on a swing for two weeks? I'm not sure I can really say. It all seems like a dream now. The events of the days and nights, whether big or insignificant, all seem to run together like watercolors on a wet canvas. Each day seemed the same, yet in its own way each day was very different. Every few days the park seemed to change and look different. The wind blew from a different direction. The people looked different. Even I felt different. Only one thing remained the same: that constant back and forth, back and forth, back and forth motion that soon became a habit. A way of life. The only thing in the world that was real…"
I wrote the above shortly after the end of the saga, and it's as true today as it was then. When you're trapped in a device and your entire world shrinks to about twelve square feet (no, I'm not going to bother with that pesky 3rd dimension - you know what I mean) your outlook on your place within it and that of those around you changes drastically. Adapting to strange, new and sometimes unexpected circumstances was the only way to survive and stay sane. Well, as sane as one can be while doing a pretty insane thing.

Shortly into the wee hours of the endeavor I met my first two enemies. They were named Cold and Damp. Here I am warding them off the next morning with three sweaters, a knit hat, jeans and a blanket. I guessed this was what it felt like to swing in the 1800's wearing big dresses and petticoats, but obviously I'm pretty comfortable with it. Note the crossed feet. All I needed was a footstool and an endtable.

Keeping warm in the morning chill.

Pretty early on I also met my first new friends. They were named Policemen and Reporters. They would visit every day, not always in conjunction with Cold and Damp, but nevertheless they cheered me up despite Cold and Damp's attempts to depress me into giving up. It's fun having people interested in what you're doing, and I could not have imagined the attention with which I was about to be showered. Pretty heady stuff for a kid who turns fifteen today.
Oh yes, did I mention I spent my 15th birthday on a swing? Yeah. That's a party you don't get to throw every day. Just be careful you don't drop the cake!

Cake break!

"That whole afternoon now seems like a blurred mixture of strawberry bubblegum, cramped legs and warm sun. It felt like an all-day picnic, with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends there constantly."

Or so I wrote in my little memoirs. Ah, the simple things. They were about to change forever.

Swinging Abby Part 3: Fame and Freebies

There are some things for which you make plans then don't do, then there are things you do without a plan. How much planning is needed, after all, to sit on a swing? You just do it, right? Well, no you don't. But we didn't realize that when my teen angst-filled whines of "But you never let me do anything!" caused my mom to give into my crazy idea (or so she tells me - so now you know the rest of that story!) Fortunately, others did realize it. Especially once word got out.
And word got out pretty darn quickly. We had contacted one local newspaper, The Evening Times, the day I began (mainly to have an official witness) and in no time the battle among the press to get the scoop began. Next thing I know, I'm being interviewed by people from no less than three newspapers, with updates published almost daily. Here's the first two installments of the breaking news (they both kind of say the same thing so I won't repeat the text).

The Evening Times, front page August 22, 1979

The Evening Times Aug 22 1979

The Star Gazette, front page August 23, 1979

The Star Gazette Aug 23 1979

The effect was immediate. On day three, people began coming to the park in car-loads, and what had been a concern that there would not be enough witnesses to keep the log book properly updated turned into a concern that they would get tired of waiting in line and leave before signing. (While Guinness was then very tight-lipped about their requirements and would not send a representative, they did say we needed an ongoing record of witnesses. I racked up 2,493 signatures before it was over.)
Additionally, it seemed every business in town wanted to get in on the game by offering freebies. I would gain some new t-shirts and never have to worry where my next meal was coming from. Everyone wanted to be the first to feed me, and make sure the fact that they had done so was mentioned in my interviews.
So, the game was on. I was holding up well, still raring to go, and the entire Susquehanna Valley was rallying behind me. There was no turning back. But some of the biggest and best was yet to come!

Swinging Abby Part 4: Home, Home on the Swing

Day three of the swinging saga proved to be a very busy one indeed. Besides the excitement of people bringing me newspapers to show me the articles that had been printed and various restaurants (McDonalds, Friant's, Pudgies and Park Bakery) offering in one fell swoop to completely undo my precious dieting efforts by offering fast-food heaven for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the park I had already come to think of as "home" was about to become so for real: a camper was being donated by Jim's Marine.
Yes, you read that right - a camper, for myself and my family to live in rather than waste valuable time driving to our home several miles away. And it had a toilet! You mean you didn't wonder yet where I was peeing all this time? Fortunately the Spencers, who lived across the street, had been letting me use their bathroom. It was convenient, but time consuming, even to be driven there during my breaks (because walking I was not so good at during this point in time) and I tell ya, you learn to pee REALLY FAST when every second counts! Well, none of that any more. Here's a picture of our temporary home-away-from-home. Note the sign leaning against it, just behind the bicycle - an advertisement for the business who donated.

Our cars and camper.

So now I had a place to potty and sleep just a few dozen yards from my swing. If only the weather would continue to cooperate all would be well. Honestly I had not given much thought as to what I would do if it rained. Use an umbrella? Wrap myself in plastic? Quit? When you're living in the strange reality of setting an endurance record, you don't think much about such things, just trying to make it from one five-minute break 'til the next. Here I am, doing just that on day three, swinging freely in the sun with my mom Carolyn (and apparently unable to flash a peace-sign with only one hand).

Mom and me.

But fortunately other people whose thoughts weren't so micro-focused did think about it, and shortly after the camper arrived, the second life-saver was donated by the Athens Volunteer Fire Department: a big green tarp tenting over the swing set to keep the rain off my parade. Here I am with Mom inside my little domain.

Swing tent.

At first it felt strange to be boxed in by a tarp. It was like swinging in a closet. I had to get used to my vision being so limited. If someone came in a car, I couldn't tell who it was until they were standing right in front of me. Eventually though, the tarp-covered swing became a small home. No wonder, I was in it often enough!
Whenever I remember this crazy two-week event, it's the view from inside my tent-home that I see. No, I couldn't swing as high as I had been, but that didn't matter so long as the swing was moving. What it really did was delineate where my space was and what was allowed to go on within it, something I didn't realize at first but which became very obvious as time went on and delirium set in. In the meantime, did it work? I got my answer that very evening when a storm moved in. I wrote:
About 1:00am I had the opportunity to see how well that tarp really worked: so-so was the answer. The water on the ground kept running in and forming a pond under me! The first experience of a rain storm was fun though. Something different, anyway.
Fun. That was a word to be used with caution. I would soon find out that many things about this endeavor were decidedly not going to be fun. I had already met my enemies Cold and Damp. The next two were just around the corner.

Swinging Abby Part 5: I'm Swiiinging in the Rain…Just Deeealing With the Pain!

A common question I'm asked whenever I mention my swinging saga is "Didn't your butt get sore?" While it's true that the majority of my time was spent sitting, oddly enough the answer to that question is "No". Really, it didn't. However, just about every other part of my body did. And as each new group of muscles protested, it created a dilemma that required a little creativity to solve.
The initial alteration to the swing was made the very first evening. While strap swings are comfortable for the normal amount of time one might enjoy swinging in them, they're decidedly not meant for the long haul. It took only a couple hours for me to discover that if something wasn't done quickly, my legs would never be useful as anything besides rather large, gangly appendages to keep my feet attached to my body. They ached so badly I could barely stand, much less walk, when my five-minute break rolled around. So my father, Bob, took a large piece of wood and jammed it between the chains, topped by two pieces of foam egg-crate packing, covered with a towel. Voilà: a cushioned seat that didn't compress my legs together, rendering them useless.
By day three a new problem presented itself. No, not blisters on my hands as I had feared. Rather, the insides of my elbows were black-n-blue all up and down the veins from holding onto the chains by simply wrapping my arms around them to keep from falling backwards.  So, out came the egg crate foam once more, wrapped around the chains and tied on with clothesline. Problem solved, Abby doesn't look like a heroin junkie anymore!
Unfortunately, my legs must have been feeling neglected because they came back to haunt me again. While I could now sit more comfortably, it was realized that the constant dangling was still making walking quite an endeavor whenever the swing stopped. Out came a piece of rope and a small board, creating a footrest (remember my remark about needing only a footstool? Well, there ya go!). Last but not least, a beach towel was tied between the chains to form a backrest. By day five my swing-contraption looked like this:

The Contraption

Comfy as a La-Z-Boy recliner!

La-Z-boy swing.

So with my enemy Pain soundly defeated, the next thing to endure was…Rain. And rain it did. Sometimes all day long, and despite the tarp-tent, it was often pretty miserable. My knees would get wet on the forward swing so I had to either cover them with the ever-present yellow raincoat (seen on the bench in the picture above) or swing lower, which I didn't like doing for fear of falling asleep (oh yes, more about that later). Additionally, the water would pool into small ponds beneath the tarp, making it difficult to get on or off the swing without getting my feet wet. During those two weeks I also weathered a major thunderstorm with high winds, making it nearly impossible to stay dry. I was just glad at some points that it didn't snow.
But no matter how bad it got, I refused to stop, and someone was always there with me. Even visitors came in the rain. Some even came to entertain! The moral support coming from all sides, friends, family and strangers alike was amazing. Next time, we'll take a look at some of the people who kept me going when the going got tough.

Swinging Abby Part 6: A Captive Audience

With all the newspaper coverage those first few days on the swing, it wasn't hard to keep the visitors coming and the signatures filling the log book at regular intervals. Just a quick glance at the first notebook and I count over 100 names over the course of a single day, and that was early on in the game.

With that many people coming and going each day, it was sometimes difficult to tell apart spectators from spectacle, and I was having as much fun watching the watchers as they were watching me. Especially when they came to entertain. From my mom's diary:
08/25: Abby was serenaded for over an hour last night, approx. 1:30am - 2:45am, by five prominent Sayre residents. See book and times for names.*
08/27: Today a young man was here and played guitar and sang for Abby.**
08/29: The Statesmen, a barbershop music group, were here tonight (about 25 men) and sang to Abby for about an hour. She really liked it.

I did. Here's a picture of the guys, and myself and Dad watching.

Abby and Bob Geiger.    The Statesmen's Choir   
Then there were the non-entertainers, but still visitors who shook things up and made the time pass more quickly. Groups of kids would come on bicycles to see how I was doing, play on the equipment, and generally make me laugh. Two friends from school twice rode their horses to come visit. Horses! Cousins enjoying the last couple weeks of summer would come and hang out, and relatives from as far away as Allentown PA came to see me and join in the general mayhem that was my home in the park.

Horseback and bicycle visitors.

Debbie, Sam and Scott stopping by to brighten my day.

Uncle Kenny Bryfogle

Great uncle Kenny Bryfogle, all the way from Allentown to the monkey-bars!

Late night visitors were some of the most important, when it was dark, quiet, and getting difficult to stay awake. A young man by the name of Dave often stopped by on his motorcycle well after midnight, which you must understand was unfathomably awesome to my teenage self, he being one of the nicest and most handsome guys in high school. Mentioned more than once in my memoirs, his visits were a sure-fire way to perk me up when the sandman was trying to topple me from my unstable perch. Additionally, complete strangers would visit before going to bed to see if there was anything I needed. I once asked for ice cream and found myself presented with a serving in a bowl as big as my head! All of these things, as well as my "Faithful Regulars"(more about them later) helped to break up the monotony of the sway and keep spirits up for everyone, which would become very important with the passing of that the first week, after which the real meaning of the word "endurance" would begin to rear its ugly head.
*If I'm reading the signatures correctly, they are: Tom Bernatavitz, Claude Altieri, Donald McCutcheon, Leo Wisniewski and Bob Lang.
**I believe the man's name was Kerry Hyatt, from Athens PA.

Swinging Abby Part 7: The Sign of Sleepiness

I don't remember who came up with the idea, and believe it or not it's not mentioned either in my mom's diary or my memoirs, but The Sign made an appearance in the park quite early on. At exactly 65 hours into the attempt, to be exact. My father made it one day from a piece of plywood and propped it against a large tree near the swing, visible to the passersby on South River Street.

The Sign

Every five hours, another layer of red was painted in, giving everyone an idea of where I was in the endeavor and how much longer I had to go. People would drive by and honk their horn, and at one point my sister Melynda was utilized as a stage-hand to hold the darn thing next to me for a newspaper photograph.

Abby with The Sign.

 The Star-Gazette, Tuesday August 28th, 1979.

Everyone loved the sign. I rarely got to see it, and that was probably a good thing as it was too much a reminder of how long I'd been away from my bed. After a week and hundreds of 'miles' on the swing, things were getting a little…strange. My memoirs end abruptly on Tuesday August 28th, and while part of that might've been because of teenage attention deficit, I think some was due to the fact that I really couldn't actually remember much of that second week of my life except the big highlights. Here's another picture of myself and Melynda, taken the same day as above, but without the excitement of a reporter nearby to perk me up a bit. Notice anything unusual about it?

Sleepy Abby with Melynda.

Aside from the weariness evident on my face, one of the effects of severe sleep deprivation is evident: the fact that I'm extremely over-dressed compared to my sister. I do somewhat remember this picture being taken, and recall being chilled to the bone despite it being a warm, sunny day.
Other side effects manifested themselves in ways that people often didn't understand and over which major disagreements would erupt, but which from a medical point of view are probably entirely logical. I insisted that the other swings on the swing set be tied up so no one could use them. Why? Because having people swinging next to me was not only disorienting but was also enough to make me jump out of my skin with irritation. I developed a strange fear of dogs and small children, afraid they would get too close and bump me off the swing, ruining my attempt. In short, anyone or anything being allowed anywhere near me had almost become a privilege because my small space inside the tarp was the only thing I could control. I took to braiding my hair because even one stray strand fluttering within my vision would set me off into a rage. At night I was sure new lights had been put in the park, which disappeared when I turned to look at them. Voices of people speaking to me sounded as though they came through tunnels, and more than once I nearly tumbled from the swing, asleep with my eyes wide open. It was a rather disconcerting experience, to say the least. How much rest was I actually getting? From my mom's diary, dated 8/31, ten days into the saga (the underlines are hers, which are actually in triplicate in the notebook):
Abby has been very sleepy all evening. She doesn't seem to hear what is said to her and doesn't always respond; few smiles were seen from her. I figured out that she has had approx. 31 hours of sleep since 8/20 - the night before she started swinging.
Thirty-one hours in ten days. Wow, keep that in mind the next time your teenager is a grouch when rising at noon after a twelve-hour crash. The Beatles' "I'm So Tired", often heard playing on my small tape-recorder, became my theme song, and to this day it causes feelings of sleepy swaying whenever I hear it. Utter exhaustion, puntuated by bouts of manic clarity, haunted me for the remainder of the endeavor, and there was absolutely nothing anyone could do about it except try to cope. Coffee wasn't yet on my menu, and if I recall correctly it wasn't allowed by Guinness anyway. Sometimes the hours passed like swimming through mud.

In the meantime, the daily newspaper coverage continued: The Evening Times, Star-Gazette, The Daily Review - even the Associated Press picked it up as people as far away as Montreal and Louisiana told locals they'd heard about me. Additionally, radio (WQIX-WQIT) and television (WENY) interviews were done. Perk-me-ups abounded: my mom brought my cat Puddy to visit, as he was himself out of sorts in my absence; friends and family called on the phone to say hi and lend words of encouragement (oh, did I mention a land-line was installed next to my swing? Yes. Who wants to order pizza?!); Athens resident Larry Riley lent his battery-operated TV so we could watch me on the news (Local Girl Swings To Fame - film at eleven!); and Gene Paluzzi wrote an editorial encouraging people to visit.

Gene Paluzzi Evening Times editorial.

The editorial was well-timed. Not that I had a lack of visitors, but the "Firemen's Septemberfest", a carnival that took place at the Athen's Fire Department across the park, was to begin in two days.
And I was about to become one of the main attractions.

Swinging Abby Part 8: The Goldfish Bowl

I didn't plan my swinging endeavor with any schedule in mind except to finish before school started. There was no looking into what was going on in the Valley during the roughly 200+ hours I planned to spend in the park. So when news of the Septemberfest trickled into my consciousness, I didn't really think much of it at first other than to wonder if I'd be able to see it from my vantage point and wishing I could go play on the rides.
But, as had happened in the past, others were thinking ahead for me. Hundreds of people would be converging on the Athens Fire Department/Boro Hall during the weekend of August 31st, and there would be no shortage of curious onlookers. I don't know whose idea it was, but next thing I knew I was segregated from the park by a yellow nylon rope. From my mom's diary:
Fireman's Septemberfest started today. Abby has been roped off so that only a few "special" friends and family can get close to her. The firemen put the rope up this AM. Lots of people visited today plus 2 newspaper reporters (Beth Weatherby, Star-Gazette and Kevin Cole, Evening Times); WSKG-TV Channel 46 and finally WATS radio.

 Camp Swinging Abby
Welcome to Camp Swinging Abby!

Soon a path was worn in the grass by people lining up against the rope to see the teenager swaying under a green tarp. They would stand and stare, little kids would ask "Mommy, what's she doing?", people would smile and ask questions, and I would answer them over and over. The attention was both wonderful and terrible at the same time - there was no way to shake the "side-show freak" aura the whole thing had about it.

Sign here please!
Aunt Mary Lou Rumpff manning the logbook. Sign here, please!

Mommy, what's she doing?
Aunt Mary Lou shedding some light on the issue. If you know any of these people, contact me!

Everything I did and said was under a microscope and there was no escape. Additionally, this was all going on when the effects of sleep-deprivation were at an all-time high! When I should have been thrilled to greet people coming to see me and sign my log book, it was often all I could do not to abandon swing and stomp off into the trailer in classic teen-angsty fashion.

Miss Congeniality. Not!
Smile Abby…  "I AM!!"
(Note the duckie diaper-pin holding the jacket closed - evidence of a neurotic clothing-control issue.)

This was local fame, my first ever taste of it, and I was not at all prepared. Looking back, I think some of it may have been a feeling that perhaps I wasn't living up to what people were expecting, and that fear becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or maybe I was just having a "fat day". Either way, Mom tells me I was sometimes no less than an absolute thing-that-rhymes-with-witch, and for that I must apologize to anyone reading this that was there and took the brunt of that behavior. If I could do a do-over on that aspect, I certainly would!
The Septemberfest lasted two days, eating up the last bit of energy and excitement any of us could handle, but its timing was fortuitous to allow the whole thing to end with a bang. Obviously the most common question I was now being asked was "When are you going to stop?"
When was I?


Swinging Abby Part 9: Bubblegum Afternoons

Reporters, TV, radio, visitors, spectacles, free food, kudos, ovations and obstacles. Those are the things that stand out in memories and memoirs of my two weeks on a swing.
But the majority of the time spent in the park was none of these things. It was the endless hours from which the word "endurance" gets its meaning in the term "endurance record". Hours when no visitors came. Hours when even my family wasn't there. Hours of chewing strawberry-flavored bubblegum to avoid boredom-induced snacking, watching strangers play tennis on the court nearby, and counting the cars passing on River Street. Hours of back-and-forth and back-and-forth that seemed to drag on for forever, watching the watch count down to the next five minute break during which at the very least I could stand somewhere else and see the park from a different point of reference.
Mundane things stood out as highly entertaining. A random snippet of memoir entries:

I entertained myself by singing Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, although it wasn't quite the same without the Beatles singing along with me.
I remember watching a little kid from Athens by the name of Shawn Rosh sign his name in the logbook in big kindergarten-scrawl letters, and his father having to write in his last name.

Shawn Rosh logbook entry.
I still remember it, and can even find it in the logbook.

And there was one moment of a scare during which I thought I was going to lose the swing. How I happened to look up and see the bolt working its way loose I have no idea, but had I not the entire thing would have ended with a nasty bump! The incident made the news, along with…what else, a bubblegum photograph.

Blowing bubbles.
This made the door of my orthodontist's office and got me a lecture about braces and gum. Oh, and my sister's opinion of me hasn't changed much over the years. Ha!

But mostly I was just marking time. Lots of it. Two more entries that pretty much sum up the average day:
Tuesday the 28th. After the usual morning confusion, I was back in the familiar seat at 6:30. Not much happened that morning. Not too many unusual visitors either. I thought this was going to be a long day.

Making braids.
Morning grooming - putting the hair in order. This will keep me busy for a few minutes!

It rained and rained and rained…back and forth, back and forth. The monotonous sound of rain, a steadily growing pond beneath the swing, watching Dave talk to my dad…how many more minutes until my break?
These were the hours when those folks known as "The Regulars" made their presence indispensible. Some were there constantly, some were just daily visitors. But they kept up my spirits and helped out whenever and however they could. Next time we'll take a look at these important people behind the scenes. In the meantime, here's a great photo of a typical bubblegum afternoon of swing, sun and sidekicks.

Bubblegum afternoon.
Pat Geiger and Tracy Cole hang out on the monkey bars while Dad (his right foot visible) sits with me under the tarp.

Swinging Abby Part 10: The Peeps Behind the Curtain

When I set out to stake my claim as an endurance record holder, I assumed the only things I would need would be determination and patience. Being rather a loner at heart, it was the perfect endeavor. After all, I was the only person who had to do anything, right?. I had to make the choice, I had to keep the swing moving, I had to decide whether to take my break or skip it, I had to fight off the fatigue and deal with the discomfort. I was the one doing this, making the sacrifice. Right?
Well, right…but although I knew I wouldn't be able to do it ALL alone, I hadn't realized how many other people would be needed to make it happen. People who organized their entire day around "Abby at the park" and contributed their time in ways I could not have imagined while I sat in my bedroom reading that silly Seventeen magazine.
There's an entry in my mom's diary dated 8/24, only three days into the stunt. It reads:
"11:45 AM - Raining again. Abby is holding up very well (not sure if parents are)."
For me, it was summer vacation, and my odd start date of Tuesday August 21st was only due only to the fact that I had to squeeze in the necessary hours to beat the record before school started. But for my parents, vacation (whatever little they took of it that summer) was over and paying the bills didn't take a break for such silliness. While I couldn't be left alone (not just out of parental concern and safety reasons - Guinness required that an adult witness be present at all times), they still had to go to work, do chores, and take care of my younger sister Melynda, all while living most of their off-work hours in a public park and doing the meet-n-greet with double-plus dozens of visitors on a daily basis. You know, when you're fifteen, you kind of just expect that your parents will be around to "take care of things". Well, they did! They were always there when they could be, and as I remember they did a good job of balancing the encouragement to keep going with concern for my wellbeing, a thin line to walk with anyone, much less tired teenager on a roller-coaster ride to notoriety!
Other relatives and friends played a huge roll in keeping me going as well as taking care of my needs. My wonderful and hilarious aunt Mary Lou Rumpff, along with her friends Pat (Cole) Westbrook and Pat's sons Raymond and Tracy (always good for rainy day entertainment!), along with Peg and Jim McCracken were practically a surrogate family for me and could always be found at The Picnic Table, manning the logbook, keeping track of my breaks, and waiting on me whenever I needed something (which could be anything from a tissue, to my jacket, to the lunch I'd just ordered from McDonalds.) From Mom's diary:
Mary Lou and Pat are here daily when we're working. Don't know what we would do without them and Peg and Jim McCracken! Those four people have been with Abby thru all hours of day and night and thru all the rain we've had.
Then there were those who could be counted on with clockwork precision to show up. From my memoirs:
A lot of my Mom & Dad's friends from work always came by to see me. I especially liked my mom's friends Sherry Creedon and Barb Janiak because they always had something encouraging or funny to say.
Stan & Barb Janiak came by. Everyone was sitting on the little animals, singing songs. Personally I thought they were a little fruity!
Looking back, it's possible they'd been drinking something fruity...after all, my folks and the support staff needed their entertainment as well! Seriously though, having "The Regulars" was so important that my mom made a list of them, and if I recall correctly I sent thank-yous to everyone after it was over. From just making sure the logbook didn't go too long without a signing late at night, to bringing snacks, or just sitting with me until the 'next shift' came along, these people went above and beyond to make sure everything ran smoothly. It could not have been done without them. So for the first time, here's the list of "The Regulars" - VIPs for all the world to see.
My parents, Bob and Carolyn Geiger
My aunt Mary Lou Rumpff
Pat (Cole) Westbrook and Raymond and Tracy Cole
Peg and Jim McCracken
Paul and Mandy Bizilia
Sherry Creedon
Stan and Barb Janiak
John and Sally Clapp
Eleanor and Jim Bowen
Joyce and Omer Croteau
Dale Ely
Vicki Blackman

You guys are OK!!

And now back to that all-important question: "So, Abby...when are you going to stop?"


Swinging Abby Part 11: Swinging High and Smiling Happily

After nearly two weeks on the swing, living in the park was almost becoming normal. With the worst of the problems behind me, I was actually starting to get a second wind. I felt like I could swing forever. By now, the entire Valley (Sayre & Athens PA and Waverly NY, as well as the greater surrounding area and more) knew about the endeavor and a good-sized portion of the residents had stopped by to see the spectacle for themselves. Conversations overheard everywhere, from the local pharmacy to the pubs, had my name in them. Indeed, I found out people were actually placing bets on whether I'd finish, and not cheap ones either!

Talk of the Town.
The community support was an unexpected, humbling and amazing thing.

But it had to end sometime.
No one knew exactly when I was going to stop. Even I didn't. I only knew that once I'd passed the then-current record of 182 hours, there was no point in stopping at 183. Or 193. Or even 203. The picture of The Sign says it all. I stayed on the swing so long, I ran out of thermometer.

The Sign overfloweth.
Should've left a little more room at the top there, Dad. 

And how do you celebrate passing a current world record in anything? With cake, of course!

Abby cake.
I don't remember who made this, but my piece was of my face.

It was getting to the point where pushing it to the furthest extreme was becoming half the fun. Maybe I could even delay going to school! Honestly, I don't think the teachers would've minded as much as my parents.

Abby the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going and going...
She just keeps going, and going, and going...

But it had to end sometime.
The last day was a Monday. Upon greeting the swing at 6:00am, I still had not divulged nor even decided exactly when I would hop off for the last time. It was like a game now. Keep going…keep going…sometime soon…not just yet…very soon…
9/3/79 6:55 AM - The last day. Abby says she's getting off late this afternoon. We (all) are looking forward to going home.
With Mom packing things up and Dad going home to shower and prepare for the day, the first thing I decided was that unless a downpour was expected, the tarp had to go. Fortunately, the clouds cooperated and the Athens Fire Department came over and dismantled my little tent-home. It was pretty disorienting at first to have so much open space again, and the evidence of how long we had been there was visible on the ground, now grass-free in the semi-oval area surrounding my side of the swing set.

Grinning Abby
They took my house, but I don't care!

Armed with plenty of bubblegum, I all but flew through the air once again as visitors came and went. Relatives and Regulars made appearances, as did Randoms: Shelly Strange, Rolfe Hunt, Jean Wells, Dick Selleck, Robert McCarthy, Linda Fisk, Peg Bockstoce, Ricky Mosher, Nancy Riley and Bryan Husick, just to name a few from each page of the logbook. Reporters were there as well throughout the day, but since I couldn't give them a time when I would stop, there are no "She's done!" photos. (Ok, one…but we'll review that later.)
I had some lunch and continued on. cream.
My last free McDonald's food. Thank you Micky Dee's!

 I really didn't want to stop. I didn't! It was like starting all over again; the sky and freedom, the excitement and anticipation. I was reminded I'd said "sometime this afternoon", but suppertime neared and still I kept going. "When, Abby? When?"
"Pretty soon. No, I don't want a break. Next time I get off, it's for good. No…not yet! Pretty soon…"
7:00pm neared and, with people getting antsy, I finally announced that I would quit before it got dark. Not at seven though. No, not at eight either. Somewhere in between, I don't want an obvious or even number. That's boring. "Yes, I'll let you know. Let's get a group shot in the meantime!"

Swinging family.
Once more, in unison!  L to R: Dad Bob, Sister Melynda, Mom Carolyn and me.

At 7:30 PM my dad signed the logbook for the last time - a rare occasion where I can see his cursive autograph. Tick…tock…tick…tock… The swing slowed. Tick…tock…tick…tock… Lower…a little lower… Tick…tock…
"Ok everyone! Watch!..."
I jumped off the swing. The small crowd burst into applause. I went to the logbook and signed it myself for the first time at exactly 7:33pm, finishing with a grand total of 238 hours and 20 minutes. Then I ran around the park. I went down the slide. I played on the little animals. I did cartwheels. I hugged my parents and ran around some more. I hopped aboard one of the other swings and swung facing in the opposite direction just for the hell of it. I moved to the next swing, then the next one, then back onto my own contraption, much to the amusement of the crowd. It was over. I was done. I didn't have to do it anymore. But I also would never do it again. And I wasn't quite sure how to feel about that…
The weather is beginning to look a little better at the moment. I hope it clears- Abby wants the tarp off so she can end this marathon the way she started; swinging high and smiling happily.

We made it!

Swinging Abby Part 12: The Aftermath

Dahnt-dah-dah -DAH!!
It was over.
I was done.
Now it was up to Guinness.

But in the meantime, other things transpired, not the least of which was sleep, something I think I did for a good fourteen hours if memory serves. The next day, my sophomore year of school began, and the during the opening day assembly the principal called me up onto the stage for public acknowledgement. There was no hiding. Everywhere I went, people recognized me, and its effect on school life was…well, that's a whole nother story.
Of course, newspaper articles were written about my completion of the marathon. As mentioned before, no reporters were there for the end of my endeavor because I stubbornly refused to give a precise quitting time. In retrospect, I would do that differently now. Not for the bravado of having cameras clicking as I removed my derrière from The Contraption for the last time, but to at least have legitimate photos of the momentous occasion. (Note - below I transscribed the article because the scan was too hard to read.)

The "trophy jump".

The Evening Times, September 4th, 1979.
By Gary Vangorder

                "She can't talk right now, she's asleep."
                And Abby Geiger, the 15-year-old tower of strength who stayed on a swing for 14 days, deserves all the sleep she can get.
                "She almost fell asleep in the car on the way home," said 11-year-old sister Melynda. "But she was pretty happy when she got off the swing, she was running around and even went down the slide at the park."
                Abby's attempt to gain entry to the Guinness Book of World Records began two weeks ago in the Athens Borough Park. Taking five minute rest breaks every two hours and sleeping for only four hours each night, the Sayre High School sophomore logged over 230 hours on the swing.
                Abby swung past the previous record of 182 hours (set in 1977 by two Californians) Friday afternoon, but decided to stay on the swing through the Labor Day weekend to ensure the legitimacy of her feat.
                But there is some uncertainty as to whether the Guinness people in London will recognize the effort worthy of a niche in their world famous publication.
                "We are so flooded with notification of new records that it is impossible for our staff, much as we'd like to, to go out and check on some of these things ourselves," said Guinness Correspondence Editor Colin Smith in a telephone interview today. "We must depend on written resumes, other outside information, or legitimate log books for verification."
                "Of course, much depends on the quality and the difficulty of the task, but in general we require a good deal of verification before recognizing a feat," Smith said.
                Smith added that when the Geigers contact his office (as they have indicated they will) research will be done as to the validity of their claim and the circumstances surrounding the Californian record.
                "It's quite a simple process really," Smith said. "We need sufficient information that can be verified concerning the feat. Newspaper accounts and photos help also."
                There has been no shortage of coverage since Abby began her record breaking attempt, and her sister says that the extensive coverage may prove helpful. "We're going to send them the signatures (over 2,830) too," she said.
                Throughout the entire ordeal Abby remained confident and, amazingly, cheerful. She was aided by the constant companionship of her parents, the installation of a telephone near the swing, the establishment of a tarpaulin over her head, and a trailer to rest in.
                "It's been fun," Abby said earlier in the week. "And I won't hate swinging after I'm through. People have been really nice. Really helpful."
                "If the record qualifies, it will still be a bit late for the 1980 American edition of the book (the 18th U.S. edition will be available next month)" Smith said. "Some of the calls we get don't turn out, but most are indeed legitimate. I trust this one is too, but proper verification will attest to that," he added.
                Will Melynda Geiger carry on with a feat similar to her sister's?
                "Oh, maybe. But I won't know until I try. That's what Abby said too."

The article is great, but the photo is devoid of reality, having been taken nearly an hour after I had finished (notice the crowd has dissipated). However, there's one thing I like about it: it's the only photo I have of MY view of the park (the slide!), because it was taken with me jumping off the wrong side of the swing in order to have the fading sunlight illuminate us. We were all, to be honest, less than thrilled with the schmaltzy make-believe, but I guess when you're a celebrity, no matter how major or minor, sometimes you just have to oblige and smile for the fans...and the folks who sell newspapers. So I did. (And there's other articles, but they all pretty much say the same thing, so I won't bore you with repetition.)
Now the congratulations began rolling in! Within a week I received a letter from Congressman Joseph M. McDade. Wow, that's something one doesn't get in the mail every day.

Letter from Congressman McDade.

I also received one from Athens Mayor Laurence E. Canavan.

Letter from Mayor Canavan.

The Athens Chamber of Commerce also presented me with a plaque, necessitating a visit the park for a photo op.

Athens Chamber of Commerce presentation.
Look everyone, no braids!

Nice! But...check out that photo again. Something's awry. This was taken where it all happened, and there should be two swings behind us. Mine and the one that hung to my right, which was often wrapped around the pole. Hmmmm. Swing to the right is there, but behind me....where is my swing? My Contraption? My swaying tuchas-throne for two weeks??...

Mystery of the missing swing.
Uh-oh, somebody call the Hardy boys!

Did the police ever file a report? Was the swing ever found? And just what was the response from Guinness to all of this? And did you really think part 11 was the end of the story?? Surprise!

Swinging Abby Part 13: Mystery of the Missing Swing

So somebody stole my swing. There was now a big gap on the right-hand side of the swing set (or the left, depending on which side you considered to be the front). Where did it go? Did anyone know?
I did.
The swing had not gone far, actually, and its whereabouts remained unknown only for a few days until its disappearance ended up in the papers.

A thief in the family!
Yes, call me an accomplice, I think I held the ladder. Muuuwaaa-ha-haha!....

While the swing never did hang in the stairway, it did grace our garage for a short time. In the meantime, although no police report was ever filed, my father HAD actually stolen a piece of city property, and something had to be done about it.

Mine mine mine!
Mine! Mine mine mine, all mine.

I still remember that meeting, my first time in a big boardroom, sitting on the right-hand side of the big, shiny desk. Everyone there pitched in a few dollars to pay for the swing. It was mine to keep. It was eventually packed away in a box and kept in our garage. I would post a picture of it except…
It's gone missing.
I can't recall exactly when was the last time I ever saw it, but I do remember it seemed a tired little mess of black rubber and chains, the protective foam shrunken, dried out and brittle with age. I don't have it in my house, and neither do my parents have it in theirs. None of us would ever have just thrown it away. However, we've pieced together a hypothesis as to its fate that I think makes sense: at some point I may have given it back to the city of Athens. Probably around the time I moved to Arizona, when space was at a premium and life had moved on to different things where swinging mementos did not seem so important. When my parents also pulled up stakes to go west, The Sign was left behind for me to reclaim all these years later. But the swing itself had already moved on, a victim of one of those choices one makes which seems ok at the time, but later you go "Why the hell did I do that?!?" Perhaps one day we'll find the wooden board used as a footrest or the towel tied as a back support - because even if I gave the swing back, I'm sure we would've kept SOMETHING from it. But right now the only thing I have of it is pictures and memories. It's ok. When you're physically attached to something as long as I was to that swing, you never forget what it looked and felt like. Never.
And when's the last time I actually sat on a big ol' strap swing and flew through the air you ask? Do I avoid it like the plague? Actually, no, it's just difficult to do these days because, as they say "they don't make 'em like they used to". I know the last time was probably 'round about 2005 or 2006. Next to our duplex in Montreal was a public park that had an identical big, tall metal swing set. I remember spending about 20 minutes on it one day, recalling all of this. Then I had to get off, because for the first time ever in my life I was getting seasick! I haven't had an opportunity since then. That park has since been renovated, and the swings are all of the shorter variety now, which seems to be a trend in playgrounds, I've noticed. Probably for safety reasons, but I find it somewhat sad that kids don't know the thrill of swinging as high as the trees. Even if I still had my swing, there is nowhere even in a public park I could hang it and enjoy that feeling. If I ever pass by a park that has such a swingset - tall and majestic, where one feels like they're flying as they try to get even with the top bar, I'll stop and swing. You can count on it.
So! With that little Scooby-Doo mystery solved, there's only one more question to be answered. You know what it is. Come back next week for the last installment of the Swinging Abby Saga!

Swinging Abby Part 14: Guinness Speaks

I always find it funny that when telling this story to people, the first question they ask is not usually the obvious one: did you make it into the Guinness Book of World Records? Well, that's ok because that's only a yes or no answer, and it's the rest of the story that's the fun part to talk about. But since getting my name immortalized in the famous book was the whole reason for the endeavor, the question has to be answered. And the answer is:
No. I didn't.
Remember back when I said Guinness would not send people to verify the record or even give any advice as to what was required and how to go about it? Well, that all came back to haunt me once I was getting towards the end of the whole thing. I don't have any notes or memory of how we discovered that my attempt was likely to be doomed before I even finished, but there are newspaper articles that allude to there being trepidation at "Camp Geiger" that Guinness would reject the record. In the end, they did.

Guinness says "nope!"
Nope, uh-uh, no way José!
(Click on the article and then the expansion "x" in the lower right for readability size.)

So basically, my attempt ended the very first day when I, limped off the swing and took a few hours of shut-eye. But that begs the question: how did the previous record-setters do it? As I remember, the record I based my sleep breaks on was set by a single woman in the early 70s, clocking in at (if I remember correctly - unfortunately I no longer have the book) around 123 hours over the course of several days. When I did the math, this left her with extra time beyond hourly five minute breaks, which I assumed was spent sleeping. The then-current record I was actually trying to beat in 1979 was set by two people at 182 hours. The official entry in the 1979 Guinness book is, in its entirety:
"The record duration for continuous swinging is 182 hours by Pia Anderson and Matt Gonzalez of Torrence, CA on December 16 - 24 , 1977."
Not knowing their exact starting and finishing times, the math on their attempt does work out, giving over three minutes per hour of time off the swing. That's it, that's all. So... did they take turns? Sleep while someone pushed them? Would that not defeat the purpose? Would you not only be breaking a record for swinging but also for sleeplessness?
The most interesting thing I've found out in my research for this blog is that apparently, something changed at Guinness at some point between 1977 and now with regards to this record. What's the current swinging record?

Thirty-one hours.

Yes, you read that correctly. 31. Three-plus-one. Check it out, it's right here online at Guinness World Records The current swinging record was set by two men in Toronto - Adam Wiseman and Michael Kurtz - in August 2008 (on my birthday, no less!) as a charity fund-raising event to supply low-income families with playground equipment. You can read about it here at the Better Day Alliance entry called The Big Swing , as well as see a video of them hopping on the swings to begin. (As a side note - notice on the Guinness site that you must now apply to set a record, you receive the guidelines from Guinness, and there's a very helpful FAQ available right there on their web site. What I wouldn't have given for such access to info in 1979. Welcome to the age of the internet!)
Adam Wiseman was kind enough to tell me about their endeavor, and said that the same old rules applied to their record attempt as the one set in 1977 (and mine as well, as we found out): no breaks beyond a five minute rest per every 60 minutes. You can take them or you can save them up, but that's all you get. A medical person was also required to be present at all times, as well as two witnesses present in rotating shifts continuously throughout the event, who had to sign a log verifying they were there at the end of each shift. Additionally, the whole thing had to be recorded on video. Adam says it wasn't the most pleasant thing he's ever done and would never do it again, but besides getting the record they did raise money for a good cause. If they never got around to wedging a board and some padding onto those strap-swings, I can totally relate to the unpleasantness, and I give a huge "Bravo!" to them both for their gumption and stamina!
So, without an answer as to why the record dropped from 182 hours to 31 (I wrote to the email address on that Guinness site and have gotten no response), I can only speculate as to why that happened. And my speculation is that someone asked the same questions as I did a few paragraphs above. If you can't sleep, how can you stay awake for 182 hours? If you sleep and someone pushes you, then you're not doing the swinging. And if you take turns, you're not doing an endurance record, you're just keeping the swing moving (rather like the bicycling record my grandfather participated in). I think what it came down to is provability. You now have to videotape the entire thing, something we could have done in the 70s but with much less ease than today. If it ain't on film, it don't count. Mine ain't on film. Neither, I assume, is Pia's and Matt's. The current record is, so there is no question these two guys did it.
Anyway, back to my attempt and the fallout. My mom did send an appeal to Guinness upon receiving the rejection letter (which oddly enough, I no longer have) asking them to perhaps consider a "Junior's Division" for records, as I was a minor. Alas, they did not agree and without a way to resolve the sleeping problem, I never did make another attempt, although I thought about it around the 20-year anniversary. But I was alone in Phoenix Arizona, in August when it's stupidcrazy hot so yeah...that didn't happen.
So. I had failed. Or had I?

I didn't get into the book. So what? It's not like I'd be able to walk around with a big sign saying "Hey, I'm in the Guinness Book of World Records!" if I'd made it, and as you can see, by now it all would have been for naught. No, I think that in the end what I got was better: a truly unique experience that not many people can say they've lived through. I wouldn't trade those two weeks of my life for anything. You know what they say about a long trip, that "getting there is half the fun". Well, when trying to break a record, just doing it is ALL of the fun!
And telling the story all these years later is an added smile. I hope I've been able to give you a few as well!

See you at the swing set!