Giant Grasshopper Mystery Photo—Solved!

By Maureen A. Taylor



Larae Schraeder showed me this picture featuring a giant grasshopper sculpture at the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference in Cincinnati. The photo was in her collection of family pictures, and she thought the men might be relatives.

Well, it turns out the men aren’t relatives. The real story is a fascinating historical tale of one man’s hobby.

Inspired by misfortune

Thomas Talcott Hersey of Mitchell, SD, made this grasshopper. He’s the one holding it down in the photo. Assisting him are his nephew Harry (Bart) Hersey and David John Hersey.

Several Hersey descendants emailed me this weekend to tell me about this hopper and the other large bug sculptures Hersey crafted. His inspiration came from the grasshopper swarms that killed his crops during the Dust Bowl era, and he called the metal creation Galloping Gertie.

When he displayed his invention at Corn Palace Week in Mitchell and charged a nickel to view it, he earned enough to support his family for a winter. Hersey ended up with a commission from a man who hired him to make a housefly, a flea, a black widow spider, and a monarch butterfly to show at county fairs.

Beyond grasshoppers

Hersey’s hobby of fashioning giant bugs out of wood, paper, cellophane, wire, string and oil cloth made him famous. In 1943, Hersey was a guest on Dave Elman’s “Hobby Lobby” radio show on CBS. He spoke at length about how he made the insects; the grasshopper shown here even had a device to make its feelers move. Life Magazine and Popular Mechanics featured articles on his work.

Hersey’s relatives sent me several other pictures of his bugs and his relatives posing with them. They emailed me a postcard view of the scene above that had a printed caption: “Capturing Whopper Hopper near Mitchell, S.D. The largest grasshopper in existence 54 inches weighs 73 pounds.” It was taken and marketed by the Hersey Photo Service:

Mystery solved!

Not all of the photos in a family collection depict relatives. Family members may have collected pictures of friends, neighbors and famous folks. In this case, we don’t know if Larae’s family actually saw Gertie or if they just bought the image for fun.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor: