The Longest Retreat

How does a young Texas restaurateur wind up in a Turkish prison? 
If we were talking about the 1970s you’d probably just shake your head knowingly, but the year our story begins is 1931.
It started in Abilene. 1028 N. First Street to be exact. The Crescent Cafe. Plennie L. Wingo, proprietor. Or former proprietor I should say, as the Great Depression had just claimed another dream.
Plennie needed needed money and he wasn’t the “Brother, can you spare a dime?” type. If he was going to ask folks for their hard earned cash, he would give them something in return, even if it was just a spectacle.
And the spectacle he conceived was walking around the world.
Now, if you ever try walking backwards for any kind of distance, you will find there are two natural obstacles  The first is navigation. Looking over your shoulder strains the neck quickly.
Plennie’s solution was a special pair of glasses used by motorcyclists in those days. They had a small mirror at each temple.
The second obstacle is fatigue. Our musculature is unaccustomed to retrograde perambulation and doesn’t take long in making its displeasure known.
Plennie solved that problem by going into training.
After a few months he was able to cover twenty miles a day. Or more accurately, twenty miles a night. Not wanting anyone to steal his idea, he did his backward training under cover of darkness.
The money would come from two sources: sponsors and postcards. The latter would be sold to onlookers encountered on the road. The former would purchase space on his back.
His first sponsor was the the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth. Plennie was paid $200 to do his backward walking from town to town promoting the show.
Then, on April 15, 1931, he put one foot behind the other and headed out of Fort Worth for New York City. A few months, dozens of headlines and many postcards later, Plennie arrived in the Big Apple and backed on to a steamer bound for Germany.
His smiling face and backward ways were a hit across Europe.
Everything was going better than planned until he strode rump-first into Istanbul. The Turks were unimpressed by his letter of introduction from the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce and threw him in the hoosegow to make the point clear. 
They turned him loose after several days, but his request to transit Asia Minor was denied. He eventually ended up on a boat to California and backed his way home from the West Coast.
He returned to his starting point on October 24, 1932, a little more than eighteen months after he had begun.
Plennie L. Wingo had covered over 8,000 miles, worn out fifteen pairs of shoes and one wife. She had divorced him in absentia.
Many years after his big adventure, asked why he had chosen backward walking, he said, “With the whole world going backwards, maybe the only way to see it was to turn around.”
Texas Trivia
What famous aviator was born in Galveston in 1907?  Answer at the bottom of this page.
Trivia Answer: 
Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan  Corrigan got his nickname in 1938 when he took off from Brooklyn, headed for California and after twenty-eight hours in the air, landed in Ireland. Corrigan had wanted to solo across the Atlantic since 1935, but could not get approval from aviation authorities, as his plane was not up to trans-Atlantic standards. He claimed to have noticed his navigation “error” only after flying for twenty-six hours.

Categories: Texas Biographies