They were called "barnstormers," and when they arrived in a city, town or village, hundreds of people would turn out to see them.

They were called "barnstormers," and when they arrived in a city, town or village, hundreds of people would turn out to see them.

In June 1914, a little more than a century ago, two of the most famous barnstormers of their time came to Columbus. For two days, two men held the capital city's attention as daredevils of the first order.

But what is a barnstormer? The term first appeared in the United States in the early 1800s and was a reference to small theater and circus troupes that traveled across the country to places without theaters, taking barns "by storm."

The term later was applied to local political candidates. Then, toward the end of the 1800s, the word came to refer to Americans who spent their time performing death-defying stunts.

Those who take pleasure and/or profit from such stunts always have existed, such as people who go over Niagara Falls in a barrel or, in the case of a man named Charles Blondin, cross the falls on a tightrope. He stopped halfway across, assembled a stove and cooked an omelet. Why? Because he wanted to prove he could do it.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the U.S. seemed to produce more than a few of these people. After the Civil War, a combination of inexpensive printing technology, ease of transportation by rail and communication by telegraph linked the country via information -- and advertising. The daredevils seeking notoriety had fast machines at their disposal that ran on roads, on rails and, after 1903, even through the air.

In June 1914, two of the best-known daredevils in the U.S. came to Columbus to race against each other.

Barney Oldfield, the racing-car champion, would compete against Lincoln Beachey, believed by many to be the best American airplane pilot.

Oldfield was the best known of the two. Born near Wauseon in 1878, Oldfield had grown up near Toledo. He held a variety of part-time jobs while going to school and became part of the bicycle craze that swept the country in the late 1800s.

Cycling had been a dangerous hobby in the days of the "high wheel." The introduction of the "safety bicycle" changed that, and many people began riding for pleasure.

Oldfield rode for profit as well as pleasure. He became known as a fearless competitor.

He was just the sort of person a young automaker named Henry Ford needed to drive a new, powerful racing car he had made. It was called the 999, and Ford could not find a driver for it until he found Oldfield.

Oldfield raced against a car made by veteran automaker Alexander Winton and defeated the Winton machine.

From that point on, Oldfield became one of the best-known racers in the U.S. He also became known as one of the most aggressive and assertive drivers of his time.

Eventually, he was banned from professional racing for his "outlaw" tendencies, and by 1914, he was looking for other ways to earn a living.

With the help of his agent, Will Pickens, Oldfield would compete in a Championship of the Universe contest, driving his racecar against an airplane piloted by Beachey.

At age 27, Beachey had established himself as a daredevil in his own right. Born in San Francisco, he had followed his older brother into flying in small, maneuverable, rigid dirigible airships at age 17. By 1911, he was flying airplanes and soon was part of a flying team assembled by aircraft pioneer Glenn Curtiss.

By 1913, Beachey had flown across Niagara Falls, raced a train and won, and was performing dangerous aerial loop-the-loops in an airplane that was made from a bit of canvas, a bit of bamboo, a small engine and a large propeller.

Of Beachey, Orville Wright said, "His mastery is a thing of beauty to watch. He is the most wonderful flyer of all."

On June 6 and 7, 1914, Oldfield and Beachey raced against each other at the Driving Park racetrack on the east side of Columbus before audiences numbering in the hundreds who had paid to see the events.

It wasn't much of a competition. Beachey's plane was faster than Oldfield's car, so the two men took turns winning in the more than 30 towns visited in their barnstorming tour.

Still, the two machines traveled at dizzying speeds around the track and thrilled their audiences.

Oldfield continued to race for several years and then retired to a number of business ventures. He died in 1946.

Beachey was not so fortunate. In 1915, he was performing above San Francisco Bay when his plane broke apart and he fell to his death.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.