A Member Of Our Fair Family Passes; Remembering Walter “Jay” Milligan Sr.

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The Erie County Agricultural Society would like to remember the legacy and life of Walter “Jay” Milligan Sr. who passed away on Monday, March 20th. Milligan was our very own “King of Crash.” His JM Productions was the driving force behind the Erie County Fair’s “World’s Largest Demolition Derby” and “Ultimate Night of Destruction.”

“It’s with a heavy heart that we learn about the passing of Jay Milligan Sr.,” said Dennis R. Lang, C.E.O. and Fair Manager of the Erie County Fair. “Jay’s innovations in the motorsports and thrill show industry added greatly to the success of the Erie County Fair over the past fifty years. Our sincere condolences go out to the entire Milligan Family.”  

Milligan grew up in South Buffalo, the adopted son of a Buffalo milkman and a New York telephone operator. Milligan discovered the allure of automobiles as a lanky high school student in Hamburg when he drove his mother’s two-door 1934 Chevrolet Master to school. When he was 19, he participated in his first demolition derby. 

He was 31 in 1963 when he produced the first demolition derby for the Erie County Fair. Milligan, then a manager of Lancaster Speedway, was asked by the Fair to put on a demolition derby when one of the stunt shows cancelled their appearance. The inaugural event featured only 17 cars and was won by Ed Henning of Lancaster. The show was such an overwhelming success that it not only spawned a new Fair tradition but launched the Milligan family into the business of producing similar events across the Northeast. Currently, JM Productions brings demolition derbies to 60 state and county fairs throughout the Northeast including the New York State Fair until 2015.

In 1974, Jay Milligan Sr. created the All American Thrill Show sponsored by the American Motors Corporation. The fender banging, car mangling, brake screeching show climaxed with a mid-air, 360 degree barrel roll called the Astro-Spiral. The stunt, designed with help from local Calspan engineers, used an AMC Hornet Hatchback. This was the same maneuver executed by Milligan’s team as Roger Moore’s stunt coordinator in the James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun.”

“I wasn’t a very good student. I was always working on lawn mowers or the neighborhood’s farm tractors,” Milligan told the Buffalo News in 2015. “The principal always said that I could get an award for the most miles on my books – in the backseat of my car.”

Milligan was an avid car collector and took great pride in his world famous collection that included his beloved 1910 Stanley Steamer.

“People have accused me of being strict, difficult, and exacting. And I would say to you that my life is in direct proportion to my commitment to excellence,” said Milligan.

Milligan was inducted into the Erie County Fair Hall of Fame in 1994. Milligan was 86 at the time of his passing.

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