Casco Bay, Maine – July 4, 1887
At 5 p.m. on July 4, 1887, the balloon “Columbia” made an ascension from Lincoln Park in Portland, Maine, with two men aboard: the pilot, Professor Charles H. Grimby, (or possibly Grimsby), and an unnamed passenger who was a reporter for the Boston Globe newspaper.
When the Columbia was fifty feet in the air it was caught by a strong wind and pushed into some telegraph and telephone wires briefly becoming entangled before breaking free. It then climbed to 3,000 feet where it began drifting eastward towards the waters of Casco Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. To be blown out to sea would have meant certain death, so Professor Grimby opened the valve to the balloon hoping to land on one of the islands in the bay. As the balloon began to drop he threw out a long drag rope to slow their speed. The rope whipped and snapped through the water but did little to halt their progress.
The balloon then reportedly began crossing over “Windward Island” where a some men made an attempt to grab hold if it, but they were pulled to the ground and dragged along with it and were forced to let go. (It should be noted here that contemporary maps do not list a Windward Island for Casco Bay, and it’s possible the island mentioned was actually Cushing, or Peaks Island.)
Finally the drag rope became snagged on a grouping of rocks which briefly stopped the balloon and held it, but the strong wind kept rocking the balloon and before long the rope broke and the Columbia continued on out over the water. Finally enough gas had been released through the open valve to cause it to plunge into the water. The gondola, with the men inside, was almost completely submerged as fierce winds continued to buffet the balloon and push it across the bay while both men held on for their lives.
By this time the men were well away from shore and without life jackets. Fortunately their plight was seen by those aboard the yacht Mermaid, and the boat gave chase. The Mermaid eventually caught up to the balloon and managed to rescue both men. The balloon was not recovered.
Professor Grimby told the press it was the most exciting and dangerous trip he had ever made.
Source: The Worthington Advance, (Worthington, Minn.) July 28, 1887