Trans-Atlantic Balloon History – 1910

Trans-Atlantic Balloon History – 1910

     Since the first manned balloon ascensions in the late 1700s, aeronauts had been envisioning a time when it would be possible to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air.  With the advent of mechanical flight in the early 1900s it was thought that aviation technology might have reached a point where such a crossing might be possible. 

     The following article appeared in the Evening Star, a defunct Washington, D.C. newspaper, on October 20, 1910.  It illustrates why crossing the ocean was easier said than done, and mentions aeronaut Washington Donaldson, and his unexpected trip to New England.   

     DREAM OF 70 Years

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Flight Across Atlantic Hope of Many Persons.

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     For the last seventy years there have been numerous projects for crossing the Atlantic Ocean by means of a balloon, but, while several of those engaged in the enterprises expended considerable money in making preparations , only one balloon before that of the Wellman expedition actually made a start.

     Strange as it may appear, the first idea of crossing the Atlantic by means of the old-fashioned spherical balloon came from England, but from such information as is now common property regarding the upper air currents generally blowing over the North Atlantic, such an expedition would be impossible in all but a reversal of conditions, which, in the law of averages, is not likely to happen more than once in ten thousand times.  In a spherical balloon it was recognized after John Wise, a Philadelphia aeronaut, published his studies in the 1840s, that a voyage across the sea from east to west, while not impossible under conditions that were hardly to arise at the psychological moment, was so unlikely to meet with those conditions that it was improbable.

     It was in the year 1840 that Charles Green, a daring English aeronaut, outlined his proposals for crossing the ocean.  Mr. Green offered his services gratuitously if some wealthy persons would finance the project. These patrons of ballooning, however, failed to come forward in the requisite number, and the project went to join the great limbo of great things undone.  Green’s idea, briefly, was to jockey for the right currents of air.  He intended to rise up to meet the current that would carry him in the chosen direction, or would descend to the stratum that would do so. 

Much Ballast Needed      

     Such a plan necessitated an enormous quantity of ballast, and it was pointed out by Tissandler and others that the experienced aeronaut did not, perhaps, count sufficiently on the loss of gas that would follow such a proceeding. They also showed that by making this attempt the balloon could not possibly have the buoyancy necessary for so long a voyage. 

     There seems to be no doubt that Green’s project gave the initiative to John Wise, for in the year 1843 he published his plan for making the voyage across the Atlantic, and having asserted the existence of an almost constantly prevalent wind blowing toward the east, received more attention than such daring projects usually gain.

     In an announcement directed “to all publishers of newspapers on the globe,” Mr. Wise told of his intention to cross the Atlantic in the summer of the following year.  The announcement asked the commanders of seagoing vessels to be on the lookout for him and his balloon, and he admitted that the expedition was daring and dangerous and it success only problematical. 

     It was thirty years afterward before the dream seemed to be on the eve of realization, and at the time when the big airship was being manufactured and arrangements made for the actual voyage, Wise published another book, in which he explained that the trial had not been attempted sooner because of the failure to receive the financial assistance that such an expedition entailed.

     While Wise did not make the voyage in the summer of the year 1844, as he had announced, about that time there appeared in the New York Sun a most wonderful account of a voyage of Monc Mason, Harrison Ainsworth, and one or two others.  This was the now celebrated balloon hoax, written by Poe, and, with the announcement of Wise still in their ears, it required no serious difficulty to make the majority of persons believe that a voyage by balloon across the Atlantic actually had succeeded.   In a day or two the hoax became evident, and even now the story is read with interest because it was constructed on such probable lines that only Jules Verne, in a later time, has succeeded in giving so marvelous a tale.

Prepared For Start      

     In the fall of the year 1873 the great balloon that had been designed by Wise was being made ready for the start in Brooklyn.  Wise was to be the chief of the expedition, and his lieutenant was to be the daring aeronaut and circus acrobat, Washington H. Donaldson.   The balloon followed closely the pattern Wise had advanced thirty years before.  It was not, however, quite so extensive.

     The balloon was said to have a lifting power of 14,000 pounds, and sufficient carrying capacity to permit about 7,000 pounds of ballast and passengers and freight being taken.  In addition to the main aerostat, there was a smaller one, which was intended to supply gas when the main gasbag should need repletion, and when it had been exhausted in this manner it was the intention to cut it up for ballast.

     Hanging below the balloon was a car of two stories in height, in which the passengers, food, and ballast were stowed.  Below this there was a boat weighing 800 pounds, which was to be used in emergency.  Wise already had used a boat under his balloon in his historic voyage across lake Erie, when he was carried along with a hurricane that was terrifying in its violence. 

     The lower room in the car was taken up with ballast and with a windlass to lower and take up the drag rope, which weighed about 600 pounds.  The boat was divided into airtight compartments, and was believed to be practically unsinkable.  Provisions and water for the party for thirty days were taken in.

     After the great balloon had been taken to the ground in Brooklyn where it was to be inflated a series of disappointments beset Wise.  It seemed to be impossible to inflate the huge gasbag.  Several ineffectual attempts were made, and then Samuel A. King, another Philadelphia aeronaut, now the nestor of the whole profession, being in his eighty-third year, was called in, and he succeeded in inflating the aerostat with the hydrogen gas.      

     It was about this time that a disagreement arose between Wise and others connected to the enterprise.  This result, Mr. king always had predicted, would be the end of Wise’s connection with the project, and in the end the balloon was placed in charge of Donaldson, who, while regarded as the most daredevil man who ever went aloft in a balloon, had had so little experience with ballooning that it was said he never would succeed in making the voyage.

Trip Began In Gale     

     There was a fierce gale blowing toward the east when, on the morning of October 6, 1873, the balloon with the expedition on board was cut loose and swiftly sailed toward Europe.  The balloon soon rounded the eastern end of Long Island, where a contrary current of wind changed her course to the north , and the huge aerostat was hurriedly carried over the New England states.  Its farthest northern point was in Massachusetts, when another current caught it and bore it back again.  Finally the balloon came down and its passengers made a landing safely, in a terrible storm, after a voyage of about 500 miles. 

     There were several French projects afterward, but some of these were not balloon projects, but airships, that had not been actually made, but designed.  One of the most interesting of these was a steam airship designed by Nadar, which, although using planes for supporting surfaces, made its ascent or descent by means of a series of vertical screws, the principle which now is being studied in the helicopter designs of airships.

     In the winter of the year 1879 Samuel A. King put into practice his long cherished project of attempting to cross the Atlantic, and it may be said that while that failed he still believes in its possibility.  A syndicate built two giant aerostats, and they were established in a station on Manhattan Beach.  The balloons had each an ascensive force of about 10,000 pounds, and figuring on green’s studies, Mr. king expected to be able to stay in the air long enough to jockey the balloon across the ocean.  The studies, however, showed that there were still some things to be learned.

     While wireless telegraphing had not been discovered at that time, telephony had not only been invented, but was in a small way actually in use in the larger cities, and Mr. King’s balloon had arranged to make use of this new invention: but this, it should be stated, was only used while the balloons were used as captives at the observing station on Manhattan Beach.  They could have no use at sea.

     Some hitch occurred before the time for the starting of the expedition arrived, and Mr. King never made his attempt.  This was the withdrawal of the backers according to Mr. King.      

 

Early Connecticut Balloon Ascensions (And Mishaps) of Professor Alfred E. Moore

Early Connecticut Balloon Ascensions (And Mishaps) Of Professor Alfred E. Moore  

     

     Professor Alfred E. Moore, (1858-1890), was an early Connecticut aeronaut from the town of Winsted, who was perhaps best known for his balloon ascensions with photographer John G. Doughty, (1857-1910), during which some of earliest aerial photographs of the Nutmeg State were taken. 

     Professor Moore’s first balloon ascension took place at the former Cherry Park in the town of Avon, Connecticut, on July 4, 1885. 

    On the evening of July 29th, 1885, Professor Moore and another well known Connecticut aeronaut, Silas M. Brooks, (1824-1906), made a balloon ascension from Winsted, Connecticut, in a balloon named “Winsted” after the town.  This was Moore’s second balloon flight.  The Winsted was reported to be “the largest balloon now in existence”, measuring 80 feet height and 120 feet around, with a gas capacity of 30,000 cubic feet, and capable of lifting 15,000 pounds.   Unfortunately, this flight ended badly when the balloon encountered a severe storm.   

     The following excerpt is from a newspaper article which appeared in the Alexandria Gazette, (Virginia), on August 4, 1885, detailing the ill fated flight.

     “The ascension was made from the public square in the center of the town.  Brooks and Moore entered the car and gave the word.  The cables were cast off and instantly the big machine of silk and cordage sped up into the air like a rifle bullet.  The size of the balloon and its light load, for others had been expected to join the party in the car, made its ascent unusually rapid.  All went well until the aeronauts had reached an elevation of 2,000 feet.  Although they were above the clouds, they were caught in a storm, which proved to be the heaviest experienced in that part of the state for years.  Becoming terrified by the lightning they began to descend, and passed through the cloud in safety, although the balloon suffered from the heavy rain and the gas began to escape.  When within 100 feet of the ground the machine was rocking violently from side to side.  As they fell the two men threw out sand bags, and, losing too much ballast, the balloon careened wildly.  The gas escaped, the car was overturned, Brooks and Moore lost their hold on the slippery rail and fell headlong from the car.  The crowds that had been cheering wildly a few minutes before stood out in the pouring rain in their eagerness to see the descent, and did their best to catch the aeronauts as they fell.  Brooks was picked up badly hurt.  He is expected to die.  Moore’s injuries are not so serious.”

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     History has shown that Silas Brooks survived his ordeal and lived for another 21 years.           

     About a month after that perilous flight, Professor Moore made his third balloon ascension on September 3, taking with him as a passenger photographer John Doughty.  

     The following article appeared in the Morning Journal And Courier of New Haven, Connecticut, on September 4, 1885.   It relates the details of that third flight, and also mentions the ill fated flight of July 29th.

THE BALLOONISTS

Their Arrival And Reception In Southington – The Aeronauts Experiences On Their Trip  

     Southington, Sept. 3. – Look!  Oh, Look!  See that big thing up there.  Oh! Charlie, why what is it?  Don’t you know?  Why it is a balloon.  Such were the remarks overheard by the Courier correspondent last evening as Prof. Moore with his balloon passed over this town as briefly noted in the Courier yesterday. For about twenty minutes hundreds of people kept their eyes heavenward awaiting with no little anxiety to see where and when the thing would drop.  About 6:20 the balloon made a descent and was lost from the sight of our townspeople.  Numerous were the queries as to where the balloon had landed, but about 8 o’clock they were all dispelled by the news of the arrival of J. C. Messenger and the two aeronauts, Alfred E. Moore and John G. Doughty.  After they had partaken of a lunch they were found at the Bradley House by your correspondent and the following was gleaned from the highflyers: “We left Winsted at 5 o’clock with our balloon and apparatus and made the ascent very rapidly.  The balloon was inflated near the gas works, from which spot we made our start.  Several persons tried to prevail on us to  wait until Thursday, but we made up our minds that procrastination was the thief of time, so we did not calculate on being robbed.  As soon as the ropes were cut we started on our journey and when about one thousand feet above Winsted we photographed the spectators and from (the) time we landed in Kensington on the farm of E. J. Whitehead we took twenty views of the different towns, lakes, groves, and mountains over which we traveled.  We made the distance of forty miles in one hour and twenty minutes.  The balloon when inflated stands forty feet high and is seventy-two feet in diameter, and weighs, with the basket, 500 pounds, and has a capacity of 30,000 cubic feet for the reception of gas.  The gas used in ascension was common illuminating gas.  The occupants of the basket at the time of making the ascension were myself, Alfred E. Moore, and Mr. John C. Doughty, son of the leading photographer, and a carrier pigeon, which we let loose when over Bristol.”  Mr. Moore further stated that this was his third ascension and that the balloon, which is his property, is the second one he ever saw, the first being the Fourth of July last, when he made an ascension from Cherry Park alone and traveled nineteen miles in sixteen minutes.  On the 29th of the same month he, in company with Professor Silas M. Brooks, who has made 166 ascensions in his life, made an ascent from Winsted and came very near being killed by the balloon being torn open.  Professor Brooks had his body blackened in a horrible manner.  Mr. Moore says that the beauty of riding in a balloon is that your course is all the at “double tracked; no danger of a collision up there.”  The balloon was carted to the depot this morning by a man named Carey and was the object of much curiosity.            

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     On October 1, 1886, Professor Moore experienced another aeronautical adventure in a balloon.  On that date he ascended from Bristol, Connecticut, and when the balloon had risen to about 8,000 feet it was caught in a strong northeast wind current which carried it towards Hartford at a rapid rate.  While passing over the city Moore began jettisoning ballast, which caused the balloon to suddenly plunge downwards where it came down in some trees on Birch Mountain in Manchester, Connecticut.   Local farmers had to cut down four trees to rescue Moore from his badly wrecked balloon.

     Moore had traveled a distance of 35 miles from his starting point in only 25 minutes, giving him an estimated speed of 84 mile per hour.   

     Professor Alfred Moore died July 15, 1890.  The following announcement appeared in the Evening Star, (A Washington, D.C. newspaper) on July 16, 1890.

DEATH OF A WELL-KNOWN AERONAUT    

     Alfred E. Moore, president of the franklin Moore Bolt Company at West Winsted, Conn., died yesterday of Bright’s disease.  He was prominently known in the iron trade of the country and had achieved a wide reputation as an aeronaut, having made a number of ascensions.  One of his most notable ascensions was made June 17, 1887, from Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis.  The monster balloon which Moore had built at his Connecticut home for this particular ascension, at the expense of a newspaper , had been waiting a week for favorable air currents.  The voyagers were Mr. Moore, in charge of the expedition; H. Allen Hazen of Washington, connected with the United States Signal Service, and Prof. John G. Doughty, photographer.  The highest point reached was 16,000 feet, greatest altitude, probably, ever reached by a balloon in this country.  A premature descent was made near Centralia, Ill., 55 miles northeast from St. louis, the balloon having become nearly unmanageable.  The landing was very difficult and dangerous.  The event was eminently successful from a scientific point of view, according to Prof. Hazen’s report.  It was the intention of the projectors that the balloon should land somewhere on the Atlantic coast, thus proving the existence of an easterly air current, but the failure to work satisfactorily prevented this.    

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     Alfred E. Moore is buried in Forest View Cemetery in Winsted, Ct.  

     It is unknown how many balloon ascensions Professor Moore made during his aeronautical career, but the following ascensions are documented:

     September 9, 1886: Moore ascended from the fair grounds at New Milford, Connecticut, and landed about one hour later in Merwinsville. 

     September 22, 1886:  Moore ascended from the fair grounds in Watertown, Connecticut, and landed 18 miles away on the farm of E. C. Stillman in Meriden, Conn.

     September 30, 1886: Moore ascended in his new balloon, “The Comet”, from the Southington Driving Park.  This was reportedly The Comet’s first flight.      

     Sources:

     Morning Journal And Courier, (New Haven, CT.) “The Great Winsted Balloon”, July 27, 1885

     Alexandria Gazette, (Virginia), “Fell from A Balloon”, August 4, 1885

     Morning Journal And Courier, Balloon Ascension Announcements, Spet. 9, 22, & 30, 1886

     Morning Journal And Courier, “A Terrific Balloon Ride”, October 2, 1886

     Evening Star, (Wash. D.C.), “Death Of A Well-Known Aeronaut”, July 16, 1890  

     www.findagrave.com, memorial # 123726647

Chelsea, MA – June 17, 1839

Chelsea, Massachusetts – June 17, 1839 

     Louis Anselm Lauriat, (c. 1786 – c. 1857), was a Boston aeronaut who reportedly made 48 balloon ascensions during his lifetime.  He was born in Marseilles, France, and came to America in the early 1800s, where he settled in Boston and established a business at the corner of Washington and Springfield Streets in Boston producing gold leaf.  He also developed an interest in science and balloons, and began making ascensions of his own. 

     The following article appeared in the Vermont Phoenix on June 28, 1839, referring to an ill fated balloon ascension made by Lauriat on June 17, 1839.   The article had first appeared in the Boston Transcript.

     THE BALLOON-PERILOUS VOYAGE

     The wind was West North West, with a strong breeze, when Mr. Lauriat ascended in his balloon from Chelsea yesterday afternoon; and as he rose from the garden of the Chelsea House, where the balloon was inflated, he was driven by the force of the wind against branches of a tree, and five of the cords by which the cars were attached to the aerostat were severed, and Mr. Lauriat was in imminent danger of being thrown out, – the balloon, however, was wafted on, at a low elevation, towards Shirley Point, where Mr. L endeavored to effect a landing, and letting off a portion of the gas, descended to the ground.  The balloon was dragged some distance and came in contact with another tree, by which two more cords were severed, and left it retained only by a part of the netting.

     There was no assistance at hand, and the balloon, after being disengaged from the tree, was dragged, in despite of all Mr. L’s efforts to stop its progress, into the water, and continued skipping over the surface, sometimes completely immersing the aeronaut in the water, and again elevating him a hundred (feet) in the air.  There were several vessels in the bay which endeavored to assist him, but were unable to reach him.  The balloon was driven some eight or ten miles from land, and Mr. L became faint, discouraged at the moment by anticipation of a watery grave.  In this perilous condition he continued until Capt. Paine of the schooner Fame, which was coming up the bay, discovered his situation, and launched a boat, which was rowed to his assistance, and happily, the progress of the balloon was intercepted, and the aeronaut rescued, just as the balloon rolled from the netting, and soared “free and unconfined,” away, and was soon lost to view.

     Mr. Lauriat was kindly received on board the schooner and carried to Gloucester, where he arrived about 9 o’clock.  As he was very anxious to return home immediately, Mr. Mason, of the Stage House, generously conveyed him to Lynn, where he arrived at 1 o’clock this morning, pretty well satisfied, we hope, that ballooning is not the best mode of making gold leaf.

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     Another source (see below) lists the captain of the schooner as being a Captain John Pierce, not Paine, of Welfleet, Massachusetts. Lauriat was reportedly dragged through the sea for one hour and fifteen minutes over a distance of thirty miles in the direction of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, which is located north of Boston.   

     The balloon was not recovered, and was said to have cost $1,000, which was a huge sum of money in 1839. 

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        Two years before the above incident, Mr. Lauriat may have been the first to use a balloon to drop leaflets.  The following news brief appeared in the (New York) Morning Herald, July 17, 1837,

     “Temperance Shower – Lauriat, at his last balloon ascension, distributed a shower of temperance tracts on the country around Boston.  This cold water shower had a very reviving effect upon the friends of the cause.  The utility of aerial navigation can no longer be questioned.”   

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     On June 17th, 1840, Lauriat made his 34th balloon ascension from Boston, and was in the air for nearly two hours.  

     Sources:

     Vermont Phoenix, “The Balloon – Perilous Voyage”, June 28, 1839 

     Lauriat’s – 1872 to 1922, “Being a Sketch of Early Boston Booksellers With Some Account of Charles E. Lauriat Company and its Founder, Charles E. Lauriat.”, Written for the Boston Evening Transcript by George H. Sargent, 1922.    

     Morning Herald, (New York) July 17, 1837     

     The Pilot And Transcript, June 22, 1840

First Balloon Ascension In Massachusetts – 1821

First Balloon Ascension In Massachusetts – 1821

     The earliest known balloon ascension to take place in the state of Massachusetts occurred on September 3, 1821, from the Washington Gardens on Treemont Street in Boston.  The pilot was a well known aeronaut by the name of Louis Charles Guille, who had begun making balloon ascensions in New Jersey in 1818.  The balloon landed on Ten Hills Farm in Somerville, a town just to the north of Boston.   

     Not only was this flight the first of its kind in the Bay State, but it also triggered what might be the first lawsuit involving a balloon.  Ten Hills Farm was owned at the time by a man named Swan, who sued Aeronaut Guille for damage to his vegetable crops. 

     The facts of the case were stated in a newspaper article which appeared in the New Ulm Review, (a Minnesota newspaper), on December 21, 1910, as part of an article about the potential liability attached to air travelers who may inadvertently cause damage to private property on the ground.  The case involving Louis Charles Guille was cited as a president even though it had occurred 89 years earlier.     

     The article stated in part:

    ” The facts are there stated as follows: Guille ascended in a balloon in the vicinity of Swan’s garden and descended into his garden.  When he descended, his body was hanging out of the car of the balloon in a very perilous situation, and he called to a person at work in Swan’s field to help him in a voice audible to the pursuing crowd.  After the balloon descended it dragged along over potatoes and radishes about thirty feet, when Guille was taken out.  The balloon was carried to a barn at the farther end of the premises.

     When the balloon descended more than 200 persons broke into Swan’s garden through the fences and came on his properties, beating down his vegtables and flowers.  The damage done by Guille with his balloon was about $15, but the crowd did much more.  The plaintiff’s damage in all amounted to $90.

     It was contended before the justice that Guille was answerable only for the damage done by himself and not for the damage done by the crowd.  The justice was of the opinion, and so instructed the jury, that the defendant was answerable for all the damage done to the plaintiff.  The jury accordingly found a verdict for him for $90, on which the judgement was given and for costs.”     

     The sum of ninety-dollars was a significant amount of money in 1821.  Guille appealed, but the decision was upheld.  The court ruled in part that Guille was a trespasser, (although not intentionally), and that his shouts for help “induced the crowd to follow him”, which in turn made him liable.  

      Sources:

     New York Tribune, “New Laws For Air Travel Soon To Be Broached”, October 24, 1909, page 3.  

     New Ulm Review, (Minnesota), “Air Trespassing May Be Costly”, December 21, 1910      

     Massachusetts Aviation Historical Society, www.massaerohistory.org

     Book: “North Jersey Legacies: Hidden History From The Gateway To The Skylands”, by Gordon Bond, The History Press, 2012

Ballooning For Lost Sounds – 1894

Ballooning For Lost Sounds – 1894

     The following newspaper article appeared in the Washington Standard, (Olympia, Washington), on May 18, 1894.   It is unclear what results, if any, were learned from this experiment, which appears to be the first ever of its kind. 

BALLOONING FOR LOST SOUNDS 

Uncle Sam’s Aeronaut Will Find Out What Ails Boston’s Fog Horns

New York World

     Thomas S. Baldwin, the aeronaut and gymnast, connected with the ballooning department of the signal service and war departments, has been ordered to Boston, where he will conduct a series of interesting and important experiments in aeronautics.  Vessels approaching Boston can be heard through their fog horns 15 miles out at sea, but when within three miles off shore the sound of the fog horn whistle is absolutely lost.  The question is, where does the sound go?

     It is proposed to investigate the upper atmosphere at a distance of 3,000 feet in the hopes of ascertaining whether the sounds from the whistles and fog horns do not go upward, as Mr. Baldwin believes such sounds do.  A monster balloon will be anchored to a government vessel, and will be allowed to ascend to any required distance by means of a wire cable worked by steam.  The vessel will cruse about off Boston and neighboring points to a distance of 10 or 15 miles, and sounds will be made from whistles and horns.  When within three or four miles of shore it is believed that the aeronaut in the balloon can ascertain whether the sound in getting lost ascends.

     In the coil of wire that is attached to the balloon is a telephone wire, by means of which Baldwin will communicate with officials on board the ship.  Major Livermore, of the government service with his staff, will assist the aeronaut in his work, which will probably occupy some months, and perhaps a year.  After these experiments are concluded, Baldwin will turn his attention to experiments in war ballooning, for the benefit of the War Department.

    

        

Massachusetts Volunteer Balloon Corps – 1909

Massachusetts Volunteer Balloon Corps – 1909

 

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Salt Lake Tribune, (Utah), on August 15, 1909, page 20.  It is unclear if the Massachusetts Volunteer Balloon Corps ever came to fruition.   

 

Bay State Is To Have Volunteer Balloon Corps

     BOSTON, Aug. 14. – Massachusetts is to have the first “volunteer balloon corps” in the world, according to the announcement made today by Charles J. Glidden, the well known aeronaut and automobilist who is now making plans for organizing the aeronautic corps this fall.  Recognition from the state militia will be sought.

     The volunteer corps will consist of men of prominence, who are interested in aeronautics, and will be made up of two divisions, pilot and meteorological.  The pilot division will include the leading balloonists now making ascensions in Massachusetts for pleasure.  Those who have been invited to join the meteorological are Prof. W. Pickering, and Prof. A. Lawrence Rotch of Harvard, Prof. David Todd of Amherst, and Prof. Helm Clayton, formerly of the Blue Hill Observatory.

       

Aerial Lodge, No. 1, A. F. & A. M. – 1909

Aerial Lodge, No. 1, A. F. & A. M. – 1909

 

     On Tuesday, September 16, 1909, the balloon “Massachusetts” made an ascension from Pittsfield, Mass., and while more than 7,000 feet in the air became the first balloon in aviation history to have a Masonic meeting conducted in its basket.   The Massachusetts was owned by the Aero Club of New England.

     The following article appeared in the Essex County Herald, (of Guildhall, Vermont) on September 24, 1909. 

     “Aerial Lodge, No. 1, F. & A. M., was formed last Thursday afternoon in the balloon Massachusetts at an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, it being the first meeting of the kind ever held, and the lodge was conducted with all Masonic observances possible under the conditions.  The balloon ascended from Pittsfield, and the Masonic ceremony was the chief feature of a short but most interesting aerial journey.  This item has a peculiar interest to our readers in Essex County, inasmuch as Jay B. Benton, formerly of Guildhall, is senior warden of the new lodge.”  

     The following article appeared in the Evening Star, (Washington, D. C. ), on September 25, 1909, page 3.   

     “The latest in the way of novelty is the institution of a Masonic lodge in a balloon more than a mile in the air.  This happened at or near Pittsfield, Mass., recently, when Aerial Lodge A. F. & A. M., was instituted in the balloon Massachusetts at an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, this being the first meeting of the kind ever held.

     The lodge was conducted with all Masonic observances possible under the conditions.  J. J. Van Valkenburg of South Framingham was worshipful master; Jay B. Benton of Winchester was senior warden, and Charles J. Glidden of Boston junior warden.

     The Masonic ceremony was the chief feature of a short but most interesting aerial journey, the details of which were recounted when the party descended at Greenfield, Mass., after considerable difficulty in getting the huge gas bag and its numerous trappings out of the forest.

     The start was made in the afternoon at 2:05 o’clock from the grounds of the Aero Club of New England, at Pittsfield.  At the highest point recorded, 7, 200 feet, the Masonic ceremony took place.”  

Rockville Collegiate Balloon School – 1917

Rockville Collegiate Balloon School – 1917

Updated June 4, 2017 

     The Rockville Collegiate Balloon School was established in September of 1917 by William and Francis Maxwell as a training school for perspective army observation balloon pilots.  Rockville is a village within the town of Vernon, Connecticut, however, the school was actually located in the former Windermere factory building in the neighboring town of Ellington.   

     The school was set up to train up to 100 students at a time.  During preliminary study, cadets were paid $33 a month, which included food, clothing, and a place to sleep.  After two months of courses, they were sent to training camps to continue their studies, during which time they would be paid $100 per month.  Upon graduation they would be commissioned lieutenants in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and receive $2,000 per year.

     The school was administered by Everard Thompson.  The Chief Pilot was Nason Henry Arnold, who held pilot license #14 with the Aero Club of America.  Nason had been flying balloons for fourteen years, and had participated in the International Balloon Race held in Germany in 1908.  Another instructor known to have taught at the school was Walter Jewell. 

     Three students known to have attended the school are; E. H. Millikan, E. L. Taylor, and W. S. Sweeney. 

     The first balloon ascension from the school took place on September 11, 1917, when a balloon containing Nason H. Arnold and Walter Jewell reached an altitude of 6,500 feet as it drifted over the town of Willimantic and beyond.  The balloon came down on the farm of Joseph Nosal, located in Windham near the Lebanon town line.   

     The second flight took place two days later on September 13, and nearly ended in disaster.  This ascension involved one of the school’s largest balloons, the 80,ooo cubic foot America II, which had once flown over Europe from Paris, France, to Berlin, Germany.   

     The balloon left Rockville at 8:45 a.m. with six persons aboard.  There was the pilot, Nason Arnold, and his assistant pilot, Walter Jewell, as well as William and Francis Maxwell, and two students, Edward Lee Taylor and his brother William Sloan Taylor.  They landed safely near Vernon Center, where the Maxwell brothers got out and two others took their place.  The balloon then ascended for the second time that day and was carried off by a gentle breeze, but wound up crashing into some treetops near the town of Coventry, the jolt of which severed the netting holding the huge gas bag, which broke loose and floated away on its own, leaving the passengers and gondola stuck at the top of a tree.    

     Apparently someone had seen the balloon make its unexpected plunge, for rumors of a severe if not fatal accident quickly circulated sending people rushing into the area.  Fortunately, such was not the case, and all injuries were minor.   The run-away balloon was recovered about seven miles away. 

    About a week later, the balloon Cleveland ascended with Nason Arnold, student E. L. Taylor, and a cameraman identified as W. F. Bergstron of Hartford, Connecticut.  Bergstron worked for the Mutual Film Corporation, and it was his job to film the ascension from the point of view of the occupants of the balloon to be used for lecture purposes at the school.   The Cleveland rose to 5,200 feet as it passed over Willimantic, and landed safely in the town of Hampton, 35 miles from its starting point.  

     On October 18, Nason Arnold made an ascension with Congressman John Q. Tilson, a member of the House Committee on Military Affairs.  After a three hour flight the balloon landed at Long Meadow, Massachusetts.  

     On October 24, 1917, a balloon from the Rockville Collegiate Balloon School made an ascension in Springfield, Massachusetts as part of the Liberty Loan Campaign.   

     Sources:

     Images of America, Vernon and Historic Rockville, by S. Ardis Abbott & Jean A. Luddy, Arcadia Press, 1998

     Air Service Journal, September 6, 1917, Page 277.

     Norwich Bulletin, “Various Matters”, August 17, 1917, page 5

     Norwich Bulletin, “Government Balloon Comes From Rockville”, September 12, 1917, page 2

     Norwich Bulletin, “Second balloon Flight”, September 14, 1917, page 2

     The Hartford Courant, “Balloonists In Tree Top And Gas bag Sails Away, Courant Man Right There”, September 14, 1917

     The Brattleboro Daily Reformer, (VT.), “Camera Man Has Trip In Balloon”, September 25, 1917

     Norwich Bulletin, “Various Matters”, October 24, 1917, page 5

     Aerial Age Weekly, “Congressman Up In The Air”, October 29, 1917

A Balloon Mystery, Cumberland, R.I. – 1888

A Balloon Mystery, Cumberland, Rhode Island – 1888

     About 7:00 p.m. in the evening on September 28, 1888, an unmanned balloon came down in a cusp of trees on the Razee Farm in the Cumberland Hill area of the town of Cumberland, Rhode Island.  The craft had some signs of age to it, and was in poor condition. 

     When the balloon was recovered and laid out in an open area to be examined, it was found that there was a large slit in the side. The neck of the balloon contained a nine-inch valve made of wood and leather, on which was found a name written in pencil: “Carl Myers, Mohawk, N. Y.”

     Further investigation revealed a paper tag from the American Express Company marked “162, owner S. Y. Baldwin, Freehold, N. Y.”   There was also found a piece of silk marked “Buffalo, 27-413 lbs. Dec. 1887. F. Cloud.”

     The seams along the balloon measured 40 feet 6 inches. 

     The ropes attached to the balloon’s netting appeared old, but the netting containing the balloon appeared to be new.  The balloon’s iron ring was two feet in diameter and made from a welded piece of 1/2 inch gas pipe.

     Nobody knew where the balloon had come from, or if an aeronaut had met with misfortune.  Severe weather had been over southern New England the day before and it was wondered if that could have played a role.   

     The story was picked up by a few newspapers around the country, all reporting that a handwritten note was found pinned to the balloon’s basket.  Two versions of what the note supposedly said were reported in different papers.  The first, “We have perished in the clouds”, and the second, “Met death in the clouds”.   The note was allegedly written on a small piece of newspaper from Buffalo, New York.   However, The Woonsocket Evening Reporter, a newspaper that covered Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and its neighboring town of Cumberland, had this to say about the note: “The story was told that in the car was found a slip of paper on which was written, “Met our death in the clouds,” but a reporter who examined the contents could not find any such paper.”   

      Carl Myers was well known in balloon circles at the time, for besides being an aeronaut, he was also a scientist, inventor, and manufacturer of man-carrying balloons which he built and sold from his “balloon farm” in upstate New York.   When contacted about the balloon found in Cumberland he said he knew nothing about it, and offered that it might be one he’d sold.  The only balloon he’d “lost” was at a July 4th exhibition in Willimantic, Connecticut, but it had been recovered in southern Rhode Island.     

Advertisement from The United Opinion newspaper of Bradford, Vermont, June 17, 1887.

The ad was promoting the Lyndonville, Vt., July 4th Celebration.

      Myers wife, Mary, was also a well known aeronaut who went by the professional name of “Carlotta”.  On September 26th Carlotta and a man she worked with, Leon A. Dare, were to have participated in a balloon race at Syracuse, New York, and on September 28th Carlotta was to have made an ascension at Lockport, New York.  Both Carlotta and Mr. Dare were found to be safe, and unconnected with the balloon found in Cumberland.

     “I have sold a number of balloons,” Myers was quoted in the Woonsocket Evening Reporter, “but cannot for  the life of me surmise who this balloon could belong to.  I think someone must have pinned the paper on the balloon when found, so as to make a sensation.” 

     Famous Rhode Island aeronaut, Professor James Allen of Providence, went to the Razee Farm to offer his opinion.  Allen noted that the balloon was made of cotton cloth and not silk.  Measurements revealed that the balloon was 27 feet in diameter, which would give it a gas capacity of 8,000 cubic feet, thereby making it large enough to only lift the weight of one person during an ascension.  Allen speculated that based on how the ropes were attached, and the fact that there was no anchor or drag rope, the balloon may have been used for trapeze work, and that the performer may have fallen during an exhibition, or landed at some location where the balloon then escaped.  If it had been filled with hydrogen gas then his theory was plausible. 

     The mystery, it seems, was cleared up when a small news item appeared in The United Opinion, a newspaper of Bradford, Vermont, on October 5th.  It read:     “Chief of Police Child of Providence has received a letter from S. Y. Baldwin, the parachute jumper, concerning the balloon found in Cumberland Thursday night.  Baldwin parted company with it at Freehold, N. J. that afternoon. “

     No further details were given, and thus far research has failed to find any.

     The news item states “Freehold, N. J.” but based on what was reported earlier about the American Express tag found in the balloon, it was most likely referring to the small town of Freehold, New York, which is about 145 to 150 miles “as the crow flies” from Cumberland, R.I.   

     This news item about the letter was not found in the Woonsocket Evening Reporter.

      Sources:

     Woonsocket Evening Reporter, “That Balloon”, September 29, 1888, page 1 

     Woonsocket Evening Reporter, “Derelict Air Ship”, September 29, 1888, page 4

     Woonsocket Evening Reporter, “That Vagrant Balloon”, October 1, 1888, page 4 

     Woonsocket Evening Reporter, “Balloon Mystery Yet Unsolved”, October 2, 1888, page 4

     New York Times, “The Lost Balloon”, September 30, 1888

     The United Opinion, (VT.) “Condensed News”, October 5, 1888

 

First Vermont Woman To Fly In A Balloon – 1909

First Vermont Woman To Fly In A Balloon – 1909

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Barre Daily Times, (Barre, Vermont), on August 13, 1909.

LANDED IN BRANDON

**********

Yesterday’s Balloon Ascension

At Rutland Had Lady Passenger

     “Rutland, Aug. 13. – Mrs. Edith I. Sawyer, a reporter on the Evening News in this city, has the distinction of being the first woman in Vermont to make a balloon ascension.  She was a passenger yesterday afternoon in the big balloon Heart of the Berkshires, piloted by William Van Sleet. 

     The ascent was made at 3:25 and was witnessed by a large number of people.  Ezra Allen of Fowler was the second passenger in the car.  Harold F. Keyes of Boston was to have been a passenger, but failed to show up.  A place was then offered to Charles S. Fairfield, editor of the Evening news, and he assigned Mrs. Sawyer, who was in the crowd watching the ascension, to make the trip.

     The big bag was in sight from this city until after five o’clock and the landing was made near Brandon, on land belonging to Dr. O. A. Gee, shortly after that time.  The balloon was seen by many people as it slowly traveled in a southerly direction, and in some instances people on the ground talked with the occupants.  At Fowler the balloon had dropped so low this it was necessary to throw out considerable ballast, and they were plainly seen by the operatives in the mill at that point.

     The landing was made easily and without mishap and the party returned to this city shortly after 11 o’clock.”      

Update January 29, 2017

     Mrs. Sawyer may been the first woman born in Vermont to make a balloon ascension, but the following advertisement promoting the 1887 Lyndonville, Vermont, July 4th celebration indicates that the first woman to go aloft in a balloon over Vermont might have been Mary Myers, (1849-1932,) of Mohawk, New York, better known by her professional name of “Carlotta”.  She was married to Carl Myers, a famous aeronaut and inventor of the time.   

    

Advertisement from The United Opinion newspaper of Bradford, Vermont, June 17, 1887.
The ad was promoting the Lyndonville, Vt., July 4th Celebration.

 

 

 

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