Mystery Balloon – 1928

Article from the New Britain Herald, July 30, 1928.

Click on image to enlarge. 

Charles Durant’s Boston Balloon Ascensions – 1834

Charles Durant’s Boston Balloon Ascensions – 1834

     Charles Ferson Durant, (Born Sept. 19, 1805 – died, Mar. 2, 1873) has been referred to by the press as “America’s First Aeronaut”.  During the course of his career he made three balloon ascensions from Boston.  

     Mr. Durant’s first balloon ascension from Boston took place on or about August 1, 1834.

     According to a newspaper article that appeared in the Alexandria Gazette on August 5, 1834, Durant took off from an Amphitheater near Charles Street that was erected for the occasion.   Thousands had gathered to watch, being an exceptionally unusual event for the era.  The ascension was successful, and the balloon was carried off by prevailing breezes which pushed it out over the open water.  There it was observed by the Captain of the steamboat Hancock to drop low several times and touch the water.  The Hancock turned to pursue the wayward balloon, but had trouble in doing so.

     The balloon finally landed in the ocean about five miles off the coast  of Marblehead, Massachusetts, but fortunately Mr. Durant had equipped himself with a life vest which kept him afloat until he was recued.

     The following article appeared in the Alexandria Gazette on August 30, 1834.   



     Boston, Tuesday, Aug. 26. – Mr. Durant’s Eleventh Ascension –  Yesterday afternoon, agreeably to previous notice, Mr. Durant made his eleventh grand ascension (it being his second from Boston,) from his amphitheater on the city land west of Charles Street.  The day was pleasant, and the wind was blowing with a pretty strong breeze from the north east. 

     At 4 o’clock, 30 minutes, Mr. Durant took his place in his wicker-basket car, the cords which detained him were severed, and he rose majestically from the amphitheater amid the firing of cannon and the benedictions of the multitude.  He moved toward the north-west.  Before leaving the ground, he had thrust out several bags of sand, and on rising 700 or 800 feet from the ground, he arrived at an elevation where there was no wind at all, and he remained apparently stationary for some minutes.  He was then observed to let out the sand from one of the bags, which was seen to descend like rain, and the rays of sun upon it gave it the appearance of vapor descending in a vertical direction, and affording a beautiful appearance.  he then cast out what appeared to be the empty bag, which descended slowly, and was mistaken by many of the spectators for the rabbit falling with the parachute.  he now discharged the sand from several bags, which was seen to rain down in like manner, and the balloon was observed to rise.  In the meantime the gas was distinctly seen escaping from the top of the balloon like vapor.  After being up about 15 minutes the balloon descended to a lower stratum of atmosphere, which set towards the north-west, and it then moved pretty fast towards Cambridgeport.  At this time the rabbit was discharged with the parachute , which was observed to fall gradually in, or near, Cambridgeport.  The balloon then rose again , and appeared nearly stationary for several minutes, when it again moved towards the west.  Every few minutes the sand was distinctly seen showering down, and finally the balloon was observed to descend apparently beyond Mount Auburn.

     Six o’clock.   We have this moment the satisfaction of hearing of Mr. Durant’s safe arrival with the balloon at the Tremont House, where he was welcomed by the shouts and congratulations of a large collection of people.  We learn that at 5 h. 6 m. he landed safely in a field west of Mount Auburn, and about six miles from the Amphitheater.  He was, therefore, 36 minutes in the air, and one hour and a half from his starting to his arrival at the Tremont House.  He brought the rabbit with him, and it was exhibited in front of the Tremont.  the parachute is in the shape of a large umbrella.

     It happened that everything was in readiness for the ascension at an earlier hour than was anticipated and consequently the balloon started at half past 4 instead of 5 o’clock, as had been announced.  In consequence to this, we regret to say that many people were too late to see the balloon at starting.  To enable such people to witness the operation, and to afford everybody another opportunity to see the magnificent spectacle, it is hoped that Mr. Durant will undertake a third ascension from Boston.  As the balloon is uninjured, an early day would probably be convenient for the intrepid aeronaut as it would be desirable to our citizens generally.      


     Mr. Durant’s third balloon ascension from Boston occurred on September 13, 1834.  The ascension had been scheduled for two days earlier but had to be postponed due to high winds.

     After taking off just before 5 p.m.,  the balloon drifted westward towards Brighton until reaching an air current that was blowing to the east.  It then passed over the Boston Common and the State House, and eventually settled safely in Watertown.

     Source: Alexandria Gazette, “Balloon Ascension” September 18, 1834.



Some Perilous Early Balloon Ascensions

Some Perilous Early Balloon Ascensions

          The following newspaper article appeared in the New York Tribune on February 23, 1908.


Stevens and Forbes in Peril – Food and Sand Freeze.

     Springfield, Mass., Feb. 22 – Benumbed with cold, which was so severe as to freeze their food, their bags of wet sand, and render their registering instruments useless, A. Holland Forbes and Leo Stevens, of New York, who ascended in a balloon at North Adams early this afternoon, came to earth at Wales, a village three miles from the Connecticut line, southeast of this city, after a trip of about ninety miles.  When the aeronauts left North Adams that hoped that they might reach Boston, but although they found air currents which swept them in a general easterly direction the extreme cold forced them to descend.  Soon after passing Springfield it was found that the cold had so contracted the gas in the bag that the balloon was descending rapidly.  The aeronauts decided to break an unwritten law of balloonists and to throw over some hard substances  in order to lighten the balloon.  At this time they were rapidly approaching Wilbraham Mountain, and it was evident that they could not clear the top of that eminence unless the balloon were lightened.

     One of the anchors attached to the car was drawn up, and, used like a pick, served to break the frozen sandbags so that lumps of the sand could be thrown over.  Considering it inadvisable in their half frozen condition to attempt to make a longer trip, the balloonists decided to descend.  They made a landing in a road in the woods near the village of Wales two and a half hours from the starting time.


     On the afternoon of June 19, 1908, well known aeronauts Charles J. Glidden and Leo Stevens were passing over West Brattleboro, Vermont, in a balloon when they heard two gunshots, the bullets from which struck the balloon. Both men were positive the shots had come from a large white barn on a farm below.  

     Investigation by authorities led to the arrest of two men.  One claimed the other had fired the shots from a rifle thinking the balloon was a toy, after which he took the gun away from his companion.  Both men were held for trial, and one was ultimately convicted.


     The Brattleboro Reformer, “For Shooting At Glidden’s Balloon”, June 26, 1908

     The Brattleboro Reformer, “Aerial Assault Case Up For Today”, July 3, 1908     


     The following newspaper article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, VT.), September 13, 1911. 


Williams College Aeronaut Suffers Severely From Exposure.

     H. P. Shearman, president of the Williams College Aeronautical Society who made a balloon ascension from Aero Park, Pittsfield, yesterday morning at 2 o’clock, landed in Auburn, Maine, 200 miles distant by air line, yesterday morning about 6 o’clock.  He was in an exhausted condition as the result of exposure, and was taken to a hospital in Auburn for treatment.  He was in an unconscious condition when found on the farm of H. B. Estes, but no bones were broken, nor was there any indication that he was otherwise injured.  The flight is the longest ever made from Pittsfield.  The nearest to this record was made by William Van Sleet and Oscar Hutchinson when they landed in Biddeford, Maine, 165 miles air line from Pittsfield.


     The following newspaper article also relates to H. P. Shearman’s balloon flight.  It appeared in the Arizona Republican, September 13, 1911.


College Professor Has trying Experience in Long Flight Across the Old Bay State.

     Auburn, Maine, Sept. 12. – Half benumbed from his flight through the rain and cold, and unable to make the outlet valve or rip cord of his balloon work, President H. P. Shearman of the Williams College Aeronautical Society, climbed through the ropes and with a knife slashed the silken bag, then fell back into the basket unconscious.  The balloon dropped swiftly to the earth and tonight Shearman, resting comfortably in a local hospital, is able to tell of his experience.  He ascended at Pittsfield, Mass., early this morning, and flew to this city (Auburn, ME.), 200 miles, the longest flight ever made by a single aeronaut.  Soon after ascending he ran into heavy rain, which, turning to hail, caused bitter cold.  Feeling the effects of the weather, Shearman several times tried to land, but was unable to deflate the huge bag.  His strength was nearly gone when he resorted to his knife. 


     The following newspaper article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner on November 14, 1911. 


Balloon Landed Near Clairmont, N. H. – Rescued By Farmers

     The balloon containing three Williams College students which ascended from Pittsfield Saturday made a landing near Clairmont, N. H., ;ate Saturday afternoon.  The balloon bumped the tops of forest trees where the anchor had caught for some time before the three students were discovered by some farmers of Unity, a small town near Claremont, and rescued from a perilous position.  After some of the smaller trees had been cut away the aeronauts were able to slide down their anchor rope.  The sky voyagers were H. Percy Shearman, president of the Williams College Aeronautical Society and pilot of the balloon, the Stevens 21, H. R. Corner of Cleveland, O., and J. A. Jones of New York City.  Unity is 77 miles from Pittsfield.




N. Y. To Boston Balloon Airline – 1908

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Sun, (New York, N.Y.), on July 21, 1908.


Company Forming To Carry Freight and Passengers by Dirigibles.

     Boston, July 20. – Whipple, Sears & Ogden, at the request of Charles J. Glidden, are preparing organization papers to incorporate the American Aerial Navigation Company, to be created for the purpose of manufacturing and operating aerial devices and the establishing of aerial routes for the transportation of freight and passengers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

     Mr. Glidden anticipates that within the next eighteen months the new company will be carrying passengers and merchandise by the “air line” between New York and Boston, either by use of the dirigible, balloon, or aeroplane.  He believes that with relay stations near Springfield and New Haven the trip can be made 300 days in the year, the one from Boston to New York during daylight, and from New York to Boston in seven or eight hours.

     The first experiments will be made with small dirigibles with a capacity of one or two passengers in addition to the operator.  Stations will be established close to the street car lines on the outskirts of cities with suitable facilities to house the dirigibles and supply any loss of gas en-route.

     An inexpensive plant to manufacture hydrogen gas will be in operation at each station.  As the dirigibles will travel at an average height of 500 to 800 feet very little loss of gas should take place.

     Pending the establishment of the air lines and to familiarize people with aerial voyages, ascensions will be made from Pittsfield and North Adams in the spherical balloons.

    The people interested I the new company hold options on a large manufacturing plant for aerial apparatus and are in negotiation for the manufacture of dirigibles.  The form of dirigibles to be adopted will depend upon the success of the experiments now being carried on by the Governments of the United States and France.  “Aerial travel,” says Mr. Glidden, “will be, when thoroughly established, the cheapest and safest form of transportation.”


The First Intercollegiate Balloon Race – 1911

The First Intercollegiate Balloon Race – 1911 

     On Saturday, June 3, 1911, a unique balloon race between college aeronautical clubs was held at North Adams, Massachusetts.  Four institutions were represented; Harvard University, Dartmouth College, the University of Pennsylvania, and Williams College.  The race was organized by the Williams College Aeronautical Society and was billed as the “first event of its kind”. 

     Two prizes were to be awarded: one for longest duration in the air, and the other for the longest distance traveled.  

     The University of Pennsylvania team won both prizes with their balloon, Philadelphia II, piloted by A. F. Atherholt, and captained by George A. Richardson.   After a little more than seven hours in the air they landed safely in West Peabody, Massachusetts, a distance of 115 miles from North Adams.   The other teams landed earlier after having travelled lesser distances.  

     According to a small article which appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, Vermont), on March 15, 1911, (“Students Balloon Race”), the Williams Aeronautical Society challenged the Amherst College Aero Club to a distance contest which was scheduled to take place on May 20, 1911, slightly more than two weeks before the race set for June 3.  It’s unknown of this contest between the two learning institutions took place however, the article ended that Williams College was also planning an intercollegiate race, and that Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Tufts, M.I.T., and Amherst would all be invited to participate, and that the race would “probably” be from North Adams.            

     The following three newspaper accounts contain further information of the intercollegiate race of June 3, 1911.


     The following article appeared in The Topeka State Journal, (Topeka, Kansas), May 20, 1911.


Silver Cups Offered For Distance And Time In Air.

     North Adams, Mass., May 20. – The first intercollegiate balloon race ever held will start from the town on June 3 under the auspices of the Williams Aeronautical Society.  Every eastern college which boasts an aeronautical society has been invited to participate.  Silver cups will be awarded to the balloons covering the longest distance and remaining the longest time in the air.


     The following article appeared in The Calumet News, (Calumet, Michigan), June 2, 1911.


First Event Of Its kind Ever Attempted Starts Tomorrow.

     North Adams, Mass., June 2. – Everything is in readiness for the start from North Adams tomorrow of the first Intercollegiate balloon race in the history of aeronautics.  The race will be under the auspices of the Williams College Aeronautical Society, and every college and university in the east boasting an aeronautical society has been invited to compete.

     Williams, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania have balloons already on the field and it is possible that Harvard may make arrangements to start the race.  All of the balloons are of 35,000 cubic feet capacity.  The balloons will be cut loose within five minutes of each other.  Leo Stevens, the noted New York aeronaut, has accepted an invitation to act as referee and starter.  A silver loving cup will be awarded to the balloon covering the greatest distance, and another cup to the on longest in the air.


     The following National News Association article appeared in The Richmond Palladium And Sun Telegram, (Richmond, VA.), on June 2, 1911.    


Four Institutions Represented In The Event Which Starts Saturday.

     North Adams, Mass., June 2. – Eight intrepid young men, all working with a vim on the aviation field of Williams College were the talk and attraction of North Adams today.  The youths, busy laying out gas-bags and nets of four great aerostats, will start tomorrow in the first intercollegiate balloon race ever held.  Harvard, Dartmouth, University of Pennsylvania, and Williams are the contestants.

     After being dined and made much of by the local college element yesterday and last night, the embryo aeronauts arose at an early hour today and straightaway made their course to the aero field, where they became busy-ness personified.  Although all the young men have made several voyages in the upper regions, they have experienced considerable difficulty in the work laying out the big balloons preparatory to their inflation.  The Williams College Cadets were on guard around the aviation field and assisted the balloonists in their work.      

     Each one of the balloons entered in the race is 35,000 cubic feet capacity.  Dartmouth’s entry, the “Boston” will be piloted by Jay B. Benton.  H. Percy Shearman will guide the destinies of the Williams balloon.  The leader in college aeronautics, George Atwood Richardson, who organized the Intercollegiate Aeronautical Association, will carry the hopes of the University of Pennsylvania.

     None of the balloon crews figure on being aloft more than thirty-six hours, but each balloon has been stocked up with provisions for a three days’ voyage to provide against contingency.

     A massive silver cup has been presented by Clifford Black and Howard Scholle, New York Williams Alumni, for the balloon covering the longest distance.  A second cup will be presented for duration of sustained flight, and another one for the balloon making the next longest distance.

     The college aeronauts are also eligible to the trophies of the New England Aero Club in event that they break any of the New England records of the year.  

     A. Leo Stevens, prominent in aero-planing and ballooning circles will act as referee and as starter of the race.  He will send the balloons off at five minute intervals.

     The president of the Intercollegiate Aeronautical Association, which is giving the race under the auspices of Williams College, is George Atwood Richardson, who will pilot the Pennsylvania balloon.  The association has recently filed papers of incorporation as a membership corporation under the laws of the state of New York.  It represents all the colleges – aero clubs of North America and is officially recognized as the college branch of the national Council of the Aero Club of America. 


     The following year, the Intercollegiate Balloon Race was held in Kansas City, Missouri.  Williams and Dartmouth colleges participated.  

Leslie Haddock – Aeronaut And Showman


Bellingham, Massachusetts -August 20, 1901


     It was August and it was hot, yet modesty standards of 1901 dictated that men wear jackets and women don ankle length skirts with layers of petticoats underneath.  However, the heat wasn’t enough to deter the large crowds who had come to witness a balloon exhibition given by famous aeronaut, Leslie Haddock, but as the balloon rose into the evening sky, it quickly became apparent that something had gone terribly wrong.     

     Silver Lake is a body of water that lies in the approximate geographical center of the town of Bellingham, Massachusetts.  At the dawn of the 20th century it was known as Hoag Lake, and was a popular tourist destination due to an amusement park located along its shores. The park was owned and operated by the Milford, Attleboro, & Woonsocket Street Railway Company, and it cost a nickel to ride the street car to get there.   Besides a large carousel and other rides, the park boasted a restaurant, a dance hall, a theatre, a beach, outdoor concerts, boat rentals, live animal acts, and the occasional balloon exhibition.    

Early postcard view of Hoag Lake, Bellingham, Massachusetts

Early postcard view of Hoag Lake, Bellingham, Massachusetts

One such exhibition was scheduled for the third week of August of 1901, to be performed by a man named Leslie Haddock, a well known aeronaut in his day and no stranger to hair raising experiences.  He arrived on Monday, August 19th, and began his exhibition by making two ascensions that day, much to the delight of the cheering crowds. 

     The following evening, as crowds of people emptied out of the theatre after a lively performance, they gravitated to an open area where Mr. Haddock was in the process of inflating his balloon.  As the numbers of spectators grew so did their anticipation.  Finally, about 10 o’clock, it was time for lift-off.  Haddock gave a signal, and workmen released the rope that held the balloon earthbound.  The craft soared several hundred feet into the air and drifted towards the lake.  A flare tied to a rope at the bottom of the balloon allowed everyone on the ground to track the its progress. Suddenly the craft began falling at a rapid rate and the crowed let out a collective gasp.  Some pointed skyward, as if by doing so others would see better, while still others stated what seemed obvious.  “He’s in trouble!”, and “Something’s wrong!”

     The balloon continued dropping near the boat house and the crowd began running towards the shore to get a better look. When the craft was twenty feet from the water Haddock leaped over the side and dropped into the lake making a dramatic splash. The balloon, now relieved of its weight of human cargo, suddenly rose upward and drifted away; the glowing flare still indicating its position in the dark sky.   

     Looking out over the lake there was no sign of Haddock.  Had he drowned?  Should someone jump in and try to save him?  A murmur swept through the crowd as this was debated, followed by a sigh of relief when Haddock’s head suddenly bobbed to the surface.  He waded ashore to the thunderous applause of the happy spectators who now had an exciting story to tell when they got home.

     Haddock later explained that the accident was due to a sudden tear in the upper portion of the balloon which had allowed the gas to escape, and supposed the fabric had failed due to age.  He went on to say that he had been worried about the craft’s air-worthiness, and had taken a parachute along as a precaution, but never had the chance to use it.

     Hoag Park remained in operation until 1922, when the property was sold to new owners.  The decline in trolley car use seems to have been a factor.   Unfortunately, the new owners were unable to bring the place back to its former glory, and over time the park simply faded into history.  

     This wouldn’t be the last adventure Mr. Haddock would have in a balloon.  Several years later in July of 1908, he took part in a balloon race in Chicago where his entry, the 87,000 cubic foot Cincinnati, became entangled in electrical wires upon take-off. 


(Woonsocket) Evening Call, “Dropped Into The Lake”, August 24, 1901, Pg. 4

New York Times, “Nine Balloons Off In Race To Coast”, July 5, 1908


Stafford Springs, CT. – October, 1888

Stafford Springs, Connecticut – October, 1888

     An advertisement in the Morning Journal and Courier of New Haven, Connecticut, stated a fair would be held in Stafford Springs on October 16 and 17.  The following article appeared different newspapers around the country.

Straight Down For 2,000 Feet Before His Parachute Opened

     A exciting incident took place in connection with the balloon ascension at Stafford Springs, Conn., last week.  “Professor Hogan, the parachute “artist” who had been engaged to make a balloon ascension, had waited all day for the wind to die down.  About 5:30 o’clock, before 3,000 spectators, he inflated his monster machine and ascended gradually to a height of 4,000 feet, or nearly a mile.  At that enormous height the balloon with its occupant appeared to be about the size of a frog.      

Balloon ascending with parachute attached to the side.

     According to his programme, the aeronaut at this point fixed his balloon so that it would fall to earth alone, and prepared to make his daring descent by means of the parachute which was attached to the side of the balloon by a small cord.  The parachute, when inflated, is a sort of cone shape, the base of which looks like an umbrella, the sides being numerous cords and the apex being a small iron ring, to which the Professor hangs by the hand.

    Mr. Hogan jumped from the basket at that terrible altitude with the iron ring in his hand.  The cord attaching the chute to the balloon at once broke, leaving the dare-devil with his flimsy apparatus nearly a mile from earth.

     A terrible thing now happened.  The cords had become entangled and stiffened by the rain, and prevented the great chute from expanding it broad surface in the air, through which the aeronaut was now falling with frightful speed.  The people below, looking up with wide-open mouths, could see nothing but a dark line becoming longer at each instant, and coming toward the earth with the speed of lightning.  “My God,” cried a looker-on, “Hogan’s gone.”  A woman clutched frantically a strange man at her side as the body in the air was seen to careen to one side as if unstable.  At this point, when fully one-half of the descent had been made in but a few seconds, and when not one of the 3,000 spectators expected aught else but a catastrophe, the great surface of the chute was seen to expand and thence there was only a graceful, easy fall that turned every groan into a smile.

     When the performer reached the ground he said that at the beginning of the descent he realized his danger, but could do absolutely nothing but clutch the ring.  He was unable to breathe, his head began to swim, faintness overtook him, and his sensation was that his fingers were relaxing their hold.  At this point, however, the entangled cords that held in-closed the folds of the chute were snapped by the enormous pressure of the air, and he was saved from certain death.

Source: The Sun, (N.Y.), “Straight Down For 2,000 Feet Before His Parachute Opened”, October 28, 1888, page 5,   (From the Springfield Republican)           


Early Balloon Ascensions At Savin Rock, Connecticut

Early Balloon Ascensions At Savin Rock, Connecticut

     By Jim Ignasher


Savin Rock Advertisement
August , 1895

     September 15, 1893, was a perfect late summer afternoon at Savin Rock, where crowds had gathered to see “Prince Leo – The Boy Aeronaut”, perform a balloon ascension and parachute drop. Leo was sixteen, and had been giving such exhibitions for the past three years. At the appointed time, the balloon was released and quickly rose to three-hundred feet where a fabric panel suddenly failed and allowed the buoyant gas to escape. The craft plummeted, and crashed into the top of a tree located next to live electrical wires. The impact threw Leo onto the wires where he was severely jolted before falling to the ground. He was badly cut and in shock, but he would survive, and would later go on to become one of the world’s best known aeronauts while performing under his real name; Albert Leo Stevens.      

     Much has been written about the former amusement park at Savin Rock, but it seems that little attention has been given to the aeronautical exhibitions designed to draw visitors to the well known resort.  

     There was a time when balloon ascensions drew large crowds, and in the mid 1800s, due to their novelty, simply watching one ascend was enough to satisfy. However, as time when on, “aeronauts” were obligated to perform greater feats of daring such as leaping from balloons using parachutes. Some performers took it a step further by jumping with two or more parachutes, cutting away from one, free-falling, then deploying another. And still others would be shot from a tube or “cannon” suspended beneath the balloon.    

     Balloon ascensions at Savin Rock began in the late1880s, with the vast majority taking place without incident. Those that failed made headlines, which at times drew larger crowds to the next scheduled event.    

Savin Rock Advertisement
August, 1897

     A case in point was one of the earliest recorded ascensions to be made from Savin Rock. On the afternoon of August 7, 1889, a man identified as Professor Northup took off from the railroad grove and achieved an altitude of nearly 6,000 feet at which time he dropped using his parachute. The chute opened quickly, but Northup came down in the water of Long Island Sound about 1,200 feet from shore. He wasn’t wearing any type of floatation device, and might have drowned had it not been for a passing boat that came to his rescue.

     Another aeronaut to perform at Savin Rock was Miss Louise Bates, one of the few female aeronauts of the day. On July 25, 1894, she was to perform a high-altitude parachute drop, but a mooring pole cut the fabric of her balloon as it was released allowing gas to escape. The leak wasn’t realized until the balloon had risen to 150 feet. When it began to fall she leapt clear, but her parachute failed to open. Her fall was broken by the upper branches of a tree where she was rescued miraculously unhurt.         

     The following summer a man calling himself “Daring Donald” had a remarkably similar experience. Fortunately when his chute failed he landed in an area of soft ground. He survived his injuries, and went on to give future performances.

     Many aeronauts went by the title of “professor”. On July 25, 1903, Professor Dennis Tatneaud’s parachute opened perfectly, but prevailing currents brought him over the water where he splashed-down near the West Haven Jetty. He managed to cling to two oyster stakes until he was rescued one hour later, thoroughly exhausted from his ordeal.  

     However, it wasn’t just mishaps that made the news. August 27, 1903 was the opening of a three-day balloon festival at Savin Rock. One performer was Professor Robert Mack, who soared to the height of a mile before being fired from a “cannon” amidst a blaze of fireworks. He landed safely at the ball fields in what was described as “remarkable ballooning”. The balloon used by Mack was reportedly one of the largest in use at the time.

     Unfortunately some accidents ended tragically, such as the ascension made by Theodore French on August 17, 1907. When his parachute failed to open he landed atop a piano factory and was killed.

Savin Rock Advertisement
June, 1908

     By 1908, airships were beginning to replace balloons as a way to draw crowds for they could do things balloons couldn’t.

     In June of 1908, famous aeronaut Charles Hamilton arrived with his airship and drew quite a bit of attention. On June 13, Hamilton took off from Savin Rock bound for New Haven, and after circling a stadium in that city, had to make an emergency landing on some railroad tracks. After making some repairs, he took off again, but encountered strong winds which blew him out over Long Island Sound. There he was forced to land in the water where he was rescued by a passing boat.    

 Balloon ascensions continued at Savin Rock at least until 1915. By this time World War I was raging in Europe, and after the war former military pilots took to the “barn storming” circuit which quickly eclipsed balloon ascensions as a way to draw crowds.    


Morning Journal And Courier, (New Haven, CT.), “Drops In The Sound”, August 8, 1889 

Waterbury Evening Democrat, (Waterbury, CT.), “Accident and Incident – Daring Donald Falls from Balloon At Savin Rock”, July 24, 1891.  

Hartford Courant, “An Aeronaut’s Fall – Prince Leo Nearly Loses His Life At Savin Rock”, September 16, 1893

The Daily Morning Journal And Courier, “Parachute Did Not Work”, July 26, 1894 

The Daily Morning Journal And Courier, “Balloonist Recovers”, July 27, 1903

The Washington Times, “Balloonist Pattneau Drops Into The Sea”, July 27, 1903.  (The name of the balloonist should be “Tatneaud”, not “Pattneau”.)

The Daily Morning Journal And Courier, “Remarkable Ballooning – Boy Shot From cannon A Mile In Midair At Rock”, August 28, 1903 

The Topeka State Journal, (Topeka, KS.), “He Drops To Death”, August 19, 1907

Evening Post, “Dashed To Pieces – Fate Of Aeronaut”, August 20, 1907

Wood County Reporter, (Grand Rapids, WS.), Aeronaut Is Dashed To Death”, August 29, 1907

New York Times, “Airship Falls Into Sound”, June 14, 1908






Samuel A King’s Balloon “Colossus” – 1872

Samuel A. King’s Balloon “Colossus” – 1872

     In January of 1872, famous aeronaut and balloonist Samuel A. King, (1828 – 1914), of Boston, began constructing what would be, when completed, “the largest balloon ever made in America”.  The name of the balloon was to be “Colossus”.

     The balloon, it was reported, would have a circumference of 191 feet, with a capacity to hold 100,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas.  It would require 1,200 yards of Lyman cloth to make, which would be custom manufactured for this specific purpose.  To give the balloon added strength, twenty-four bands of four-thickness cloth would encircle the sphere.  The entire balloon would be coated with an oil based varnish to make it air tight in order to prevent the massive amount of gas from wicking out through the fabric.

     The pilot and passengers would be carried in two custom made cars suspended beneath the balloon, with one car situated above the other.  The upper car would be smaller than the lower one.  The top car would carry scientific instruments and passengers, while the lower one more passengers and ballast.  The entire balloon, empty, would reportedly weigh between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds, and when fully inflated would have a lifting capacity of 7,000 pounds, which could equate to fifteen or twenty passengers. 

     It was expected that the Colossus would be completed in time for its scheduled inaugural launch from the Boston Common as part of the city’s Fourth of July celebration.   Construction would take place at Mr. King’s residence and workshop located at 179 Chelsea Street in Chelsea, Massachusetts.  

     On June 6, 1872, as the balloon was nearing completion, it was seriously damaged by fire.  Portions of the balloon fabric had been spread out on a vacant lot between Chelsea and Watts Streets where it had received the first of four coats of the oil-varnish.  As the fabric was left to dry, a storm approached, so workmen carefully rolled it up to prevent moisture damage.  At some point after the storm had passed, the fabric was unrolled, at which time sections were found to be on fire due to spontaneous combustion caused by solvents in the oil-varnish. 

     Professor King was away in Philadelphia at the time making arrangements for the completion of one of the passenger carrying baskets, and was notified of the setback by telegraph.  

     Fortunately the balloon was salvaged, and repairs completed in time for it’s anticipated ascension from the Boston Common on July 4th.   On that day thousands came to watch the event.  This was to be Professor King’s 164th balloon ascension, and he was going to take twelve passengers with him on this historic flight.  “In my judgement,” King told a reporter, “although you can’t depend much on the weather, we will find ourselves about ten o’clock to-night somewhere up in the mountains of New Hampshire.”  His comment about the unpredictability of the weather would prove to be prophetic.  

     Most of the twelve passengers were newspaper men, but at least one was a scientist from Washington, D.C., who planned to record atmospheric conditions with scientific equipment.   While the balloon was being inflated on the Common, at least four citizens approached King with cash offers if he’d take them along on the flight, but all were refused.    

     The scheduled time for lift-off was 4 p.m.  Shortly after 2 p.m., as the balloon was about 80% inflated with Hydrogen gas, a violent storm suddenly appeared, and when the sky opened up spectators were sent running for cover in all directions.  The strong winds whipped at the balloon which swayed back and forth tugging at its moorings.  Whether it was struck by lightning or not is uncertain, but suddenly there was a loud boom as the Colossus abruptly exploded.  The fabric was in shreds and the massive giant immediately fell flat on the ground.  One newspaper described the scene afterwards as such: (The balloon) “…lay inanimate on the earth a dirty mass of cotton shreds, dragged and slimy in the rain and mud.”

     Fortunately there were no reported injuries due to the explosion.


     The Daily Dispatch, (Richmond, VA.) “A Colossal Balloon”, (Copied from the Boston Advertiser, May 23, 1872.     

     The Tiffin Tribune, (Tiffin, Ohio), “The Largest Balloon In The World Ruined By Spontaneous Combustion”, (Copied from the Boston Advertiser), June 20, 1872.

     The New York Herald, “Boston’s Big Gas Bags – Serious Catastrophes To Science In Boston”, July 5, 1872



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


Flight Across Atlantic Hope of Many Persons.


     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.”


     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.


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.            


     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.


     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.    


     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.      


     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, 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 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.


     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. 


        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.”   


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


     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.  


     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,

     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. 


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.   


     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.


     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.



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.




Near Middlefield, MA – May, 1907

Near Middlefield, Massachusetts – May, 1907

(Exact date is unclear.)  

     At 8 a.m. on a morning in late May of 1907, aeronauts Leo Stevens and Harry Maroke took off from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in the famous balloon Le. Centaur.  (This was the same balloon that had carried Count Henri de la Vaulx in a record breaking trip across Europe from Paris, France, to Kiev, Russia in October of 1900.)     

     The balloon quickly rose to 6,000 feet as the winds carried it on an eastern course.  The craft reportedly rose so rapidly that the heat of the sun caused the gas inside to expand to the point where holes blew out in two different places creating leaks and a sudden loss of buoyancy.  As the balloon began falling the men quickly ejected all ballast and other items of weight including their lunch baskets, shoes, and outer clothing.   They did however keep the anchor and two other items, a stethoscope and a thermometer aboard.

     At the time they were reportedly “near the town of Mansfield, Massachusetts”.  As the balloon fell it was still being pushed along by strong winds, and it seemed certain to crash.  As it neared the ground, the anchor was dropped and it caught on a fence and immediately tore it apart.  The balloon continued on for another one-hundred feet before the anchor snagged in a maple tree which halted movement long enough for the occupants to quickly climb down the anchor rope and down the tree to safety. 

     It was reported that the damage to the balloon was such that it would never fly again.  The balloon had a capacity of 1,600 cubic feet.

     The Le Centaur was brought to the United States in 1906 by its owner, Count Henri de la Vaulx, and later acquired by the Aero Club of America.    


     The Evening World, (NY), “Frightful Fall In Burst Balloon”, May 24, 1907. 

     The Plymouth Tribune, (Plymouth, Ind.), “Two Men Fall A Mile”, May 30, 1907.  (This is not a new England newspaper and the exact date of this occurrence is not specified.)   


The Balloon Le Centaur – 1906

The Balloon Le Centaur – 1906 


     The following articles concern a famous balloon know as Le Centaur, which was sometimes referred to in the press as simply “Centaur”.  The Le Centaur was well known for having set a new world distance record for a balloon in October of 1900 when it flew non-stop from Paris, France, to Kiev, Russia, a distance, (Reportedly measured, “as the crow flies”) of 1,304 miles.      

     The Le Centaur and two other balloons, the L’Orient, and the L’Union, were owned by Count Henri de la Vaulx of France, who brought all three to the United States in March of 1906.    

     The following article about a balloon race from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Bennington, Vermont, appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner newspaper on October 22, 1906.  Only two balloons were involved with the race, the Centaur, and the Orient.

     Note:  Although the article states the balloons are named Centaur and Orient, other sources identify them as being Le. Centaur and L’Orient.  


     “The contestants in the balloon race which started out of Pittsfield at 10:23 o’clock this morning arrived here about 1 o’clock this afternoon.

     The Centaur , the larger balloon of the two, piloted by Charles T. Walsh and having as passengers Captain Charles F. Chandler and Major Samuel Reber, U.S. Signal Corps, reached the village several minutes ahead of the Orient.  After passing over the village in an easterly direction the balloon began to sink.  People at the house of Frank Cromack, by means of a glass, saw the balloonists throwing out ballast, but the big bag had apparently begun to lose gas.  An anchor was thrown out and caught in the trees so that the occupants were in no danger of injury.  The balloon still had sufficient buoyancy to keep clear of the trees and the occupants were apparently not at all alarmed.

     The smaller balloon, the Orient, piloted by Leo Stevens and containing Captain Homer W. Hedge, president of the Aero Club of America, passed over town in a northerly direction almost in a straight line along North Street and went out of sight shortly before 2 o’clock.

     Soon after the small balloon passed over the village the first of the five automobiles that started out in chase of the balloons from Pittsfield arrived , coming down South Street like an express train.  The men were covered with mud and said that the trip had been a hard one.  After taking in gasoline at Phelan’s Garage the automobiles again took up the pursuit of the larger balloon.

     At 3 o’clock observers at Arlington informed the Banner by telephone that the balloon was still in sight from there but far to the northeast and working north close to the mountain range.”

     Source: The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, VT.),  “Small Balloon Wins Contest”, October 22, 1906

     The following article appeared in the Abilene Weekly Reflector on October 25, 1906.


     “Pittsfield, Mass. Oct 23 – Two balloons, Centaur and L’Orient, which remained here after the aero-automobile race between balloons and automobiles for the Hawley Cup had been declared off last Saturday , participated in an endurance contest Monday which carried them miles over northwestern Massachusetts and southern Vermont.  The balloon L’Orient outsailed the Centaur by about three hours and a half, finally landing in the little mountainous town of Jamaica in Windham County, Vermont, 57 miles from the start.  The Centaur came down in Bennington, Vt., 30 miles from this city.

     The balloons rose from here at 10:20 a.m.  The Centaur carried Charles T. Walsh, pilot, and Maj. Samuel Reber and Capt. Charles F. Chandler, of the signal corps U.S.A.  L’Orient was piloted by Leo Stevens, who had as his companion Capt. Homer W. Hedge, president of the Aero Club of America.  The balloons were in sight of each other for about three hours and after them sped three automobiles which had been entered in the Hawley Cup contest on Saturday.  The Centaur was slightly behind L’Orient in crossing the Vermont border, and after getting over Bennington, Pilot Walsh decided to land.  The descent was successfully accomplished on the slope of Woodford Mountain.   

     The occupants of the Centaur said on landing that they considered their object accomplished and that their trip has been highly successful from a scientific standpoint.  The Centaur reached a height of 6,200 feet.

     After seeing the Centaur descend, Pilot Stevens of L’Orient decided to keep on.  Twenty-seven more miles of southern Vermont was traveled and at 4:30 L’Orient came down in Jamaica. 

     Mr. Stevens said after landing that L’Orient went 8,000 feet into the air.  Above the clouds the heat was so intense that all outside clothing had to be discarded.  At one time the thermometer registered 106 degrees.

     Twenty-five minutes after Centaur landed in Bennington an automobile driven by Floyd Knight of this city stopped by the side of the car.  Half an hour later an automobile owned by C. F. Bishop of Lenox arrived on the scene.

     Both these machines had followed the balloons as an experiment, although both airships were out of sight much of the time.”

     Source: Abilene Weekly Reflector, (Abilene Kan.) “A Balloon Race”, October 25, 1906       

     On November 3, 1906 the Centaur, or Le. Centaur, took off from Pittsfield, Mass. and landed in a clump of trees on Short Beach in New Haven, Connecticut.  (Some sources put the location in Branford.  Each town apparently has a “Short Beach”.)

     What was remarkable about the 126 mile trip (Some sources put the distance at 156 miles.) was that it was made in only two-and-a-half hours, which was considered very fast for a balloon to travel at that time.   The aeronauts aboard, Leo Stevens, and Captain Homer Hedge, reported that at one point the balloon moved along at 65 miles per hour.    News reports stated, “…the speed attained has not been equaled in this country.”

     The trip would have lasted longer, but the aeronauts didn’t want to cross Long Island Sound, so they quickly brought the balloon down from an altitude of 3,000 feet in only 90 seconds.  Captain Hedge suffered a minor injury climbing down from the balloon.

     The Le Centaur, was later wrecked in late May of 1907 when it again rose from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and developed two tears in the balloon envelope caused by a rapid expansion of the buoyant gas inside due to the heat of the sun.  The craft came down near Middlefield, Mass., and both men aboard, Leo Stevens, and Harry Markoe, escaped unharmed.  It was reported that the damage to the balloon was such that it could never be used again.


     The Plymouth Tribune, (Plymouth, Ind.) “Two Men Fall A Mile”, May 30, 1907

     The Evening World, (NY), “Frightful Fall In A Burst Balloon”, May 24, 1907

     New York Tribune, “Autos Chase Balloon”, November 4, 1906

     The Barre Daily Times, (Barre, VT), Balloon Records beaten”, November 5, 1906

     Deseret Evening News, (Utah), “Remarkable Ballooning”, October 12, 1900

     New York Tribune, “To Fly To South Pole – Count de la Vaulx Arrives With Plans Of Daring Balloon Venture”, March 25, 1906 

A Novel Balloon Experiment – 1909

A Novel Balloon Experiment – 1909

     The following article appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, Vermont) on July 28, 1909.  The name of the balloon mentioned is the “Pittsfield”, named for Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

    Pittsfield Aeronaut Uses Novel Experiment To Descend

     “Conway, Mass.  July 28 – Parachuting his balloon, Pittsfield, at a height of over two miles by loosening the appendix cord and allowing the lower part of the balloon to rise into the netting, Dr. S. S. Stowell of Pittsfield, in his first trip as pilot yesterday made a drop to earth.  The experiment was probably the first of its nature ever tried in this country.

     The balloon ascended from Pittsfield at 10:25 o’clock.  The passengers were John T. Manning of that city, and Mrs. Blanche Hutz, a nurse in Bellevue Hospital, New York.  Over Ashland and Buckland the aeronauts struck a vortex, which once before has troubled balloonists, and were swept rapidly upward to over two miles.

     At this height, with but one bag of ballast left, Dr. Stowell conceived the idea of parachuting his balloon and allowing it to take its own course to earth rather then use the valve cord and allow gas to escape.  The appendix cord was loosened and the Pittsfield, resolving itself into a monster toadstool, started slowly earthward.

     The balloon settled over Shelburne Falls and Conway and came to rest without a jolt in a field in Conway at 1 o’clock.”      

     Source: The Bennington Evening Banner, “Pittsfield Aeronaut Uses Novel  Experiment To Descend”, July 28, 1909

Vermont Balloon Ascension – 1858

Vermont Balloon Ascension – 1858


     On July 5, 1858, John La Mountain made a balloon ascension from Rutland, Vermont, and reportedly reached an altitude of five miles – a remarkable feat for the day.   

     The following is an excerpt from The Middlebury Register, of Middlebury, Vermont, dated July 4, 1858. 

     “Mr. La Mountain in his account of his balloon ascension from Rutland on the 5th estimates that he reached an altitude of five miles.  He was able to count 53 villages.  The Earth appeared concave and there was no perceptible difference between mountains and valleys.  The wet sand in his (ballast) bags was frozen solid.  The rarified atmosphere and intense cold caused painful and alarming sensations.”

     Mr. La Mountain was quoted as saying:

     “At this woeful scene I still retained presence of mind enough to be aware of my condition. I immediately pulled the valve-rope to discharge gas to descend.  The Balloon having been continually ascending for about forty minutes, was at a height of at least five miles.  In the course of a few minutes the Balloon began gradually to descend, and my suffering began to be somewhat relieved. ”   

     The trip lasted one hour and twenty-two minutes during which the balloon traveled forty miles before it landed in the town of Windham. 


     The Middlebury Register, (Middlebury, VT.), “News Of The Week”. July 14, 1858 

Jumping From A Balloon In The 19th Century

Jumping From A Balloon In 19th Century


     There was a time when balloon ascensions were popular attractions at county fairs and other venues all across the United States.  To draw larger crowds, some aeronauts took to making daring parachute jumps, or “drops” from their balloons, generally from altitudes ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 feet, although there were some who jumped from much greater heights.  The parachutes were usually of the aeronaut’s own design, made of linen or silk, and attached to the outside of the balloon, and not in a pack strapped to the back of the aeronaut.   

     When the aeronaut left the balloon, he (or she) would hold on to a ring at the bottom of the parachute, or sit upon a trapeze suspended beneath the parachute, and maintain a hold until landing.  However, there were some who would perform acrobatic feats with the trapeze during the descent.  As one might expect from such an arrangement, not all parachute “drops” ended well.

     The following illustrations from the late 1880s depict how such feats were accomplished.

Balloon ascending with parachute attached to the side.

Balloon ascending with parachute attached to the side.

     The top of the parachute was attached to the balloon in such a way that when the aeronaut dropped, his weight would cause it to release.  


Aeronaut Preparing to Jump With Parachute.

Aeronaut Preparing to Jump With Parachute.

     For obvious reasons, leaping from a balloon under these circumstances required one to be in top physical condition.   Upon leaving the balloon, the aeronaut would free fall for 100 feet or more before the parachute (hopefully) opened with a jerk.  Therefore it was necessary to maintain a strong grip lest he be yanked free by the jolt.  The grip then had to be maintained for at least two minutes or more while making the descent.  If landing on earth, he had to be agile enough to “tuck and roll”, and if on water, a good swimmer.

Safe Landing

Safe Landing

Performing Acrobatics

Performing Acrobatics

Sometimes Parachutes Would Fail

Sometimes Parachutes Would Fail


      Captain Thomas Baldwin, a well known aeronaut, balloonist, and airman of the late 1800s and early 1900s, described to a newspaper reporter what it feels like to make a parachute drop from a balloon.  The following excerpt is from the December 15, 1887 edition of the Democratic Northwest, a now defunct Ohio newspaper. 

    “The first hundred feet are the worst.  The parachute does not fill at once, and so it is like falling sheer through that much space.  And that is another reason why the drop has to be made a little carefully; otherwise I might get turned over, and though, of course, if I hold on ’twill come out all right, yet the wrench on my arms would be violent, and the thing would shake more.  It shakes quite enough, I assure you, although I have improved a little on it in that respect.  You can fancy what a fall of a hundred feet might be, though it is pretty hard to imagine it if you have never been through the thing.  The sensation is not altogether pleasant.  It is a giddy sinking through the air.  The condensation of the atmosphere under the parachute, which is shaped like an umbrella so as to catch the air more readily, brings me up suddenly.  It is almost like a jerk, and to people looking at me I seem to stop for a moment.  After that the decent is more gradual, though it is quite fast enough for ordinary purposes.  The rate of speed is about 1,200 feet a minute.  I have given the point of resistance which the parachute offers with a certain weight and when it is of a certain diameter a good deal of study.  The sensation is pleasant enough in summer.  Floating down through the air in that way is cool.  It is something like coming down a rapidly running elevator.  But your legs are free, and you feel your body with nothing around it.  The oscillations begin, however, and you are swayed from side to side like a pendulum.”          

Louis H. Capazza   

Louis Capazza's Parachute-Balloon, 1892

Louis Capazza’s Parachute-Balloon, 1892

       In 1892, Louis H. Capezza, (1862-1928), developed what he called a “parachute-balloon” in which the parachute served as the upper netting for the balloon until ready to deploy.  (See illustration below.) If the balloon suddenly burst, or developed a leak, the aeronaut would be saved by an automatic deployment of the parachute.  The balloon could also be manually opened via a rip cord operated by the pilot.

     Mr. Capazza also developed the concept of utilizing a parachute as an “air brake”.  Sometimes, for various reasons, a balloon would rise too fast, or continue to rise higher than the aeronaut intended.  Capazza reasoned that by placing a folded parachute beneath the balloon that could be unfurled in such a situation, the rapid ascension could be slowed or stopped.       

     Updated November 11, 2019

A 1906 illustration showing a performer being shot from a cannon suspended beneath a balloon.


     Democratic Northwest, (Napoleon, Ohio), “A Mighty Leap”, December 15, 1887

     Pittsburg Dispatch, (Pittsburg, PA.), “A Parachute Balloon”, November 27, 1892, page 22

     The Middleburgh Post, (Middleburgh, PA.), “To Stop A Balloon”, November 5, 1896

     Kansas City Journal, (Kansas City, Mo.) March 9, 1897, Page 8 

     The Cook County Herald, (Grand Marais, Minn.) “Leap From The Clouds”, November 30, 1901

     Wikipedia –  Louis H. Capazza

     The Interior Journal, (Stanford, KY.) July 6, 1906


New England Balloon Ascensions – 1909

New England Balloon Ascensions – 1909 

   balloon During the year 1909, 87 balloon ascensions were made in new England, 81 of which were made from Massachusetts, and 6 from Vermont.  The flights were made using 10 balloons and 15 pilots.

     A total of 137 people participated in these flights, 18 of them were women.

     The total air miles flown was 3, 774 miles.  The longest trip of the year was made July 11, 1909, by a balloon with 5 people aboard that flew from North Adams, Massachusetts, to Topsham, Maine.      


     (This article was run in numerous newspapers, but with different headlines.)

     The San Francisco Call, “Eastern Aeronauts Make Good Aerial Records During Year”, January 25, 1910

First U.S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

First U. S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

     On January 22, 1916, The Manufacturers Exhibition opened in New Haven, Connecticut.  One display that drew great interest was a model of a dirigible airship that had been constructed by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven; the first dirigible ever built for the United States Navy.    

     At the time of the exhibit, the airship was in a hangar at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire, undergoing some final preparations before it would sail to Pensacola, Florida, to under go trials and testing.

     The initial order for the dirigible was placed May 14, 1915.  It was reported at that time that the ship would be constructed in New York, assembled in New Haven, Connecticut, and shipped for trials to the Pensacola, Florida, Naval Aeronautic Station, all under the supervision and guidance of the Connecticut Aircraft Company.     

     The model displayed at the exhibition was designed to be towed by a battleship traveling 25 miles per hour against a 15 mph wind to be utilized by lookouts, and spotters for directing ship’s fire during battle conditions.   Traditional balloons had proved to be problematic in this roll due to their lack of stability under these conditions which often resulted in seasickness for the observers.

     The completed dirigible was described as being be 175 feet long, 50 feet tall, and 35 feet in diameter. It would carry a crew of eight, and cost $45,636. 

     The balloon was built with inner compartments that divided the front from the back, either of which could be pumped full with regular air to displace the hydrogen gas so as to make one end of the ship heavier or lighter to aid in ascending or descending.    

     Government specifications required that the dirigible be capable of rising at the rate of 8 feet per second. 

     Fabric for the balloon was manufactured at the United States Rubber Company.   

     On March 13, 1917, with the United States now involved in World War I, contracts totaling $649,250 were awarded to four manufacturers to produce 16 additional dirigibles for the U.S. Navy. 

     The awards were as follows:

     Three dirigibles to be built by the Curtis Aeroplane Company in Buffalo, N.Y., for $122,250.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven, CT., for $84,000.

     Nine dirigibles to be built by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, for $360,000.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the B. F. Goodrich company in Akron, Ohio, for $88,000.  

     During its tenure in business, the Connecticut Aircraft Company build 177 airships and balloons of various kinds.  In 1921 the company was acquired by a Delaware corporation known as the Aircraft-Construction Corporation, and continued to produce dirigible airships under that name. 

    Click here to view more articles pertaining to the Connecticut Aircraft Company. 


     The Sun, (NY) “First Dirigible For The U.S. Navy Will Be Constructed In New York”, May 16, 1915 

     Tulsa Daily World, (Okla.) “U. S. Navy’s New Air Ship Fleet”, August 8, 1915 

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Model Of First Dirigible Built For U. S. Is Shown”, January 23, 1916   

     The Chickasha Daily Express, (Okla.) April 1, 1916

     The East Oregonian, (Ore.) “U.S. Contracts For Sixteen Dirigibles”, March 14, 1917, (Daily Evening Edition, page 5.)

     The Bridgeport Times, (CT.) “Connecticut Aircraft Plane Will Be Operated By New Delaware Corporation”, September 1, 1921 

Professor Donaldson’s Unexpected Voyage To Connecticut – 1873

Professor Donaldson’s Unexpected Voyage To Connecticut – 1873

    prof-donaldson-july-10-1919 Professor Washington Harrison Donaldson, (1840-1875) was a Balloonist from reading, Pennsylvania, known for making numerous ascensions during his career.  What was perhaps his most infamous ascension occurred on October 7, 1873, when he left New York on what was to be a transatlantic flight to England, but was forced down in New England instead.  What makes this flight by Donaldson historic is that it was the first known attempt by an aeronaut to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air.

     Since the first balloon flight in France in 1793, it had been every aeronaut’s ambition to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air, yet each knew that such a trip in a balloon was impossible, for once aloft a balloon was at the mercy of prevailing winds.  Then in 1843, an aeronaut named Professor John Wise came to the conclusion that such a trip was feasible if the balloon could reach a certain altitude where he believed there was a constant flow of air blowing from west to east.  If a balloon could reach that current of air, he speculated, it could easily cross the ocean.  Professor Wise petitioned Congress for money to develop his idea and to build a balloon, but he was turned down.   

     Professor Donaldson made his first balloon ascension from Reading, Pennsylvania, on August 30, 1871.  Within a year he’d established his reputation as an aeronaut and began to develop plans to build a balloon with which to attempt a trans-Atlantic trip to England utilizing the air currents Professor Wise believed existed.

     Initially Donaldson approached Boston municipal authorities asking for funds with which to build his balloon, and offered to begin his historic trip from that city, but was turned down.  Undaunted, he went to New York, and received funding from the Daily Graphic newspaper.  Thus, Donaldson’s balloon was christened, “The Daily Graphic”.   

     Donaldson’s balloon was massive, holding 300,000 square feed of gas, beneath which hung a life boat for use in the event of a water landing that was stocked with enough provisions to last forty days. 

     The balloon took off from the Capitolino Grounds in Brooklyn, New York, at 9:19 a.m. on the morning of October 7th.   Accompanying Professor Donaldson on his trans-Atlantic journey were Alfred Ford, and George Ashton Lunt. 

     A description of the ascent was reported in a local newspaper as follows: “The balloon arose with immense velocity.  The drag rope depending from the concentrating ring had been stretched out along the ground, and as the great air ship soared skyward it ripped the drag rope through the grass with a motion that can only be compared to an infuriated whale dragging a harpoon rope.  The crowd cheered lustily, the aeronauts responding by waving their hats and blowing a fog horn.”

     When the balloon reached about 5,000 feet prevailing winds began pushing it eastward, and then to the northeast carrying them over Westchester County, New York, and then over Connecticut.  At about 1:15 p.m. they passed over a mountain in Litchfield County Connecticut and found themselves above a valley surrounded by thick clouds, heavy rain, and gusty winds.  The storm was a violent one with strong winds spinning and buffeting the craft.  Then the balloon was caught in an updraft taking it high into the sky before it suddenly began falling back towards earth at great speed.  It descended to tree- top level, and was pulled across the tree tops about 30 feet off the ground.  At this point the men decided to abandon the balloon and jump.  Donaldson and Ford leapt at the same moment, but Lunt was delayed.  The sudden loss of weight caused the balloon to suddenly shoot skyward again taking Lunt with it.  Before long it disappeared back into the storm clouds. 

     Donaldson and Ford alighted on the farm of Charles Lewis in North Canaan, Connecticut, relatively unhurt.  At this point there was nothing they cold do for Lunt.   

     In his statement to the press Lunt later recalled his experience:  “We were attacked by a tremendous squall of wind and rain at fifteen minutes past one o’clock, and were driven near the earth with frightful velocity.  Everything was thrown overboard without avail, and as we were dashed to the earth Donaldson and Ford sprang out, and the balloon shot into the air, bearing me with it, and was speedily in the storm-cloud again, and being whirled about in the most alarming manner.  I shouted to Donaldson for directions but could hear no reply, and was left to my own resources,  The bag was shaking above me with awful force, and I could see nothing, so thick was the cloud.  I seized the valve cord and attempted to open it.  Could not open it.  The cord became entangled with the neck.  Suddenly tree tops shot up through the fog, and in an instant the balloon was whirling through branches.  I climbed out of the boat to a place above the ring, and as the balloon rushed into a thicket of trees I swung myself out and dropped among the branches.

     The boat scraped over me and detached my hands.  I dropped to earth, surprised to find myself unhurt.  I started to walk back in the supposed right direction, and met four men running after me.  I offered them a large reward to capture the balloon, then out of sight.  They have gone in pursuit in the locality of Canaan, Connecticut. I was driven to the station by Dr. William Adams, where Ford and Donaldson arrived soon after.”

     The balloon was later recovered in a severely battered condition about a mile from the Lewis farm .  

     Professor Donaldson was later lost in a balloon ascension from Chicago over Lake Michigan in 1875.  Neither he nor his balloon were recovered.  

     To learn more about Professor Donaldson’s balloon flights, see the 1875 book “History of Donaldson’s Balloon Ascensions”, (With illustrations.)

     Updated May 5, 2017

     An interesting newspaper article relating to the missing Professor Donaldson appeared in The Morning Herald, (Wilmington, Del.) on December 22, 1876. 

The Morning Herald
December 22, 1876



     New York Daily Tribune, “Voyaging In The Sky”, July 6, 1859 

     The Rutland Daily Globe, “The Ocean Balloon”, October 9, 1873

     Yorkville Enquirer, (George A. Lunt’s statement), October 16, 1873       

     Wikipedia – Washington Harrison Donaldson  

     Book, “History of Donaldson’s Balloon Ascensions”, Complied by M. L. Amick M.D., Cincinnati News Co., 1875


Prof. C. C. Bonette – Early Vermont Aeronaut

Professor C. C. Bonette – Early Vermont Aeronaut


     Professor C. C. Bonette was born in Victory, Vermont, on November 24, 1872, and died in Concord, Vermont, March 28, 1947.  Newspaper accounts almost always referenced him by his initials, but his full name was Clarence Clement Bonette. (At times his last name has also been spelled Bonett and Bonnette by the press.)

     Prof. Bonette began his aeronautical career in the 1890s by giving parachute/balloon exhibitions at fairs and expositions around New England.  His performances involved going aloft in his hot air balloon and then dropping from a pre-determined altitude using a parachute.  In later years he devised a spring-loaded “cannon” which hung from beneath the balloon.  When the balloon had risen to the proper altitude, Bonette would appear to be fired from the cannon before parachuting safely to the ground.  The stunt was actually an illusion created by fire works and confetti to make it appear that the cannon had fired, but in reality no gun powder was used.    

     According to an interview given by Bonette to Alton H. Blackington in 1943, the professor made his first parachute drop at a fair in Plymouth, New Hampshire, in 1893, after the featured aerialist took sick minutes before the scheduled performance, and Bonnete volunteered to act as a replacement.     

     His second and third drops were made at the first meeting of the St. Johnsbury Gentlemen’s Driving Club held at the fairgrounds in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in October of 1893.   (The club was for those who liked to race horses.)    

     Being an aeronaut was not without its hazards, and it would seem that Professor Bonette had more than his share of close calls.  The following are a few examples.

     While performing at the South Ryegate (Vermont) Fair during the third week of September, 1895, Bonette experienced a problem with his parachute line becoming entangled with one holding a sand bag used for ballast while he floated high in the air.  He decided to cut the parachute loose thinking it would pull the tangled line free, but it didn’t.  The Vermont Phoenix newspaper had this to say about the incident: “C. C. Bonette, the aeronaut, came very close near making his last ascension at St. Johnsbury recently, when 5,000 feet in the air, he found that the balloon and parachute had by some means become connected by a string, but by great effort he succeeded in freeing himself just in time to save his life.”   Fortunately Bonette was not injured.   

     Two months later, on November 14, 1895, it was reported in the News And Citizen (a Morrisville, VT. newspaper) that Professor Bonette had just completed a successful season as an aeronaut having made 28 balloon ascensions since July 1, with only one accident.  That accident occurred while he was performing in Pittsfield, Maine, when his balloon began to collapse while he was 300 feet in the air.  Thinking quick, he dropped with his parachute, which opened in the nick of time to save his life, although he still made a “hard landing” and received injuries which took a week to recover from. 

     In June of 1899 Bonette’s balloon developed a leak while 200 feet in the air while he was performing at Ridgewood Park in Brooklyn, N.Y.  Bonette dropped using a parachute which didn’t sufficiently open in time.  He crashed into the top of an apple tree and suffered severe bruising, but no broken bones.    

     The following September, while performing at the Rochester Fair in Rochester, New Hampshire, Bonette suffered another accident.  While preparing to take off in a balloon from which he intended to make a parachute drop, he told his assistants, “Goodbye boys, I’ll see you later, but how much later I don’t know.”  When the balloon was released, it rose quickly, but suddenly developed a small tear which allowed the hot air to begin escaping.  The professor cut loose with his parachute, but it didn’t fully inflate until he was almost to the ground.  He struck the earth hard, and his head and shoulders came in contact with a post sticking up two feet from the ground. 

     A few weeks later it was reported in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian that Bonette, “has nearly recovered from his parachute injury, and will soon begin training for his aerial work this winter in Keith’s circuit.  He will resume his aeronaut specialties next summer and has begun construction of a new balloon.”     

Advertisement for the Caledonia Co. Fair St. Johnsbury, Vermont Sept. 15 - 17 , 1903

Advertisement for the Caledonia Co. Fair

St. Johnsbury, Vermont

Sept. 15 – 17 , 1903

     While performing at St. Albans, Vermont, during the last week of August, 1901, Bonette’s balloon rose to an altitude of 3,000 feet and then hung suspended over Lake Champlain, forcing him to make his scheduled parachute drop while still over the water.  He splashed down about a quarter mile from shore and was quickly rescued by nearby boaters who’d anticipated the outcome.

     In August of 1902 the Bare Evening Telegram reported that Professor Bonette, “had several narrow escapes lately, the last one Saturday when he was blown 3 miles out on Long Island Sound and came near drowning before boats could reach him.”   He’d been performing at Southport, Connecticut, at the time. 

     On October 10, 1907, Bonette’s balloon burst open while he was 200 feet in the air while performing at Claremont, New Hampshire.  He jumped with his parachute while still 100 feet above the crowd, but it didn’t fully open and he was seriously injured.  He was taken unconscious to Claremont Hospital, but later recovered to resume his career.

     The following year on October 1, 1908, Bonette was in Brattleboro, Vermont, preparing to give a performance when his clothing suddenly caught fire as he was inflating the balloon.  Bonette knew to stop-drop-and-roll, while bystanders threw blankets over him thus smothering the flames.  Although badly burned around his face, neck, shoulders, back, and legs, the professor didn’t want to disappoint the crowd, and did his scheduled parachute drop anyway.  Upon landing he was taken to Memorial Hospital for treatment.   

      On May 11, 1912, Bonette was seriously injured at Lynn, Massachusetts, when his parachute failed to open properly as he dropped from 10,000 feet.  He slammed down on the roof of a home on Bay View Avenue and then slid off and hit the ground.  The impact broke several bones.   

     Over the course of his long career Professor Bonette was credited with over 4,785 balloon ascensions/parachute drops.  Even when everything went well he seemed to temp Fate such as the times he would leave the ground suspended only by his teeth holding on to the parachute.  One such incident, reported in the St. Johnsbury Caladonian, occurred in 1903: “Prof. C. C. Bonette made one of his usual sensational ascensions by leaving the ground suspended by his teeth.  The parachute drop was successful for Bonette landed safely in the open field on Fairbanks meadow, near the campus.”  

     Professor Bonette is credited for building the first “aeroplane” to be constructed in the State of Vermont.  It was a Curtis-type biplane 24 feet in length, equipped with a 40-60 hp. engine specially built for the aircraft.  He began building it during the winter of 1909-10, and being the first airplane constructed in the state, he named it “Vermont No. 1”.   The entire aircraft, including the weight of the Professor, was reported to be a mere 600 pounds.     

1911 advertisement for the Granite City Trotting Park where Professor Bonette was to make his first flight in Vermont with his new "aeroplane".

1911 advertisement for the Granite City Trotting Park where Professor Bonette was to make his first flight in Vermont with his new “aeroplane”.

     In July of 1910 Bonette announced his aircraft was nearly complete and he planned to fly it soon.  Unfortunately, although the professor may have been the first to construct an aircraft in Vermont, he wasn’t credited for being the first to fly one.  That honor went to John Willard who flew at the Caledonia Co. Fair in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, on September 15, 1910.  

     A brief but interesting news item from the St. Johnsbury Caledonian dated October 19, 1910, stated, “Prof. Bonette made a flight Friday with his aeroplane and when nearly ready to alight one of the guy wires broke, letting him down and breaking the machine badly.”  Unfortunately, no further details pertaining to the date or location of the mishap were given, but the incident may have occurred at the St. Johnsbury fair grounds, for again, according to another article in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian on November 2, Bonette again tried to take off in his airplane before the Gentleman’s Driving Club in St. Johnsbury, but the engine wouldn’t start.  He speculated that it was because it may have been damaged internally in the hard landing, and thought he may have to send it back to the factory for repair.      

     A May 25, 1911 advertisement for the Granite City Trotting Park stated; “Mr. C. C. Bonette of St. Johnsbury, who for the past eighteen years has been making ascensions with parachute jumps , has this season equipped himself with an up-to-date flying machine of the bi-plane type, and will make his first Vermont flight at Barre, on May 3oth.”     

     Unfortunately the flight didn’t take place.  On June 1, 1911, the Burlington Weekly Free Press reported that the flight was cancelled due to rough ground at the starting point which caused one of the plane’s running wheels to break.   

     Professor Bonette was married to Minnie Wilson Bonette, who was seriously injured in a fall from a balloon at Malone, New York, on September 27, 1897.  Although confined to a wheelchair, she still accompanied her husband to his performances until she passed away in 1922.   The professor lived until 1947, and is buried next to his wife in the Sutton Village Cemetery, in Sutton, Vermont.  

    To see a photograph of Professor Bonette, see, Memorial # 130371752.    


     St. Johnsbury Caladonian, “Fast Time At The Races – The Balloon Ascensions”, October 19, 1893.

     Vermont Phoenix, no headline October 4, 1895, page 8.

     News And Citizen, (Morrisville, VT.), no headline, November 14, 1895, Page 4.

     New York Daily Tribune, “She Jumped Too Soon”, October 1, 1897, page 7.

     The United Opinion, (Bradford, VT.) “News Items” June 23, 1899, Page 4.

     News And Citizen, “Balloon Parted”, September 27, 1899

     St. Johnsbury Caledonian, no headline, November 22, 1899, page 8

     St. Johnsbury Caledonian, “Aeronaut Bonette Gets Wet”, September 4, 1901, page 4.  

     Barre Evening Telegram, no headline, August 27, 1902

     News And Citizen, no headline, July 30, 1902, Page 3.

     St. Johnsbury Caledonian, Caladonia Co. Fair advertisement, September 9, 1903, page 3.

     St. Johnsbury Caladonian, “The County Fair”, September 16, 1903, page 4.

     Bangor Daily Commercial, (Bangor, ME.) “Aeronaut Falls 100 Feet”, October 11, 1907

     The Bennington Evening Banner, (Bennington, VT.), “C. C. Bonette Burned”, October 2, 1908 

     Herald And News, (West Randolph, VT.) “Two Vermont Airships”, July 7, 1910, page 3.

     Orleans County Monitor, (Barton, VT.) “Vermont’s First Aeroplane”, September 7, 1910, Page 7.

     St. Johnsbury Caledonian, “Aviator Flew Over Vermont Hills”, September 21, 1910, page 7

     St. Johnsbury Caledonian, “Bonnett Didn’t Fly”, November 2, 1910, page 8

     Barre Daily Times, Crantie City Trotting Park advertisement, May 25, 1911, page 4.

     Burlington Weekly Free Press, “First Races At Barre”, June 1, 1911

     The Barre Daily Times, “Prof. C. C. Bonnette Hurt In 10,000 Foot Drop”, May 13, 1912

     Interview With Clarence Bonnette In 1943, by Alton H. Blackington, Yankee Magazine, April, 1965.

Ernest Petin’s Connecticut Balloon Ascensions – 1852

Ernest Petin’s Connecticut Balloon Ascensions – 1852


    Early balloon with net Ernest Petin, (1812-1897), was a French aeronaut from Paris who experimented with various means of flight.  He came to America arriving in Boston in 1852, and furthered his research in Connecticut.   Like many aeronauts of his day, he hoped to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon.

     The following news item appeared in The New York Herald on February 12, 1852:

     “M. Petin, the celebrated inventor of the theory of the aerial navigation, sailed from Havre for Boston, in the American ship Emperor, on the 14th instant, taking with him to the Unites States his three balloons, engines and machinery.

     It will be remembered that M. Petin was struggling with the Minister of the Interior and the Perfect of Police, to obtain their permission to produce his invention before the public.  This demand was finally rejected by the authorities, and the French aeronaut soon arrived at the decision to emigrate to America.  Perhaps before the end of the year, he will return to Europe, in his machine, across the Atlantic sea.”      

     It’s unknown when Mr. Petin made his first balloon ascension in the United States, but an advertisement in the New York Herald stated that Petin would make a “Grand Balloon Ascension” in one of his three large balloons at the Union Course on Long Island, New York, on May 21, 1852.  

     On July 4, 1852, large crowds had gathered at Bridgeport, Connecticut, to watch Mr. Petin make an advertised balloon ascension.  Unfortunately, as preparations were being made strong winds pulled the balloon loose from its moorings and sent it crashing into the eaves of a nearby home where the fabric was torn apart.  Petin suffered minor injuries.  

     On July 23, 1852, Mr. Petin made a balloon ascension from Bridgeport, Connecticut, with two companions with great results.  The Hartford Weekly Times pointed out that this was not the same balloon Petin was injured in on July 4th, which was described as “inferior” to the balloon utilized on the 24th.  

     The article gave no details of the July 4th accident, but research has uncovered a small news items that may shed some light.  On June 26, 1852, about eight days before the accident, a Virginia newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, reported the following: “Mons. Petin, the inventor of a new aerial machine, has announced his intention to make a balloon ascension on horseback during the celebration of the 4th of July.”   

     A Pennsylvania newspaper, The Weekly Lancaster Gazette, carried the same basic statement, however added that the event was to take place in New York.    

     In August of 1852, Petin made another balloon ascension from Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a balloon measuring 25 feet long and 70 feet in diameter, with a boat attached underneath.  With him were Gustave Regnard of France, and a Mr. Wood of Bridgeport.    

     64 men reportedly held the ropes securing the balloon until the signal to release was given.  The craft quickly rose to an altitude of 10,000 feet and began drifting towards Long Island Sound.  While passing over the Sound it rose to 22,000 feet where the temperature was recorded at 9 degrees below zero. 

     The cold was intense, and one of the men, it was not stated who, was “benumbed”, and “fell into a profound sleep”.  With great difficulty, Petin managed to open the release valve and descend rapidly to 13,000 feet.

     The balloon landed without incident at Riverhead, New York, a village on Long Island, New York.      

     On September 6, 1852, Petin and three companions made another ascension from Bridgeport in what was said to be the largest balloon ever used in the United States.  It measured 100 feet tall and 72 feet around, and contained 3,500 cubic feet of gas. 

     It rose to an altitude of 23,500 feet as it was carried over Long Island Sound, and then Long Island itself before coming down in the Atlantic Ocean six miles from shore.  Petin and his companions were rescued by members of the Coast Guard Lifesaving Station in Bridgehampton, Long Island.     

     On October 14, 1852, Petin made yet another ascension from Bridgeport which ended with similar results as the previous trip made a month earlier.  This time the balloon hit the water two miles from shore off South Hampton, Long Island, and once again Petin and his companions were rescued by the Coast Guard.  

     The following year Mr. Petin began making ascensions in New Orleans, La.


     The New York Herald, (Morning Edition), (No Headline) February 12, 1852

     The Daily Dispatch, (Richmond, Va.) “Balloon Ascension On Horseback”, June 26, 1852

     The Weekly Lancaster Gazette, July 1, 1852

     New Orleans Daily Crescent, “A Collapse” , July 15, 1852 

     Hartford Weekly Times, (CT.)  “Balloon Ascension”, July 24, 1852

     Jeffersonian Republican, (Stroudsburg, Pa.), “Great Balloon Ascension”, August 19, 1852

     A History of the Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport, Part II, by Samuel Orcutt, Fairfield Co. Historical Society, Bridgeport, Ct. C. 1886

     Weekly National Intelligencer, (Washington, DC), “Narrow Escape Of Ballonists”, October 16, 1852 

Grooms, Balloons, And Aerial Honeymoons

     Originally published in The Smithfield Times, (Rhode Island), June, 2016.  Some of the early aerial weddings mentioned in this article took place in New England. 

Grooms, Balloons, and Aerial Honeymoons

 By Jim Ignasher

Updated January 27, 2017

    Balloon wedding july 4 1884 There’s an old joke about a woman who told her suitor that no man on earth was good enough for her to marry. Undaunted, the hopeful groom suggested that instead of getting married “on earth”, they get married in a balloon.  

     Various renditions of this quip have appeared in old newspapers, and at the dawn of the 20th century it was considered not only humorous, but timely as well, for balloon weddings were, (Dare I say it?) on the rise – so to speak.

     For as long as people have been getting married there’ve been those wanting to take their vows in non-traditional settings, and by the later half of the 1800s balloon technology had “risen” (Pun intended.) to the point where something new in the way of unique circumstances could be offered – aerial weddings. The following stories have been culled from various newspaper articles.

     Famous showman and circus owner P. T. Barnum is generally credited with orchestrating the first aerial wedding in history which occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 19, 1874, when Charles Colton and Mary Walsh were married in a balloon one mile above the earth. The event created quite a sensation at the time. However, there’s evidence to indicate that this marriage in the clouds may not have been the first.

     Seven years earlier Mr. J. W. Smithson, of Philadelphia, and Miss Maggie E. Fornshell, of Wooster, Ohio, were reportedly married in a balloon over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 6, 1867. The Evansville Journal characterized the nuptials as being, “Emphatically a wedding in the upper circles.”

     John Kinney, the owner of the balloon, saw the potential business opportunities in aerial nuptials, and announced shortly afterwards his plans for constructing a new balloon specifically for weddings which was to be christened the Maggie Fornshell.

     Another early balloon wedding may have taken place in San Francisco, in November of 1873. It was announced in the Pioche Daily Record that Professor A. A. Lay had obtained a marriage license for himself and one Miss Mary Smith so they could be married in a balloon 900 feet above San Francisco’s city gardens by Justice of the Peace C. F. Townsend. It was reported that once the vows had been exchanged the balloon would be brought down for the reception.        

         What may have been the first wedding involving a balloon took place in New York City, on November 8, 1865. The event was advertised by promoters as the “Balloon Nuptial Ceremonies”, and thousands bought tickets to see the “show”. John N. Boynton, of Syracuse, New York, was to be married in a balloon while it sailed aloft to Miss Mary West Jenkins of St. Louis, Missouri, but instead the vows were exchanged before they climbed into the gondola. Had they only stood inside the basket and risen even three feet from the ground they could have made wedding history, and scooped P.T. Barnum by nine years.  

    Barnum was an advertising genius, so it’s no surprise that after his sponsored airborne wedding of 1874, balloon marriages “took off” (Pun intended.) as more happy couples took their love to “new heights” – sometimes with mixed results.

     The 19th century was a time when people flocked to events involving balloon ascensions much to the delight of those who rang cash registers at country fairs and other locations where balloons were exhibited. Advertised balloon marriages drew even larger crowds due to the increased novelty. But getting married in a swaying balloon in an era when manned flight was still relatively new was not for the faint of heart, or those who suffered from a fear of heights. An interesting case of “cold feet” took place at Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, in 1884, when the bride and groom failed to arrive for their appointed wedding, leaving promoters with the prospect of refunding thousands of dollars to the waiting crowds.

     Yet, as they say, “the show must go on,” so the balloon’s owner and his lovely assistant posed as the happy couple and were married under assumed names. Four years later the owner found himself in court, for evidently the fake marriage had legally binding implications. The “marriage” was dissolved by the judge.

     Then there was the couple from Providence, Rhode Island, who in 1902 were married in a balloon to win a bet. Thomas L. Bennett was already engaged to Edith Ring when a friend bet him twenty-five dollars that he wouldn’t get married in a balloon. The couple accepted the challenge and was married one mile above the Tioga, Pennsylvania, fairgrounds.  

     In 1888, Edward T. Davis and Margaret A. Buckley were married in a balloon before 30,000 people at Narragansett Park, in Providence. After the vows were exchanged the balloon sailed off toward Massachusetts where it encountered a storm and went down in a swamp. Fortunately all aboard were rescued safely.

     A Chattanooga, Tennessee, couple got married in a balloon on June 28, 1897. Shortly after the vows were exchanged, they found themselves drifting over the Tennessee River, where the bride became frightened and jumped from a height of one-hundred feet into the water. The Groom waited until the Balloon had risen to 1,000 feet before jumping with a parachute. Neither was injured.

     About a week later on July 6, 1897, The Rock Island Argus had this to say about the incident: “A Chattanooga girl who was married in a balloon jumped out of the balloon into the river at the conclusion of the ceremony, and when she was fished out reproached the bridegroom for leaving her.”

   In another case, what began as a balloon flight ended as a marriage.  On July 17, 1909, Dr. Sidney S. Stowell met Miss Blanch Edith Hulse for the first time at the Pittsfield (Mass.) Aero Park, and dared her to make a flight with him in his balloon.  The pretty woman accepted, and before long the couple was sailing two miles above the earth.  By the time they landed at Shelbourne Falls, Massachusetts, about fifty miles away, love had blossomed.  They were married a year-and-a-half later.   

     Another 1909 balloon wedding connected to the Pittsfield Aero Park was the marriage between Roger N. Burnham, a Boston sculptor, and Miss Eleanor H. Waring, a writer from Brookline, Mass.   They were married in Falmouth, Massachusetts, before heading to Pittsfield to begin their honeymoon journey in the large balloon, “Pittsfield”, piloted by William van Sleet.  

    One problem with aerial weddings was the fact that the exchange of vows could only be heard by those aboard the balloon, leaving guests on the ground more or less unfulfilled as spectators. In the summer of 1909 one couple solved this difficulty by incorporating modern wireless technology. The event took place high above Seattle, where the young couple said their vows via wireless radio The ceremony was conducted by a minister who stood on the ground next to the radio operator surrounded by the wedding party. Once they were pronounced man and wife, the groom landed the balloon amidst cheers and congratulations.  

     In 1913, a balloon ascension was advertised for the county fair in Rutland, Vermont, and promoters offered twenty-five dollars for a couple willing to be married in the balloon while it was in flight. The offer led a local religious leader to preach against “mercenary marriages”.  

     In September of 1914 a new comedic play titled, ”An Aerial Honeymoon” opened in Providence, Rhode Island, to rave reviews. One review which appeared in the Norwich Bulletin said in part, “The comely girls who formed the chorus are well selected for their musical ability as well as their appearance, and the music is catchy.”

     The invention of the “aeroplane” offered another way to get married aloft, but initially being wedded in one was difficult, for very few were capable of carrying four people; the bride and groom, pilot, and minister. However, this didn’t stop couples from being married while sitting in an aeroplane that was firmly on the ground, which still made them eligible to say they were married “aboard” an aeroplane. Newspaper articles as early as 1911 mention couples being married “in” or “aboard” aeroplanes, therefore it’s difficult to determine exactly when the first wedding aboard an airplane in flight took place.    

     By the 1920s airplane technology had come a long way. In 1922 a New York couple was married in a plane over Mineola, Long Island. Afterwards they honeymooned in New England.  

    BOY50069 What is reportedly the “first marriage in an airplane on record in the State of Vermont” took place on August 26, 1927, over the Milton Airdrome. As their airplane circled 2,800 feet overhead, Kenneth Dickerman and Sadie Branch were married by the Reverend S. Rowe who broadcast to the couple from the ground via radio. As the couple exchanged their vows, the pilot cut the engine and allowed the plane to glide downward so wedding guests and spectators could clearly hear the broadcast words.  

     What was described by one newspaper as a “marriage epidemic” took place at the opening of the Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, Airport in August of 1928.  In planning the dedication of the new airport it was advertised that any couple who arrived on that date with a marriage license and willing to be married in an airplane, would receive $100, which was considered a handsome sum in those days.  Unfortunately for the promoters, one-hundred couples responded expressing interest, with at least thirty confirming their plans.  It was then decided that only the first couple to arrive would receive the prize money, but the rest would still be taken aloft and married in an airplane.        

     About two years later on April 20, 1930, Rhode Island saw its first airplane wedding. Mabel P. Denver of Seekonk, Massachusetts, and Charles E. Cherry of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, were married in a tri-motor aircraft as it soared above What Cheer Airport in Pawtucket during an air meet.      

   Then there was the New Hampshire couple who met by accident – literally – when the groom, a pilot, was injured in a plane crash at Concord Airport. At the hospital he met and fell in love with his nurse. They were married August 28, 1936, and took off in an airplane to begin their “aerial honeymoon”.

     Getting back to P.T. Barnum’s sponsored wedding of 1874; some may have suspected it was nothing more than a publicity stunt. After all, Barnum was known for stunts and hoaxes, and the newlyweds were employees of the circus. In fact, in July of 1875 some newspapers were reporting that the marriage lasted but three weeks however, such is not the case. A 1901 newspaper account from the Lewiston Evening Journal proves the marriage was not only legitimate, but a success.  

     In that article, Charles Colton, then known as Sergeant Colton of the New York City Police Department, recalled how the wedding might not have occurred had it not been for his wife Mary’s initiative. Both had hoped to marry, but financial circumstances were forcing them to wait. Then Mary suggested they be married in a balloon. They approached Mr. Barnum who liked the idea, and gave them a substantial dowry with which to begin married life together.

     People are still being married in balloons and airplanes today, and pay big money to do so, although the novelty is hardly newsworthy any more. Yet the world is still waiting for the first wedding in outer space.    


(MS.) The Daily Clarion, “The Latest Sensation In New York Was A Projected Marriage In A Balloon”, November 21, 1865

(MO.) The Holt County Sentinel, “The Balloon Marriage”, December 1, 1865

(OH.) Urbana Union, “The Balloon Wedding”, July 24, 1867

(ID.) The Evansville Journal, “News Briefs, July 29, 1867

(NV.) Pioche Daily Record, “The Great Balloon Marriage”, October 31, 1873

(ID.) The Indiana State Sentinel, “Among The Clouds – The Balloon Wedding”, October 27, 1874

(AZ.) The Arizona Sentinel, (No Headline – Under Briefs) July 17, 1875

(KY.) The Evening Bulletin, “Don’t Want It To Hold Good”, April 16, 1888

(VT.) Essex County Herald, “Honeymoon In The Clouds”, October 5, 1888

(OH.) Marietta Daily Leader, “Married In A Balloon”, June 29, 1897

(IL.) The Rock Island Argus, “Abbreviated Telegrams”, July 6, 1897

(ME.) Lewiston Evening Journal, “The Original Balloon Wedding”, November 29, 1901

(AZ.) Arizona Republican, “Married In A Balloon”, September 2, 1902

(VA.) The Richmond Planet, “Easy Way Out”, June 23, 1906

(NE.) The North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune”, Married In A Balloon”, August 13, 1909

(NY) New York Times, “Their Honeymoon In A Big Balloon”, June 19, 1909 

(OR.) East Oregonian, Balloon Trip The Cause”, January 5, 1911, evening edition, page 5.   

(Ill.) Rock Island Argus, “To Wed In An Aeroplane”, August 23, 1911

(KS.) The Topeka State Journal, “To Wed In The Air”, July 13, 1912

(VT.) The Barre Daily Times, (No Headline) July 22, 1913

(CT.) Norwich Bulletin, “Byrne Brothers In ‘Aerial Honeymoon’”, September 14, 1914

(N.Y.) The New York Herald, “Aerial Bridal Pair Honeymoon By Plane”, April 26, 1922

(CT.) New Britain Herald, “Marriage Epidemic To Open New Aviation Field”, August 24, 1928

(R.I.) The Providence Journal, Wedding Feature Of Air Meet Today”, April 20, 1930

(R.I.) Woonsocket Call, “Couple Married In Plane Flying Over Town Of Milton, VT.” August 26, 1927

(N.H.) Nashua Telegraph, “Aerial Honeymoon For Concord Couple”, August 29, 1936


William Riley’s Life Boat Balloons – 1896

William Riley’s Life Boat Balloons – 1896

     In 1896, Connecticut inventor William Willshire Riley, (1815-1897), demonstrated a novel idea for saving the lives of those who found themselves aboard sinking ships – life boats equipped with balloons.  The balloons gave the boats better buoyancy, could act as a sail to push the boat along, and also make the boat easier to see from a distance, thus offering a better chance at rescue.

     Mr. Riley received the patent for his idea on February 3, 1891. 

     In the late summer and early autumn of 1896, Riley demonstrated that his idea worked as he conducted tests on the Connecticut River near Middletown.  Even when the boat was completely filled with water, passengers, and crew, the balloon provided enough lift to keep it afloat. 

     The Riley life boat was reported to be 16 feet long, equipped with cylinders containing compressed gas to inflate the balloon, which was connected to the top of an adjustable hollow mast.  The gas could also be pumped from the balloon and back into the cylinders if necessary.  It was also demonstrated that the gas could be ignited and used as a beacon to attract rescue at night. 

     In the 19th century, many sailing ships were wrecked within sight of shore, and it was up to the U.S. Life Saving Service to rescue the helpless crews.  Rescue operations were often conducted in stormy weather and rough seas.  One method used by the Life Saving Service was to fire a small cannon which launched a rope to the stricken vessel.  Unfortunately this wasn’t always successful if the wind was blowing shoreward.  Mr. Riley showed that his boat could be launched from a sinking vessel and carry a rope to shore with it. 

     It was thought that Mr. Riley’s invention would be in common use within a short time. 

     Mr. Riley passed away on April 8, 1897, and is buried with is wife at Old Center Cemetery in Cromwell, Connecticut.  To see a photograph of his grave and learn more, see, Memorial #13743474.         


     Iron County Register, (Mo.) “Balloons To Save Life”, November 5, 1896 – Originally published in the New York Herald. 


Aero Club Of New England Balloon Fares – 1909

Aero Club Of New England Balloon Fares – 1909


Click on image to enlarge.

From the Corvallis Daily Gazette, May 25, 1909

From the Corvallis Daily Gazette, May 25, 1909


He Nearly Drowned In A Balloon -1906

He Nearly Drowned In A Balloon – 1906 

19th Century Illustration Of An Early Aeronaut

19th Century Illustration

Of An Early Aeronaut

     Being blown out to sea was one the biggest fears of early aeronauts who took to the sky in balloons, for weight considerations didn’t allow for life rafts, and chances of survival were slim.  Such an experience happened to “Professor” James K. Allen, a famous Rhode Island balloonist, in 1906. 

     Allen took off in his balloon from Providence on July 4, 1906, as part of a Fourth of July celebration.  The weather was threatening, but Allen didn’t want to disappoint the huge crowds who had come to witness the ascension.

     Allen lifted off shortly after noon time, but a few minutes into the flight he realized there was a problem with the craft’s drag rope and anchor, so he set down to fix the problem.  He came down on the Bowen estate just outside Providence.  (The present-day location of the former Bowen estate is unknown.)  The balloon was 52 feet high and 28 feet wide, decorated with numerous flags for Independence Day, which attracted a lot of attention as it came in to land, and Allen had no trouble finding volunteers to hold the balloon down while he made the necessary repairs.  Ten minutes later he was finished, and once again took off. 

     Wind currents carried him north towards Attleboro, Massachusetts, where he lost considerable altitude, but after dropping ballast bags full of sand to attain more altitude, the balloon shot upwards to a height of 10,000 feet. 

     “I tell you it was a fine sight, ” he later told reporters, “those clouds rolled up in banks, like mountains of snow way down underneath the balloon.  Sometimes the clouds look dark when you get over them, but these clouds were light and white, as they look after a storm.” 

     When asked how fast he was going at this point, Allen replied, “Ah, I was fooled up there.  It was blowing something fierce, and I couldn’t tell how fast I was going.  I guess I was going along over the clouds for a couple of hours when I saw the water.  Then I let out some gas, and came down a little to get my bearings, for I didn’t want to go out to sea.  I kept going out, however, and apparently to the southeast, but it was stormy and raining, and I couldn’t very well tell just where I was.”

     Just as it was getting dark Allen realized he was passing over Provincetown, Massachusetts, on the very tip of Cape Cod, and being pushed out to sea.  In the fading light he let out all five-hundred feet of his drag rope as well as the anchor which caught in the water below and pulled him down to about one hundred feet above the waves.  The drag rope also served to reduce his speed, but high winds were still pushing him away from shore.  With a cloudy sky and no moon, Allen found himself traveling along in utter darkness.  

     Shortly after midnight the gondola struck the water drenching its occupant.  “The minute we touched the water, “Allen related, “I grabbed the ropes overhead and I was none too quick for the basket was almost submerged.  I threw out a few bagfuls of sand and went up again, about a hundred feet, I guess, but about an hour later I struck the water again and got another good soaking.”     

     Each time the gondola went into the water Allen was forced to drop more ballast to allow the balloon to rise up again.  By dawn he had received three dunkings. 

     As the sky grew lighter, he saw a steamship approaching from the opposite direction, but despite his efforts to signal for help the ship kept going.  Somehow the bridge crew and the lookout had missed the huge colorful balloon bobbing just above the surface.   “I shouted,” said Allen, “but I guess she didn’t see me, for she paid no attention to me and kept right on her course.”

     About an hour later the balloon was seen by the crew of a tugboat that was pulling several barges.   Allen signaled for help, and the tug captain cut the barges loose and gave chase, but the wind picked up and blew the balloon faster than the tug could go, and the boat’s captain was forced to abandon his rescue efforts.

     “I was tearing along at a pretty good pace in spite of the drag.” (rope) Allen related.

     Later he came upon a fishing schooner with two long boats in the water, and the crew of one of the boats managed to grab ahold of the drag rope behind the balloon and secure it to the boat.  The boat came along side to help, yet the wind was still blowing hard enough that the balloon began pulling the boats! 

     “When I saw they held on,” Allen recalled, “I began letting out the gas, and I got down lower and lower, until finally I landed safely in one of the dories as pretty as you could wish, and stepped out.  It was pretty calm by this time, and we didn’t have much trouble with the balloon.  The schooner came up and Captain John V. Silva invited me on board.”    

     The schooner was the Francis V. Silva out of Provincetown, Massachusetts.  The location of Mr. Allen’s rescue was ten miles off Chatham, Mass.  

      When asked by the press how many times he had flown in a balloon, Allen replied, “About 400 times; 185 times I’ve cut loose from earth; the other times I just ascended in the balloon while it was tied by a rope 400 to 500 feet.  It’s the best fun in the world.”

     As a point of fact, it had originally been planned for Mr. Allen’s wife to accompany him on this flight.  After his harrowing adventure, he was happy she stayed behind.  

     This was not Mr. Allen’s only brush with death in his flying career.  See “Providence, R. I. – July 16, 1892”, under “Rhode Island Civil Aviation Accidents” on this website. 


     (Woonsocket R.I. )Evening Reporter, “Balloonist Is Rescued”, July 7, 1906.     

     Update, February 7, 2017

     Thirty-five years before the above mentioned incident, Mr. Allen had another adventure in one of the family balloons.  

     On July 4, 1871, James K. Allen made an ascension at Troy, New York, in his balloon the “Empyrean“.  The balloon held 15,000 cubic feet of gas, and was reportedly “gaily trimmed with bunting and natural flowers.”   

     The balloon rose to over 12,000 feet and drifted over the upstate New York countryside, rising and falling at different times.  After an uneventful flight, the Empyrean came down in a large tract of wilderness, and Allen was forced to climb down the tree in which it had become entangled.  As he was doing so a branch broke under his weight and he landed hard on the ground below, but wasn’t seriously injured.  He lacked a compass, and using his own best judgement, hiked his way to help.  he eventually came to a farm in Putnam, New York, about 100 miles from Troy.  

     The Allen’s of Providence, Rhode Island, have been called the first family of Rhode Island aviation.  Besides the Empyrean, they reportedly owned two other balloons, “Monarch of the Air“, and the “Jupiter Olympus”  


     Rutland Weekly Herald, (VT.), “A Perilous Balloon Ascension And Narrow Escape Of The Aeronaut”, July 20, 1871 

Updated February 26, 2017

     The following article appeared in the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, (St. Johnsbury, VT.) on October 11, 1895


     The Boston Journal last week had a sensational account of the marvelous escape from death of the well known aeronaut, James K. Allen, of Providence, R.I.  Mr. Allen has many friends in St. Johnsbury, and has made successful ascensions from our fairground.  His adventure came near costing his life.  He became suffocated by escaping gas, and would have fallen from the balloon had not his two companions caught him and held him by his heels until the balloon drifted to earth again.  As the companions knew nothing about the management of balloons, it took the air ship 45 minutes to reach the ground, and when terra firma was reached the professor was crazy.  His two companions declared that nothing would hire them to go up in a balloon again.

     Source: St. Johnsbury Caledonian, “An Aeronaut’s Escape”, October 11, 1895    

Balloon Ascension, Providence, R. I. – 1859

Balloon Ascension, Providence, Rhode Island – October 27, 1859

     The following article appeared in the Woonsocket Patriot, October 28, 1859.

It appears to have been taken from the Providence Journal

    balloonBalloon Ascension – Mr. James Allen, of the firm of King & Allen, aeronauts, made a successful balloon ascension from Exchange Place at 3:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon.  The balloon took a southeasterly direction, and landed at 4 o’clock about eight miles from this city, on the farm of William Wheaton, in the center of Rehoboth.  Mr. Allen was assisted in securing his balloon by Master Henry Frost, who swam Palmer’s River and was first at the spot.  Mr. Horton, and by Mr. Nelson Goff, who took him to his residence, where he was hospitably entertained and sent to this city.  Mr. Allen states that he distinctly saw Pawtucket and Woonsocket on the north, Boston on the east, and Fall River, Warren, and Bristol on the south. – Providence Journal ”    

     This is one of the earliest recorded balloon flights in Rhode Island.  The Allen family was famous for their balloon flights.

An Unusual Balloon Flight – 1910

An Unusual Balloon Flight – 1910 

   old balloon  At 1:30 p.m., on November 29, 1910, the balloon Cleveland ascended from Pittsfield, Massachusetts with four men aboard.  There was the pilot, A. L. Stevens, and with him were three passengers, L. M. Taylor, M. M. Morris, both of New York City, and S. F. Beckwith, of Garrison, N.Y.

     The balloon drifted westward and passed from Massachusetts to New York.  While over the Hudson River the aeronauts encountered a blinding snowstorm.  As if that wasn’t perilous enough, a huge flock of geese, estimated by the men to  contain a thousand birds, suddenly encountered the balloon and began bumping and scraping against it, threatening to put holes in the fabric.  The birds began to panic, for the swirling wind left them as helpless as the airmen, and for nearly an hour the flock surrounded the balloon honking and squawking the whole time.

     At one point a goose crashed into the men in the basket, where one of them captured it.

     The ordeal ended almost as suddenly as it began and the balloon landed in the town of Amenia, New York, at 5:45 p.m., 44 miles from Pittsfield.


     Boston Evening Transcript, “Ballooning in 1910”, by William Carroll Hill, January 4, 1910.       

A New Kind Of Balloon Race – 1908

A New Kind Of Balloon Race – 1908

   old balloon  It was said to be a new kind of balloon race called a “point-to-point race”, the first ever held in the United States.  Balloons were to take off from North Adams, Massachusetts, but the contestants were to predict ahead of time where they expected their balloon to land.  The landing point had to be at least thirty miles form North Adams, and the one who landed closest to their designated target would be the winner. 

     The race was held August 14, 1908, and the winner was Mr. Arthur D. Potter of Greenfield, Massachusetts, who piloted the balloon, North Adams No.1, which came down on a farm about five miles from its anticipated destination of Haydenville, a village in the town of Williamsburg, Mass.  Accompanying him on the trip was A. Holland Forbes, and his 12-year-old daughter, Natalie.    

     Source: (No. Dakota) Bismarck Daily Tribune, “New Kind Of Balloon Race”, August 15, 1908

Updated April 4, 2017

     The following newspaper article appeared in The Morning Journal-Currier, (New Haven, Connecticut), August 6, 1908, page 4.


Challenge Cup Will Go To Pilot Who Lands Nearest The Place he Selects Before Flight 

Six Balloons, Size Unrestricted, Are Expected To Join Unique Test Next Thursday 

     New York, Aug. 5 – With a record of 25 successful balloon flights from North Adams, Mass., during the present season, and with many more booked for the near future with the certainty that they will continue up to the close of the ballooning season in October, the North Adams Aero Club will start on August 14 the first point to point balloon race ever held in the United States and the fourth race where more than two balloons are started that has ever been held in this country.

     At least four balloons and probably five, with a possibility of six, will be sent away during the afternoon, the pilot of each being required to name the landing place he selects prior to his departure. This place must be at least thirty miles from the starting point, and the pilot who lands nearest to the post office of the town or city he selects, providing he is within a ten-mile radius of the post office, will be awarded the trophy given by A. Holland Forbes of new York, a well known balloonist who has made the majority of his trips from this city and who is to be one of the contestants representing the United States in the international balloon races at Berlin, Germany, in October. 

     This trophy is to be held by the winner subject to challenge after six months, and if the challenge is not accepted after thirty days the cup reverts to the North Adams Aero Club, which will arrange for a second race, as will be done immediately in the event that no one of the contestants succeeds in carrying out the provisions of the race on the first attempt.

     The balloons already entered are: Heart of the Berkshires, owned by the Aero Club of Pittsfield; pilot Alan R. Hawley, third vice-president of the Aero Club of America, and a contestant in the recent international race from St. Louis.  Sky Pilot, owned by Mesers Wade and Morgan of Cleveland, Ohio: pilot J. H. Wade.   Boston, owned by the Aero Club of New England; pilot, Charles J. Glidden of Boston.  North Adams No 1, owned by the North Adams Aero Club; pilot, Arthur D. Potter of Greenfield,  who will be accompanied by Mr. Forbes, the giver of the trophy.  Greylock, owned and piloted by Dr. Roger M. Randall of North Adams.  

     No restrictions as to the size of the balloons or the number of people each may carry is made, and each pilot, after witnessing the direction taken by several piloting balloons, is at liberty to pick his landing place, announcing it as he is ready to leave the grounds.

     The first of the balloons will not be sent away until 1 o’clock at the earliest on Friday, August 14, and the others will follow at fifteen or thirty minutes intervals, as mey be determined upon the day of the race by the race committee. 


     The following newspaper article appeared in The Marion Daily Mirror, (Marion, Ohio) on August 15, 1908, page 2.      


Three Airships In The Race

Balloon That Won The Prize Offered For Victory Had A 12-Year-old Girl As One Of Its Passengers

     North Adams, Mass., Aug. 15 – The balloon North Adams No. 1, with A. D. Potter of Greenfield as pilot and Holland Forbes and daughter Natalie, aged 12 years, as passengers, and owned by the North Adams Aero Club, undoubtedly won the cup offered by Mr. Forbes in the first point-to-point race ever held in this country.  The race was started from North Adams Friday afternoon.  The North Adams No. 1 landed on the farm of Lyman Sanderson at West Whateley, about five miles from its previously declared destination, Haydenville.  This was the first balloon to get away.  The Greylock, owned and pilotd by Dr. Roger M. Randall of North Adams and having Clarence Wildman of this city as passenger, landed at Bryant farm in Ashfield, fully 12 miles from its desired destination, Leeds.

     The third balloon to start, the Heart of the Berkshires, owned by the Aero Club of Pittsfield, was the last to land, coming down in Amherst, within six and one-quarter miles of Whateley Station, its destination.

     The conditions of the race were that, previous to the race, the occupants of the balloon should designate some place, at least 30 miles from North Adams, where they would attempt to land, that they should land within ten miles of the post office of the place and that the balloon landing nearest the announced destination should win the cup.   Further, the winner should hold himself open for six months to a challenge for the defense of the cup.

     Charles J. Glidden of Boston was to have made the fourth competitor with the balloon Boston, owned by the Aero Club of New England and having as a passenger Mrs. Helm Clayton, wife of the meteorologist of the Blue Hill Observatory.   Mr. Glidden did not desire to start until late in the afternoon, but the committee on the race decided that the contestants must be ready to start at 1 o’clock.  Mr. Glidden would not consent to go up at that time, so he was disqualified from competing.  







Two New England Balloon Records Set – 1910

Two New England Balloon Records Set – 1910

     On May 21, 1910, the following small news item appeared in the Rock Island Argus, a newspaper in Rock Island, Illinois.

Early balloon with net


     “St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, May 21, – Two new records were established today when the balloon Cleveland, which ascended from North Adams (Mass.) last night, came down here at 6:28 this morning after the longest flight ever made by a balloon from New England, and the first time a balloon from New England has landed in Canada.  The balloon traveled more than 200 miles in an airline and was in the air 11 hours 52 minutes and reached an altitude of 11,000 feet.” 

     Source: Rock Island Argus, “New England Balloon Mark Is Fractured”, May 21, 1910

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