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.   

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BALLOON ASCENSION

     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.      

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     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.

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Springfield, MA – May 28, 1910

Springfield, Massachusetts – May 28, 1910

 

     On the evening of May 28, 1910, the balloon Springfield, took off from the Court Square extension in the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, with five men aboard.  The trip was reported to be “another comet party”, presumably to observe Halley’s Comet which was present in the nighttime sky at that time.   

     The pilot was J. B Benton, of Boston.  Passengers included David P. Todd, a professor at Amherst College; two Amherst students, Robert Wells of Paris, France, and Nelson Waite; and Boston businessman Louis Dederick. 

     The balloon lifted slowly upwards as it drifted towards the railroad tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.  While only about twenty feet in the air, the balloon lines leading from the passenger gondola to the balloon netting got snagged on wires suspended over the tracks.  The balloon was now bobbing above the wires while the gondola with its cargo was left helplessly dangling beneath, directly over the tracks.  A crowd gathered as the occupants struggled to free the lines, but before much could be done, the sounds of an approaching express train could be heard. 

     The train showed no signs of slowing as it approached, but fortunately it only grazed the gondola as it sped past and continued on its way without stopping. 

     After recovering from what they thought was their certain end, the men decided to abandon their plans for a balloon flight for that evening. 

     Sources:

     New York Tribune, “Express Grazes Balloon”, May 29, 1910 

     Omaha Daily Bee, (Omaha, Neb.) “Train And Balloon Nearly Collide”, May 30, 1910

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