Some Perilous Early Balloon Ascensions

Some Perilous Early Balloon Ascensions

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

COLD TRIP IN BALLOON

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.

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     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.

     Sources:

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

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

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

SHEARMAN’S LONG FLIGHT

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.

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

AERONAUT ALMOST FROZEN TO DEATH 

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. 

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

WILLIAMS  STUDENTS’  TRIP

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.

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N. Y. To Boston Balloon Airline – 1908

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

     N. Y. – BOSTON BALLOON LINE

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.

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

COLLEGES WILL RACE BALLOONS

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.

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

COLLEGE BALLOON RACE

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.

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

COLLEGE BALLOON RACE TO BE HELD

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. 

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

Balloon Ascension, Brockton, Mass. – c. 1910

Balloon Ascension, Brockton, Massachusetts – Circa 1910

Vintage Postcard View Of Brockton, Mass., Balloon Ascension

Chelsea, MA – June 17, 1839

Chelsea, Massachusetts – June 17, 1839 

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

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

     THE BALLOON-PERILOUS VOYAGE

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

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

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

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

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

     *********

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

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

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

     Sources:

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

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

     Morning Herald, (New York) July 17, 1837     

     The Pilot And Transcript, June 22, 1840

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.

       

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

Springfield, MA – April 20, 1910

Springfield, Massachusetts – April 20, 1910

 

     old balloonOn the afternoon of April 20, 1910, A. Holland Forbes of the New York Aero Club, along with John Parker and William Hull, were making a balloon ascension from Court Square in Springfield, Massachusetts, when the balloon veered towards a tall tree.  The balloon struck the tree-top which was about 100 feet off the ground, and was briefly caught in the upper branches.  When it broke free, it began swiftly heading towards the upper floors of a nearby apartment building.  Mr. Forbes immediately tossed out several hundred pounds of sand-ballast which caused the balloon to abruptly rise straight upwards barely missing the building. 

     It was reported that ,”The danger was over in so short a time and the balloon was gliding rapidly northward almost before the 3,000 spectators were aware of it.”

     The balloon later landed in Hadley, Massachusetts, about twenty-five miles distant.

     Source: The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Forbes Balloon Runs Into Tree”, April 21, 1910, page 5 

Worcester, MA – July 30, 1892

Worcester, Massachusetts – July 30, 1892 

 

     balloon On July 30, 1892, Professor Blondie Willies was scheduled to give a balloon exhibition in Worcester.  As preparations for the ascent were being made, volunteers held the balloon earthbound with anchor ropes.  Then a sudden thunderstorm blew in, and heavy winds and rain buffeted the balloon, causing it to get away from the men who were attempting to hold it down.   As the balloon began to rise, one man, identified as Benjamin Long, got his right foot caught in the loop at the end of the rope he was holding and was yanked off his feet and pulled upwards.  Five thousand  people had gathered to watch the ascension, and those who hadn’t sought shelter watched in horror as Long was seen dangling by his leg as the empty and untethered balloon continued to rise and thunder and lightning raged all around.  

     Long did the only thing he could do under the circumstances, and that was to begin maneuvering in such a way as to be able to grab hold of the parachute suspended beneath the balloon and pull the cut-off rope.  He fell for fifty feet before the chute deployed, however the wind carried him over a nearby lake where he landed in the water.  After swimming ashore on his own, he was greeted to cheers and applause by those who had witnessed the incident.  None was more relieved to see Long safe than his mother, who had accompanied him to the event.

     Source:

     Turner County Herald, (Hurley, So. Dakota) “A Scene Not Advertised”,(A Man Carried Up Head Downwards By A Balloon.) August 11, 1892  

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