Lewiston, Maine – September 8, 1908

Lewiston, Maine – September 8, 1908

    On the evening of September 8, 1908, Professor Joseph La Roux was scheduled to demonstrate an airship (the Tiny Davis) before a crowd of 15,000 people at the Maine State Fair.  However, due to a late afternoon drop in air temperature, La Roux, who weighed 172 pounds, was too heavy for the ship, and it was decided that a an assistant, Fred L. Owens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, would take his place.  (Owens only weighed 118 pounds.) 

     It was nearly 6 p.m. when Owens took off in the airship. His intention had been to rise to an altitude of a few hundred feet, start the gasoline powered motor, and make a few turns in the air before landing back at his starting point on the ground.  However, once aloft, the gasoline engine to the airship malfunctioned and failed to reach full power leaving the ship to the mercy of the air currents.  

     Owens sat helplessly as the ship rose to 3,000 feet and drifted in an eastwardly direction.  He tried working the engine but to no avail.  He finally had to pull the rip cord on the bas bag and allow the gas to escape, scraping some tree tops as the ship fell.   The airship came down in the village of Bowdoia Center, 22 miles from its starting point.     

     Sources vary: Owens was born either in 1886 or 1890. He began his aeronautical career around 1903, and became affiliated with Professor La Roux about a year later.  One source says he was from Haverhill, Mass., and another had him living at 58 Harwood St., Boston, Mass. 

     In October of 1905, he’d made a six-parachute jump at Trenton, New Jersey, earning him the championship of the world title.   

     Almost a year after his adventure in Maine, Owens found himself in a similar situation over Baltimore, Maryland.  In this instance thousands watched and followed his progress as his airship was buffeted by strong breezes before finally crash-landing on the roof of a drug store.  He was not injured. 

     Another misadventure occurred in Savannah, Georgia, on November 4, 1909, when he made a forced landing in a railroad yard.   


     Daily Kennebec Journal, (Augusta, ME.), “Aeronaut Owen Has Very Narrow Escape”, September 9, 1908.   

     (Woonsocket) Evening Reporter, “Boy Has Wild Ride When Airship Runs Away”, Sept. 9, 1908.      

     Daily Kennebec Journal, (Augusta, ME.), “Owens Tells His Story”, September 10, 1908. 

     The Washington Herald, “Aeronaut Falls To Top Of Store”, August 1, 1909.

     The Birmingham Age Herald, “Wild Adventure of Aviator”,  November 5, 1909





Waterville, Maine – September 2, 1908

Waterville, Maine – September 2, 1908

     On September 2, 1908, Charles O. Jones was giving an aerial exhibition of his dirigible balloon, the Boomerang,  at the Waterville, Mane, fair grounds, when a small fire erupted while the ship was just over five-hundred feet above the ground.  When Jones realized the danger he pulled an emergency cord to rapidly deflate the envelope.  As he did so the fabric ignited, causing the frame suspended underneath containing Jones and the motor to fall away and crash to the ground.  Jones died about ninety minutes later of his injuries. 

     The accident was witnessed by his wife and child.

     Charles Jones was an intrepid early aeronaut.  Just a few weeks earlier on July 19, he and the Boomerang were almost carried out to sea over Long Island Sound. 

     On the afternoon of July 23, 1908, he made an ascension with the Boomerang from the Palisades Amusement Park during a severe electrical storm saying he needed the experience.  After rising to 3,00 feet he became lost in the clouds.  When he descended below the clouds he found himself in driving rain which short-circuited the batteries of his airship.  The airship was pushed ahead by the strong winds over Hackensack, New Jersey, where he was able to land safely.

     On July 26, Jones once again took off from Palisades Amusement Park, but this time his airship crash-landed on the roof of a house about a quarter of a mile away  from its starting point after being damaged by trees and electrical wires during the take off.     


     New York Times, “Airship Caught By Storm”, July 24, 1908  

     New York Times, “Airship Wrecked, Lands On House”, July 27, 1908 

     Bangor Daily News, “Aeronaut’s Tragedy Shocked State In ’08” by Wayne Reilly, August 31, 2008

     Springvale Advocate, (Me.), “Horror At Waterville Fair”, September 4, 1908

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲