West Haven, CT – August 17, 1907

West Haven, Connecticut – August 17, 1907

Updated February 7, 2018


    balloon On August 17, 1907, Theodore French, a young aeronaut from New Haven, Connecticut, was scheduled to give a parachute performance at Savin Rock in West Haven.  Three weeks earlier, he’d accepted a dare to go up in a balloon and be shot out of a seven-foot long tin “cannon”, and parachute to the ground.  On that occasion he landed safely.  On this day the performance was to be repeated, but with a slight change.  This time, the cannon would drop away from the balloon, it’s descent slowed by a parachute.  Then, as the cannon floated towards the ground, French would be shoot out of it, and land via use of a second parachute attached to his body.   

     When the balloon had reached a height of about 2,600 feet  the cannon was cut loose, and reportedly “swung clumsily” before French was discharged.  Once free of the cannon, French’s parachute failed to open, and he plummeted downward landing on the roof of a nearby piano factory and was killed instantly.  The cannon came down a few feet away.

     It was reported that Theodore’s father, Robert French, was the Chief of Police in New Haven, Connecticut.   Some sources put Theodore’s age at 19, others at 20.


     Topeka State Journal, “He Drops To Death”, August 19, 1907

     (A London England Newspaper) The Age, “Aeronaut Killed – Parachute Fails To Open” August 21, 1907

     Taranaki Herald, “Aeronaut Killed – Failure Of A Parachute”, August 20, 1907

     Evening Post, “Dashed To Pieces – Fate Of Aeronaut”, August 20, 1907, Page 7

     New York Times, “Half-Mile Fall From Sky Kills Boy”, August 18, 1907. 



Woodstock, CT – September 16, 1913

Woodstock, Connecticut – September 16, 1913

Updated April 30, 2017

Woodstock, Conn. Fair Advertisement

Putnam Patriot – 1913

     On September 16, 1913, 12-year-old George Bernier of Mechanicsville, Connecticut, was attending the annual Woodstock Fair in the town of Woodstock.  One attraction at the fair was to be a balloon ascension and parachute drop.  As preparations for the ascent were being made, a call went out for volunteers to hold ropes attached to the balloon to keep it earthbound until the signal to let go was given.  George was one of the volunteers who stepped forward and took hold of a rope.  When the signal to let go was finally given, George released his hold, but the rope somehow became entangled around his left leg and he was jerked skyward as the balloon rose into the air.

     Despite shouts form the crowd of spectators, the man piloting the balloon seemed unaware of what was happening.  As the balloon continued to rise, George was seen trying to grasp the rope with his hands, but fell away when the balloon reached a height of about 500 feet, and landed in front of the grandstand.      

     George’s parents sued for negligence, and filed suit against the Woodstock Agricultural Society and the balloon operator.  The civil trial took place in the neighboring town of Putnam in March of 1914.  Witnesses for both the plaintiffs and the defense testified, some among them had been standing nearby when George was swept upwards.  Others included George’s cousin, Frank Bernier, and a family friend, both of whom had accompanied George to the fair, and one man who was an amateur photographer from Putnam, who happened to take a picture while the balloon was about 300 feet in the air with George dangling underneath.  The photo was submitted as evidence.  

     After deliberation, the jury found no blame with the Woodstock Agricultural Society or with the balloon’s pilot.  

     According to www.findagrave.com, George is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Putnam, Connecticut.  Newspaper accounts gave his age was 13, but testimony given by his mother at the civil trial stated he was 12 years and nine months old. 


     Putnam Patriot, (Putnam, CT.), “Fell Five Hundred Feet From Balloon”, September 19, 1913, pg. 1

     Putnam Patriot,(Putnam, CT.), “Bernier Case – Claim $10,000 For Life Of Boy killed At Fair”, March 27, 1914, pg. 1 

     Putnam Patriot, (Putnam, CT.), “Woodstock People – Pleased At Jury’s Verdict In Bernier Case”, April 3, 1914, pg. 1

     Norwich Bulletin, (Norwich, CT.), “Charge of Negligence”, March 25, 1914 

     The Hawiian Gazette, “Boy Loses Life In Balloon Accident”, September 30, 1913, Pg. 2

     The Citizen, (Honesdale, Penn.), “Boy Drops 500 Feet To Death”, September 19, 1913 

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