Westfield, MA. – June 29, 1905

Westfield, Massachusetts – June 29, 1005

     On June 29, 1905, an aeronaut identified as B. S. Tirrell was scheduled to make a balloon ascension and parachute drop at Hampton Pond in Westfield.  The plan was to rise in the balloon to about 4,000 feet.  and there he was to be shot out of a cannon which was suspended beneath the balloon, then deploy his parachute and land.  However, the firing mechanism of the cannon failed to go off, and Tirrell found himself trapped in the cannon.  Despite the failure of the firing mechanism, an external fire was created which set the balloon on fire.  The balloon then began to loose altitude with Tirrell helpless to do anything.  When the balloon was about thirty feet from the ground, the ropes holding the cannon burned through and the cannon fell striking the ground.

     Tirrell was badly bruised and treated for internal injuries. 

     The reason for the malfunction could not be ascertained.  

     Tirrell was employed by the Boston Balloon Company. 

     Source:

     The Evening Call, (Woonsocket, R. I.), “He Fell From Burning Balloon”, June 30, 1905. 

 

 

Concord, N. H. – August 28, 1901

Concord, New Hampshire – August 28, 1901

    On August 28, 1901, well known Aeronaut Leo Stevens made a balloon ascension and parachute drop at the fair grounds in Concord.  He parachuted safely, but when his unmanned balloon came down it fell upon the high voltage main feed wire to the city’s electrical plant, causing a city-wide blackout. 

     One of those who responded to repair the break was 19-year-old Harry Quint, a lineman for the electric company.  While going about his work up on a pole, he was electrocuted and fell to the ground breaking his neck.  He died instantly. 

     On August 29, Stevens made another ascension.  In this instance, the shell which exploded and releases his parachute set fire to his clothing and he was badly burned. 

     Source:

     The Evening Call, (Woonsocket, R. I. ), “Received Fatal Shock – electric light lineman killed at Concord”, August 30, 1901.    

William Van Sleet – Aeronaut, Balloonist

    William Van Sleet, (Born ? – Died ?), of North Adams, and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and sometimes reported as living in New York, was a well known New England aeronaut who made balloon ascensions in the early 1900s. 

     The first mention of Mr. Van Sleet in any newspapers that research could find appeared in The Bennington Evening Banner in 1907, and had to do with a car accident which occurred at “Shedd Bridge”, “east of Walloomsac”.  Although both vehicles suffered damage, there were no injuries.   There is some documentation which indicates that Van Sleet, besides being an aeronaut, also worked as a chauffer.      

      Beginning around 1906, balloon ascensions began to be a regular occurrence in the Berkshires section of western Massachusetts, and the towns of Pittsfield and Adams became involved in a rivalry of sorts for the bragging rights and the tourism dollars that each ascension would bring.  It was around this time frame that the Aero Club of Pittsfield was established and Van Sleet became a member.    

     The first reference to Van Sleet’s aeronautical career was found in the Daily Kennebec Journal, July 29, 1908.  The brief snippet stated in part: “The Aero Club of Pittsfield will dedicate their new balloon, the “Heart of the Berkshires” tomorrow at 10 a.m.”  The pilot was Leo Stevens, a prominent aeronaut of the time, with passengers Allan R. Hawley of New York, and William Van Sleet of Pittsfield.  

     In light of the dedication, it was quickly announced that the balloon “Boston” belonging to the Boston Aero Club would ascend at the same time from the town of North Adams, and there would be a “race” between the two to see which could cover the greatest distance.  The “Boston” was to be piloted by Charles Glidden, another prominent aeronaut of the time, with his passenger, Professor H. H. Clayton of the Blue Hills Observatory. 

     Both balloons were of the same size, 38,000 cubic feet.  The “Heart of the Berkshires” took off as scheduled, but only traveled about eight miles before coming down near Wahconah Falls in Dalton, Massachusetts. 

     The “Boston”, on the other hand, didn’t fair much better.  After being caught in a windstorm and carried up to 10,000 feet, the balloon began to fall rapidly and its occupants were forced to discharge all available ballast.  It landed safely on a farm about six miles from its starting point.    

     Exactly who announced that a race would take place is not recorded, but Mr. Glidden later told the press that he was unaware of any scheduled race between the two balloons, and said that each had made independent ascensions.    

     Balloons of this era used hydrogen or coal gas, both of which were poisonous if inhaled.  In mid August of 1908, Van Sleet was scheduled to make a balloon ascension from Pittsfield in the “Heart of the Berkshires”, when he was seriously affected by the release of gas from a malfunctioning valve.  This was to be his fifth ascension to help him qualify as a balloon pilot for the Pittsfield Aero Club.  When the balloon was nearly filled with gas, it was discovered that the valve cord near the top of the balloon had failed to uncoil, so Van Sleet climbed up seventy-five feet of the balloon’s netting to remedy the situation.  When the valve unexpectedly popped open he was hit in the face with a rush of escaping gas.  After closing the valve he made his way back to the ground where he nearly collapsed.  He was attended to by three doctors, all of who warned him not to make the flight in his condition.  Van Sleet ignored the warnings, and made the flight anyway with Dr. Sidney S. Stowell as a passenger.       

     Later that same month Van Sleet made a solo trip in “Heart of the Berkshires”.  He ascended from Pittsfield and traveled ninety miles before landing near Montgomery, New York.  He’d made the trip alone as part of his pilot qualification process.    

     Van Sleet made another flight on September 2, which lasted 32 minutes and landed in South Deerfield, Mass. His two passengers were Frank Smith of Boston, and Oscar Hutchinson of Lennox, Mass.  

     On September 10, 1908, Van Sleet took off from Pittsfield at midnight and sailed eastward across the state covering a distance of more than one-hundred miles before landing safely in the the town of Kingston, Massachusetts, about two miles from the Atlantic Ocean. He had as a passenger Dr. Sidney Stowell. 

     On the same night Van sleet took his overnight flight, Charles Glidden did the same, and took off at midnight from Springfield, Massachusetts.  There was no mention of any competition between the two aeronauts, and neither balloon was in sight of the other throughout the night.  Glidden’s balloon landed safely in the town of Bridgewater, Mass.   

     Most of Van Sleet’s ascensions were without incident, but a flight he made in October of 1908  was anything but routine.  On the afternoon of October 29, he took off from the North Adams Aero Park in the balloon “Greylock”, with M. Monard, or Mennard, as a passenger.  Strong 40 mph winds were blowing at the time and it reportedly took forty men to hold the balloon in place while the two men climbed into it.  Van Sleet was advised to abort the flight but didn’t take heed.    

     The “Greylock” began its ascension at 3 p. m. and was quickly caught in a strong air current which propelled it at 80 mph in a southeast direction.  As the balloon approached Mt. Hoosick the men were forced to jettison ballast in order to clear the top of it. 

     As the balloon approached the town of Whately, Massachusetts, the anchor was dropped.  It caught in the tops of some trees, then a stone wall, and then tore away part of a barn roof.  Realizing that the anchor was useless, Van Sleet pulled the rip cord allowing the gas to escape.  The balloon came down hard from an altitude of seventy-five feet and both men were pitched out, but neither was seriously injured.  The balloon had covered forty miles in thirty minutes.    

     A few days later Van Sleet made another ascension in the “Heart of the Berkshires”, only this time he flew in and above a snowstorm, something that was extremely unusual for the time.   With him on the flight was William C. Hill.     

     On November 17, 1908, Van Sleet made a rough landing in the town of Rockville, Connecticut.  He’d attempted to land in an open lot, but when the anchor rope broke the balloon drifted into the center of town where it tore down some electric and fire alarm wires, and crushed a grape arbor when it landed in a private back yard.  Van Sleet was not injured, but the chief of police arrived on scene and promptly “arrested” the balloon ordering it held until financial damages could be settled.  This incident made national news, for it was believed to be the first case in which a balloon had been “arrested”.   

     On April 19, 1909, Van Sleet and his passenger Oscar Hutchinson came down in a wooded area of Biddeford, Maine, after traveling 160 miles, making it one of the longest balloon flights of the time.

     In June of 1909, Van Sleet flew a honeymoon couple from Pittsfield to the outskirts of Boston.  The balloon took off shortly after midnight on June 21, and drifted eastward throughout the early morning hours.  At about 4:00 in the morning, Van Sleet spotted  the Blue Hills Observatory and prepared to land.  The anchor caught a tree in an orchard and the balloon came down with barely a bump. 

     At the time of the flight a Boston newspaper was offering a trophy to the balloon pilot that could ascend from western Massachusetts and land closest to the Boston Common within a year.  Van Sleet had landed within fourteen miles, thereby breaking the previous record of twenty-six miles.   

     On July 11, 1909, Van Sleet set a new distance record for himself when he landed in Topsham, Maine, a distance of 176 miles.  His previous record set in April had been 160 miles.   

     By May of 1910, Van Sleet had completed fifty balloon voyages. 

     On June 5, 1910, Van Sleet with two newspapermen aboard landed the balloon “Massachusetts” in the center of the town of Bennington, Vermont, about a half-mile from the famous battle monument.  This was the second time that a balloon had landed in that town.      

Bennington Evening Banner
March 26, 1910
Click on image to enlarge.

      An advertisement found in a 1910 newspaper indicates that Mr. Van Sleet was the sales manager for the Tower Motor Company of Adams, Massachusetts, which sold “Overland” automobiles.   

      On October 8, 1911, Van Sleet and a passenger, Jay B. Benton of Boston, traveled 200 miles in the balloon “Boston”, ascending from Pittsfield, Mass. and landing in Lakewood, New Jersey.  This was the longest trip to date made by the “Boston”, and it took three hours.    

     The following year, on October 30, 1912, Van Sleet and Benton completed the longest balloon flight to date in New England when they traveled at night in the balloon “Springfield” from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to Pittston, Maine, a straight-line distance of about 250 miles.  

     It is unknown exactly how many balloon ascensions William Van Sleet made during his career. 

     As of this writing, no further information about his career was found.       

Sources:

     The Bennington Evening Banner, “Van Sleet in Auto Crash”, October 18, 1907 

     The Morning Journal-Courier, (New Haven, CT.) “Air Race Today”, July 29, 1908.

     Daily Kennebec Journal, “Will Dedicate New Balloon At Pittsfield”, July 29, 1908, pg. 4 

     Evening Star, (Washington, D.C.), “Aeronauts Exciting Adventure”, July 30, 1908.

     The Evening World, (N.Y.) “Warned Of Death Peril By Doctors Goes Ballooning”, August 19, 1908.   

     Evening Star, “Qualifying For A License”, August 29, 1908, pg. 2. 

     The Morning Journal-Courier, “Flight of Thirty-Two Minutes”, September 3, 1908, pg. 9. 

     New York Tribune, “Balloons in Moonlight Journey”, September 11, 1908, pg. 5

     New York Tribune, “80 Miles An Hour In Air”, October 31, 1908

     The Bennington Evening Banner, “Aeronauts Go A Mile A Minute” November 2, 1908. 

     The Morning Journal- Courier, “Balloon in Snowstorm”, November 7, 1908.    

     The Marion Daily Mirror, (Ohio) “A Balloon Is Arrested”, November 18, 1908, pg. 2

     Bennington Evening Banner, “Balloon In Tree Top”, April 20, 1909

     Bennington Evening Banner, “Van Sleet Best Yet”, June 22, 1909

     Bennington Evening Banner, “New Record For Van Sleet”, July 12, 1909

     Bennington Evening Banner, Overland Car Advertisement, March 26, 1910.

     Bennington Evening Banner, “Balloon Lands At Bennington Center”, June 6, 1910. 

     Daily Kennebec Journal, “Makes Quick Trip”, October 9, 1911. 

     The (NY) Sun, “Take Long Trip Above Clouds”, October 31, 1912. 

 

 

 

    

Attleboro, MA. – July 31, 1907

Attleboro, Massachusetts – July 31, 1907

    The last week of July was Old Home Week in the town of Attleboro, Massachusetts, and part of the celebration included balloon ascensions. 

     On July 31, aeronaut William Canfield was scheduled to make a balloon ascension and parachute drop from Capron Park.  When he tried to lift off, the balloon didn’t rise due to a malfunction with the  hand flap to which the parachute was attached.  Its probable that there was also a strong wind blowing for instead of rising, the balloon tilted and was dragged along the ground until it crashed into three small trees.  Canfield was thrown from the balloon, reportedly “with great force”, and knocked unconscious.  He was carried to a nearby home on County Street where he received medical attention.

     Canfield responded to the treatment, and an hour later announced that he still wanted to make the ascension, but this idea was overruled by the committee sponsoring the event.     

     Source:

     The News-Democrat, (Providence, R.I.), August 1, 1907.

Boston Harbor, MA. – June 17, 1888

Boston Harbor, Massachusetts – June 17, 1888

    On June 17, 1888, the annual Bunker Hill celebration was taking place in Boston.  Part of the program included a balloon ascension which took place late in the afternoon.  At about 4:30 p.m. the balloon took off with three men aboard.  The pilot was famous aeronaut George A. Rogers, with passengers L. W. Cashman of the Boston Globe newspaper, and Rogers’ assistant, George Seavey.     

     The balloon drifted for about over the city before it was blown out over Boston Harbor and came down in the water near Acorn Island.  Upon impact with the water Rogers and Seavey were pitched into the water, but Cashman managed to cling to the upper rigging and remain aboard.  All three men were rescued by a yacht that had been watching the progress of the balloon. 

     This was not the first balloon accident Professor Rogers was involved in.   One occurred in July of 1881, and the other, in which he lost his life, occurred on July 4, 1892.   

     Source: The Portland Daily Press, (Portland, Me.) “Balloonists Get A Ducking”, June 19, 1888.

Daily Evening Bulletin
Maysville, KY.)
September 22, 1884
The initial J should have been a G.

 

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.

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.

————

     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.

———–   

     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. 

————   

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

Nahant, MA – July 4, 1881

Nahant, Massachusetts – July 4, 1881

     On July 4, 1881, Professor George Augustus Rogers sailed in his balloon from Point-of-Pines in Revere, to Nahant, Mass. where his balloon suddenly deflated causing him to land on telephone wires.  It was reported that he received “injuries from which he never fully recovered.”

     Also see accident for Boston, Mass. – July 4, 1892 under Massachusetts Civil Aviation Accidents on this website for more information about Professor Rogers.   

     Prof. Rogers was also involved in another balloon accident in June of 1888.   

Source: New York Times, “Three Balloon Accidents” July 5, 1892.

Leslie Haddock – Aeronaut And Showman

LESLIE HADDOCK – AERONAUT AND SHOWMAN 

Bellingham, Massachusetts -August 20, 1901

 balloon

     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. 

 Sources: 

(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

 

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.   

Sources:

     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

 

 

 

 

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.    

Sources:

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.    

     Sources:

     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.)   

 

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