Casco Bay, ME – July 4, 1887

Casco Bay, Maine – July 4, 1887

     At 5 p.m. on July 4, 1887, the balloon “Columbia” made an ascension from Lincoln Park in Portland, Maine, with two men aboard: the pilot, Professor Charles H. Grimley, and an unnamed passenger who was a reporter for the Boston Globe newspaper.   

     When the Columbia was fifty feet in the air it was caught by a strong wind and pushed into some telegraph and telephone wires briefly becoming entangled before breaking free.  It then climbed to 3,000 feet where it began drifting eastward towards the waters of Casco Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  To be blown out to sea would have meant certain death, so Professor Grimley opened the valve to the balloon hoping to land on one of the islands in the bay.  As the balloon began to drop he threw out a long drag rope to slow their speed.  The rope whipped and snapped through the water but did little to halt their progress. 

     The balloon then reportedly began crossing over “Windward Island” where a some men made an attempt to grab hold if it, but they were pulled to the ground and dragged along with it and were forced to let go.  (It should be noted here that contemporary maps do not list a Windward Island for Casco Bay, and it’s possible the island mentioned was actually Cushing, or Peaks Island.)

     The rope continued to slash its way through the tree tops but failed to catch in the branches.  Finally the rope caught on a tree and a grouping of rocks which briefly stopped the balloon and held it, but the strong wind kept rocking the balloon and before long the rope broke and the Columbia continued up and onward out over the water.  Finally enough gas had been released through the open valve to cause it to plunge into the water.  The gondola, with the men inside, was almost completely submerged as fierce winds continued to buffet the balloon and push it across the bay while both men held on for their lives.

     By this time the men were well away from shore and without life jackets.  Fortunately their plight was seen by those aboard the yacht Mermaid, and the boat gave chase.  The Mermaid eventually caught up to the balloon and managed to rescue both men.  The balloon was not recovered. 

     Professor Grimley told the press it was the most exciting and dangerous trip he had ever made.


     The Worthington Advance, (Worthington, Minn.) July 28, 1887

     Griggs Courier, (No. Dakota) “Recent Ballooning, July 28, 1887


Pond Island, ME – July 25, 1924

Pond Island, Maine – July 25, 1924

     On the morning of July 25, 1924, a storm over Lakehurst, New Jersey, broke a navy observation balloon free of its mooring at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station setting it adrift on its own without a crew.   The balloon was carried on an easterly course across Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  By the afternoon it was sighted near Isle au Haut off the Maine coast with 1,500 feet of cable still hanging beneath it.  By this time the balloon was beginning to settle, and was even brought lower to the water when the cable began to drag across the waves. 

     The navy had dispatched two ships, the destroyer Putnam, and the tugboat Wandank, to chase and capture the runaway blimp if possible, but before they could do so, the balloon came down and crashed into a tree on the eastern side of Pond Island.  (Pond Island is a small island at the mouth of the Kennebec River.)   

     By the time the Wandank reached the scene the balloon was badly damaged and torn, however the basket and instruments was still in good condition.   

     In all, the runaway balloon had traveled 450 miles on its own.   


     The Lewiston Daily Sun, “Maine Tree Halt Runaway Balloon”, July 26, 1924      

Lewiston, ME – September 5, 1906

Lewiston, Maine – September 5, 1906

     On September 5, 1906, two aeronauts, Carl Smith, of Brocton, Massachusetts, and Ida Merrill, of Boston, were scheduled to give a balloon exhibition/parachute jump at the Maine State Fair, during which the balloon would rise and each would  drop with a parachute.

     As the balloon began to ascend above a crowd of 2,000 spectators, both made preparations to jump.   They climbed out of the gondola and onto two trapezes suspended beneath.  Each trapeze was connected to a parachute.  Just after Smith sat on his trapeze and released his parachute line, one of the ropes to his trapeze broke, and he fell about 125 to the ground landing amidst the crowd.  Nobody on the ground was injured.    

     Smith broke several bones in the fall and was transported to a hospital in what was reported as an “insensible condition”, and was not expected to live. 

     Police later examined the ropes to his trapeze and determined they’d been partially cut prior to the performance, and announced they were looking for two men they suspected of the deed.  

     Merrill landed safely, but came down in a wooded area not far away.

     Despite his severe injuries, Smith recovered from his ordeal.  One year later he was back at the fair grounds to give another performance.  


     The Nashua Telegraph, “Serious Accident On Fair Grounds In Maine”, September 6, 1906 

     New York Times, “Balloonist Falls 125 Feet; Trapeze Rope Breaks And he Crashes To Ground”, September 5, 1906

     The Utica Herald-Dispatch & Daily Gazette, “Aeronaut Falls; Say Rope Was Cut”, September 6, 1906, Pg. 1

     Lewiston Evening Journal, “Balloon Ascension – One Of Best Ever Seen On Grounds – Carl Smith The Aeronaut”, September 3, 1907

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