Thursday, September 15, 2011

Festival of Balloons

I finally made it to the Festival of Balloons this year.

It was exciting not only because hot air balloons are awesome, 
but because I recently read all about the history of hot air balloons, 
which was utterly fascinating.

The first paper balloon was launched in 1783, 
and was powered hot air rather than hydrogen. 
It flew for ten minutes and drew a huge crowd. 

The president of the Royal Society (a scientific organization) thought
balloons would be most useful in making heavy things lighter;
i.e. a wagon "normally requiring eight horses to pull it
might need only two horses with a Montgolfier attached."

In 1783, half the city of Paris turned out for the second ever balloon launch. 
Dr. Alexandre Charles, one of the co-pilots, later wrote:

"Nothing will ever quite equal that moment of total hilarity
that filled my whole body at the moment of take-off.
I felt we were flying away from the Earth and all its trouble for ever. . . .
My companion Monsieur Robert murmured to me -- I'm finished with the Earth.
From now on it's the sky for me! Such utter calm. Such immensity!"

When they landed, M. Robert stepped out, and the balloon shot upwards 
with Dr. Charles in it, rising 10,000 feet in ten minutes.

Dr. Charles wrote:
"I was the first man ever to see the sun set twice in the same day.
The cold was intense and dry, but supportable.
I had acute pain in my right ear and jaw.
But I examined all my sensations calmly.
I could hear myself living, so to speak."

He was back in a little over half an hour. He didn't fly again.

Ben Franklin was the American Ambassador to Paris at the time.
He said, "Someone asked me -- what's the use of a balloon?
I replied -- what's the use of a new born baby?"

An early showman, Vincent Lunardi, caused a stir one afternoon in England.

"Lunardi drifted north-westwards across London and into Hertfordshire,
eating legs of chicken and drinking champagne, and occasionally
trying to 'row' his balloon with a pair of aerial oars.
One of the oars broke and started a rumour 
that he had jumped to his death.

It was said that the King broke off a cabinet meeting . . .
while a jury in north London hastily brought in a not-guilty verdict 
so it could run out of the courthouse and watch."

Horace Walpole, the Gothic novelist, was not infected by ballomania.

"Well! I hope these new mechanic meteors will prove only playthings
for the learned and idle, and not be converted into new engines of destruction
for the human race -- as is so often the case of refinements of discoveries in Science."

Nevertheless, he instructed his servants to call him when there was a balloon overhead, 
so he could wave.

In 1785, a Frenchman and an Englishman attempted the first Channel crossing. Together.
"Quite early on, each accidentally managed to drop the other's national flag 
over the side of the basket, and then profusely apologised."

The flight took two hours, and they just barely made it, 
having thrown everything out of the basket, including nearly all their clothes.

Erasmus Darwin, physician, mediocre poet, and grandfather of Charles Darwin, 
wrote this of ballooning:

The calm Philosopher in ether sails,
Views broader stars and breathes in purer gales;
Sees like a map in many a waving line,
Round earth's blue plains her lucid waters shine;
Sees at his feet the forky lightning glow
And hears innocuous thunder roar below.

Quotes and practically everything else from Richard Holmes's The Age of Wonder.


Anonymous said...

It was great that you had a chance to go to this. A sky full of balloons is a wonderful thing to see (though I may reserve judgement about the turtle balloon - turtles in the sky are just so odd). Thanks for sharing.

Simon said...

Ooh, just wait til Monday. The turtle is the less-weird one compared to what's coming up.

Anonymous said...

Is the upcoming surprise balloon animal, vegetable or mineral?

Simon said...

Animal. Vegetable would be hilarious, though. I would like to see a giant parsnip floating through the sky someday. Actually, a rutabaga is very close to true balloon shape. Someone should work on that.