Balloon Crop & War Stories

The article in this attachment was published in the Indianapolis News June 5, 1909, the same day as the first Aero Club of America national championship balloon races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The News was an evening paper and since the first balloons to be released did not ascend until the start of the handicap race after 3 PM news coverage was limited to the ceremonies and preparations of the morning hours. This article appeared the same day as a companion piece in the News.
This article expounds on a colorful analogy of the Speedway as "air and land garden" that "grew its first mushroom crop" as the balloons seemed to sprout up overnight after the process of gas inflation. A. Holland Forbes' team is described removing a white 100 square foot canvas from their wagon and spreading across the grass as a sort of prophylactic against any penetrating brush as they prepared the limp greenish-yellow New York balloon for inflation. An interesting point was that the gas was described as derived from "pure coal" and delivered through a permanent piping infrastructure at the Speedway which was connected to the Indianapolis gas company. While several balloons could be inflated simultaneously with nine of the "air racers" requiring gas the process was prolonged and teams worked through the night.
There can be little doubt it was a time for swapping war stories and just as assuredly none could be grander than Forbes' harrowing tale of miraculous escape when he and Augustus Post escaped unharmed from free fall when their gas bag caught fire at 2,900 feet above Berlin during the previous year's James Gordon Bennett Cup balloon competition. Many of the men had tremendous experience such as Hoosier pilot Captain Thomas Baldwin or A. Leo Stevens who was consulting A.H. Morgan, pilot of the Cleveland and his team as they made their preparations for competition. Stevens, although he was not piloting or assisting with any of the balloons, was revered for his 2,000-plus ascensions spanning what he called three eras: 1) the hot air days, 2) the hydrogen times and the then-current coal gas period. Stevens described himself as a more cautionary man than someone like Forbes who had been known to take his vessel to heights as great as eight miles above terra frima. No, Stevens insisted four and three quarter miles had proven plenty high for him and he had never had a serious issue. He had begun his ballooning career when only 12.
Another ballooning notable assisting but not flying was Johnson Sherrick, president of the Aero  Club of Ohio. Sherrick had the strange distinction of being president of a major aero club but not having ever ascended in a balloon. He ticked that one off his bucket list at age 67 in 1908. At the Speedway he was present to assist the crew of the Cleveland with pilot Dr. D.H. Thompson and assistant Joseph Blake. Blake is another of these characters about which little is known but he was the secretary of the Aero Club of Ohio at the time.
The article also notes that Major H.B. Hersey (although this article is the only one I have found to spell his name "Hershey") of the United States Weather Bureau was present. Hersey is quoted about the government's interest in ballooning and in particular its role in meteorology. Said Hersey:
"The government is interested in ballooning. It is about the only way we people in the weather service can get a line on the currents and the forces above us."
The article continues with another choice war story: the time Hersey sailed with the super-star aviator Frank P. Lahm when they ascended from Paris and caught the wind currents out over the ocean - talk about balls - to later manage to land in Scotland. This was in 1906 and proved to be the winning effort in the first J. Gordon Bennett Cup for ballooning. Meanwhile Clifford Harmon, aid to Forbes (who was reportedly the acting president of the Aero Club of America at the time) told what he knew of his pilot's brush with death over Germany. The description is something out of a James Bond movie where the hero escapes an impossible situation while in free-fall 1,000 feet above the ground. With some deft rope cutting they were able to release an emergency parachute which only partially worked. Post quickly shook Forbes' hand to announce, "Goodbye Forbsie" but they were not through. Amazingly the men climbed into the rigging above their basket which crashed through a house roof before they dove back into it. In an act of pure cool Forbes emerged from the basket and began snapping pictures from inside the house they had just crashed into.

BalloonNews060509i.pdf9.93 MB