IMS Championship Balloon Race Winner, University City, Destroyed?

The article the attachment FisherBalloonNews092809 below is from the September 28, 1909, Indianapolis News and reports on plans for the October 4 championship balloon races at the St. Louis centennial celebration. The Centennial involved far more than balloons, but they are the topic of this article. The local angle for the newspaper was that Indianapolis Motor Speedway Founder Carl Fisher and his ballooning mentor George Bumbaugh were considering filing an entry. The two had flown Fisher's balloon, "Indiana" in the June 5 National Balloon Championships at the Speedway.
Several other of the pilots had also competed in the Speedway's June contest. Among them was Albert Bond Lambert, the pilot of the Missouri, a St. Louis Aero Club entry. It was, at 20,000 cubic feet capacity, one of the small "gas bags," which, by regulation were allowed to be as large as 78,000 cubic feet. Another St. Louis Aero Club balloon was the 78,000 cubic foot St. Louis III, with newly-licensed Tony Von Puhl, listed as the pilot.  
H.E. Honeywell, another veteran of the June Speedway competition, entered his own maximum capacity balloon, dubbed, "Centennial." The champion of the Indianapolis event, John Berry, was also entered. His history-making balloon - University City was reported destroyed, but as you will see below, a balloon by that name was listed among starters on October 4.  If true, the loss of the balloon is an amazing piece of Speedway history. The story goes that the balloon was destroyed in late August as Berry prepared it for a flight. A stiff wind apparently ripped its netting and by this account, it was beyond repair. This report also shares that it had been previously named "Yankee," and was one of the oldest vessels in the competition.
Berry was telling reporters the St. Louis event would probably be his last. He was transitioning to a career entirely focused on his business. He was also well aware that he was at greater risk, because of the ease with which a stiff wind had broken the University City's netting, during his flight over Indiana and into Tennessee. He must have shuddered to think of it.
Another Aeronaut super star entered was A. Holland Forbes of the elite publishing family. Forbes was also among those who competed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's June competition. He was the acting president of the Aero Club of America at the time.
The ballooning competition was to ascend from the then-new grounds of the Aero Club of St. Louis located at Laclede Avenue near Forest Park. There were two contests, the one for the large capacity balloons and their pilots described above and another planned for launch an hour prior for balloons of 40,000 cubic feet. They were all gas filled. It's important that you note that Forest Park still hosts annual balloon competitions.
On separate days exhibitions for both airplanes and dirigibles were planned. Famed aviator Glenn Curtiss was scheduled to demonstrate his airplane. Dirigible pilots were listed only by their last names: Baldwin, Beachey, and Knabenshue. Almost certainly the last man on that list is A. Roy Knabenshue, who was a management employee of the Wright Brothers' business. He was an aviator in his own right. Educated guesses are that Baldwin was "Captain" Thomas Baldwin, another veteran of the Speedway's June event and that Beachey was Lincoln Beachey, the acrobatic aviator famous for his thrilling stunt shows. 
It is interesting to note that in reference to the "Indiana," (see first paragraph above) the balloon Fisher and Bumbaugh raced from Indianapolis, was sold just prior to the St. Louis event. See attachment BumbaughNews100109 for more details. This Indianapolis News article reports that Dayton, Ohio, businessman Henry D. Pruden bought the balloon from Bumbaugh.
The 60-year-old Pruden was reported to be very wealthy, having made his fortune manufacturing ginger ale. He lived with his family in Dayton's luxurious Algonquin Hotel.
Pruden and an assistant referred to as H.H. McGill, departed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the previous day in the balloon with the intention of returning to Dayton. The balloon had been stored at the Speedway's infield aerodrome. It was inflated using the track's network of gas lines from the Indianapolis gas company. 
Almost comically, Pruden and McGill were reported to be, after a day's travel, further away from Dayton than at the point of their departure. The winds had not been kind, and their ability to navigate them proved challenged. Adding to the embarrassment, the balloon's anchor caught in a trolley wire of the Indianapolis, Columbus & Southern Traction Company, near Columbus (the city in Indiana, I am sure), and broke it, tying up traffic for several hours. The latest information at the time of the newspaper's printing was that the balloon had crossed the Kentucky state line and was still going strong.
Again, this is the same balloon Fisher and Bumbaugh piloted in the Speedway's June championship race. Bumbaugh and Fisher were disqualified after anchoring their vessel to a tree and then shimmying down a rope to the ground during a rest stop.
Attachment NoFisherBalloon100409 contains an article from the October 4 Indianapolis News which reports on race morning. The event was scheduled to start at 4 o'clock, after the newspaper's deadline. It reports that both distance and time in the air were under consideration by officials. The balloons were divided into two classes, one for 80,000 cubic feet displacement, the other for 40,000.
Balloons in 80,000 cubic feet class are listed:

  • The Cleveland, J.H. Wade (pilot), A.H. Morgan (aid)
  • St. Louis III, Von Puhl (pilot), J.M. O'Reilly (aid)
  • The Indiana, H.H. McGill (pilot), J.E. Schauer (aid)
  • The Centennial, H.E. Honeywell (pilot), J.W. Tolland (aid)
  • The Pomeroy, N.H. Arnold (pilot), Leroy M. Taylor (aid)
  • The Hoosier, Charles Walsh (pilot) - no aid listed.
  • The New York, Clifford Harmon (pilot), Augustus Post (aid)
  • The University City, John Berry (pilot), W.C. Fox (aid)

Note that despite the reports earlier that the University City had been destroyed, a balloon of the same name is listed among the starters on race day. 
The balloons of the 40,000 cubic feet capacity were:

  • The Missouri, Harlow Spencer, pilot (Aero Club of St. Louis)
  • The Peoria, James Bemis, pilot (Air Craft Club of Peoria)

The attachment NoFisherBalloon100509 (Indianapolis News for October 5, 1909) provides an update of the in-progress race. Almost comical is the report that the balloons actually were blown backward, effectively picking up negative yardage from the desired course West. First to land was one of the two smaller balloons, the Missouri. Its team was credited with traveling 100 miles.
Various sources reported seeing balloons in the area, from the Ozark Mountains district to the southwest and from Tipton due West. The St. Louis III was apparently identified because it was very close to the ground at Boonville, which was 145 miles northwest. Passengers of a train reportedly saw another balloon and felt the two vehicles were racing.
A Unionville farmer grabbed his rifle and took a shot at one of the balloons, missing. Apparently, the balloons were scattered across the skies, heading in different directions. The second small balloon, the Peoria, landed at Lester Junction, at 125 miles from point origin in St. Louis it traveled 25 miles further than its competitor the Missouri.
The article closes with a summary of the order of ascension from St. Louis. The Cleveland was first aloft, followed by the St. Louis III, Centennial, Pommern, New York, University City, Indiana, and the Hoosier. Both pilots H.H. McGill (Indiana) and Dr. P.M. Crume (Hoosier) were determined to be unlicensed and were disqualified. Nonetheless, they ascended anyway.
We get another mid-race report from the October 6, 1909, Indianapolis News article found in attachment NoFisherBalloon100609. The St. Louis III passed over St. Cloud, Minnesota at 8 o'clock am that morning. The balloon was close enough to the ground for the pilots to shout to people watching below. John Berry's University City (previously reported as destroyed) Landed 185 miles from St. Louis at Chillicothe. The Pommern (pilot, N.H. Arnold) landed the previous evening at Knobel, Arkansas, credited with 160 miles. The Hoosier had landed in Russellville, Missouri, about 129 miles from St. Louis. The Indiana was rumored to have passed over Renville, Minnesota at 7:30 am that day and was believed to be 300 feet off the ground.
The traveling trophy known as the Lahm Cup for long distance flights had been held up to this time by Captain C. De Forrest Chandler of the United States Army. He had set the distance record in October 1907 when he voyaged 474.8 miles from St. Louis to Walton, West Virginia. The St. Louis III was already 60 miles further along over St. Cloud, Minnesota.
The article closes with a mention that the Centennial had passed over Aliceville, Alabama - documented by a "wireless" message dropped from the vessel's pilot H.E. Honeywell and retrieved by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. Also, The Cleveland traveled 450 miles before landing in Alexander City, Alabama at 8:30 am that day.
We learn of the official results of the balloon race through the Indianapolis News article dated October 7, 1909, and encased in attachment NoFisherCurtiss100709. Actually, there are two brief articles in the attachment. The first concerns daybreak test flights taken by aviator Glenn Curtiss in the plane he used so successfully in the Rheims airshow. This underscores the point made above here - the balloon contest was just one of several features of the St. Louis Centennial Exhibition.
As for the balloon competition, the St. Louis III and pilot Von Puhl was awarded the Lahm Cup for setting a new balloon travel distance record after landing in Wahkin, Minnesota. The New York and pilot C.B. Harmon were also honored for establishing a new American height record of 34,200 feet.

  • The Centennial landed at Silas, Alabama - just north of Mobile. It was in the air 48 hours.
  • St. Louis III traveled 550 miles and was in the air 40 hours and 40 minutes.
  • Indiana traveled 525 miles to land in Albany, Minnesota after traveling 40 hours and 35 minutes.
  • The Cleveland was in the air 38 hours and 15 minutes to cover 452 miles.
  • University City completed 195 miles in 22 hours and 15 minutes to land in Mooresville, Missouri.
  • The New York landed in Edina, Missouri after traveling 145 miles in 48 hours and 25 minutes.
  • The Pommern landed in Knobel, Arkansas after traveling 160 miles in 28 hours and 20 minutes.
  • The Hoosier - which had been disqualified - traveled 169 miles in 21 hours, 30 minutes.

In reference to The Indiana, the town of Albany, Minnesota which was near where it landed is described as a little town about 25 miles west of St. Cloud, Minnesota. The Indiana descended in a field about three miles south of Albany. McGill, the pilot, had become "violently" ill. His aid Shauer insisted that they descend for medical aid. In their descent, they dashed into a tree and both were thrown from the basket. Neither suffered serious injuries because they were close to the ground when ejected. Shauer did dislocate his shoulder, however. The report adds that the balloon had attained an elevation of 15,000 feet during flight.
There is another small and separate item reporting that Edgar Mix, an American balloonist in the America II vessel, who had just won the Gordon Bennett Cup, was being held in Russia. He had a Russian passport, but who knows why there was an issue. Keep in mind that it is no stranger than a farmer shooting his rifle at one of the balloons. 
Attachment BennettBalloon100609 contains an Indianapolis News article from October 6, 1909, that covers the Gordon Bennett Cup. As noted in the previous paragraph, American Aeronaut Edgar Mix won the contest. He was from Columbus, Ohio. Mix landed in "Prussian Poland" at 3 o'clock on Tuesday morning - the previous day. French pilot Alfred Leblanc was awarded second place after landing in Kubin, Hungary on Monday afternoon. Leblanc landed in the Carpathian Mountains.
I always like to bring voices of the past to the surface. Mix is quoted about his landing.
"I had bad weather Sunday night. It was cloudy and rain fell, and I use half my ballast before morning. The weather was so thick that it was impossible to locate my position, except for one hour south of Prague, and a star observation I took at latitude 51:45:1 and longitude 10:0:38."
Mix' perseverance was essential to his triumph. In the face of blinding rain and fog, he forged onward while others descended and packed it in. Swiss pilot Captain Messner reported that after crossing the Swiss and Austrian Alps at 18,000 feet, his clothing was coated with ice one half-inch thick.
Mix was the only pilot to cross the Russian frontier. Despite the work of race officials in advance of the contest to secure passports for every contestant should they stray into Russian territory, Mix was detained.
Another Indianapolis News article, this one published October 8 and found here in attachment CurtissNews100809, focuses on the airplane feature of the St. Louis Centennial. Glenn Curtiss, the most heralded of all the aviators at the occasion, was joined in the celebratory parade by Dr. Frederick A. Cook, known as the explorer who claimed he discovered the North Pole. This was in dispute for a number of years as later Robert Peary asserted he was actually the first, and his efforts are better documented. Curtiss and Cook had never met before they introduced just prior to sharing a carriage in the parade.
Note that Cook had arrived from Kansas City early that day and his conveyance was the Adolphus Busch (think Budweiser beer) Landau, which was drawn by four horses. Curtiss and especially Cook were wildly cheered by the parade onlookers. Another popular feature of the parade was the appearance of the officers and men of the United States torpedo boat flotilla.
Curtiss made trial flights in his 25-horsepower  biplane. A small audience witnessed his flight, which lasted about a minute and a half and covering three-quarters of a mile. A cluster of trees too high to top forced him to descend.
Hugh A. Robinson of St. Louis made his first attempt to fly in his monoplane. Joseph Curzon "flew" his Farman biplane to rise four feet off the ground. Late in the day, Curtiss attempted a flight, barely got off the ground, and then had a mechanical failure. Onlookers estimated that his plane plummeted from 70 feet. Curtiss fought for control but crash-landed. He was not hurt and declared the damage to be insignificant.

FisherBalloonNews092809.pdf1.47 MB
BumbaughNews100109.pdf1.96 MB
NoFisherBalloon100609.pdf312.79 KB
NoFisherCurtiss100709.pdf912.12 KB
BennettBalloon100609.pdf1.49 MB
CurtissNews100809.pdf778.14 KB