10 May 2011

Balloon Over Opelika

Harry Lowe was going through some stuff a while back and he came across a little scrapbook his mother made when she was a child. The book appears to be an old, discarded account book that she appropriated for her own personal use.

In the book she pasted pictures of ladies in dresses and...

advertising labels...

and other things that struck her fancy.

One of her pages included an advertisement for a grand balloon ascension to take place on Tuesday, December 16, 1884. A Professor Fisk would ascend on his monster balloon being 60 feet high and 150 feet in circumference. He would ascend on a single trapeze bar and give a daring trapeze performance which, according to Fisk, is a wonder to behold.

While aerialists could astound crowds, especially in small towns, no one could actually steer a balloon and "fly" it. In April 1900, the Aéro-Club de France's founder, Ernest Archdeacon and his partner Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe offered $10,000 for a gas powers flying machine that could make a a one kilometer circle without falling from the sky. In September 1901, Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont won the money in 30 minutes and 42 seconds when he circumnavigated the Eiffel Tower. While Santos-Dumont was acclaimed as the first man to fly he holds another distinction. After complaining to Louis Cartier that with both hands "driving" his balloon he was unable to get to his pocket watch, Cartier came up with the first wristwatch for men aptly named the Santos.

So the next time you check the time, remember that you have Alberto Santos-Dumont to thank for it. Nancy Winters has a lovely little book filled with great pictures of Santos-Dumont. (And one or two of his namesake watch.)

Little did Lois know when she cut out the advertisement for the trapeze aerialist what would transpire in the next decade with balloons or flying machines or time pieces or even Opelika.

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