The sport of manned hot air ballooning has been in existence for hundreds of years and, until the advent of the airplane was the only way one could escape the confines of earthly gravity. The Central New York area’s first manned balloon flight took place July 26, 1847 when John Wise ascended two miles into the atmosphere and traveled between Auburn and Syracuse.
Hot air ballooning quickly became the spectacle of the day attracting large crowds. Many local balloonists began their escapades from Clinton or Hanover Square. The NYS Fair also scheduled hot air balloon events that included acrobats performing tricks on trapezes hung from the balloon apparatus (featured photo). As with any type of daredevil performance there were fatalities. One occurred over Onondaga Lake in 1891 when Englishman, James Buckingham, became tangled in his trapeze lines as he descended, slamming his body on the lake’s surface and ultimately suffocating under the folds of his backup parachute. Another balloonist barely escaped death when a swarm of grasshoppers chewed holes in his balloon causing it to rapidly deflate, crashing him to the earth. Others, such as central New Yorkers Professor C. C. Coe (supposedly the model for The Wizard of Oz), couple Charles and Carlotta Myers, and a woman that billed herself as Madam Adella, told stories of reaching such heights that they were pummeled by snow and hail (this was during the summer months!), threatened by lightning, and tossed about by swirling air currents or very high winds. Balloonists relied upon their expertise regarding the proper use of ballast or knowing when to open and close the valves controlling the hot air in the balloon to assure that they ultimately reached their destinations.
Vast improvements have been made since then and several brave souls have recently circled the earth in balloons that their 19th century predecessors would barely recognize.