Passengers on the Saratoga and Whitehall Railroad gazed at what, at first, appeared to be “an immense serpent” in the sky.
Today, hot air balloon sightings are common around Warren and Washington counties, particularly during the annual Adirondack Balloon Festival, which opens Sept. 19 and runs through Sept 22.
But it was a novelty when Professor Charles Cevor launched his balloon “Monpelier” from the center of Glen’s Falls, a village spelled with an apostrophe at the time, at 4:35 p.m. Oct. 5, 1859.
“As the time approached for the ascension, crowds began to pour into the village and fill the tops of buildings,” the Glen’s Falls Republican later reported. “The balloon, with its intrepid master, rose majestically amid the shouts of the crowd and the music of the band – all wishing it good speed in its aerial thrust.”
A previous attempt to launch had been unsuccessful because there was an insufficient supply of gas, prompting ridicule from out-of-town newspapers.
This time, Cevor and his associates began filling the balloon with gas on Tuesday, and continued the inflation the day of the launch.
Cevor had taken his first balloon flight June 11, 1859, about four months earlier, at Pittsfield, Mass, with Edward Lamountain, and shortly thereafter purchased “Pride of America,” his first balloon, from Lamountain.
Today there would be a more rigorous training process before a new pilot could take flight.
Cevor, 160 years ago, had a splendid flight from Glens Falls through Washington County, eventually landing in a pasture of the L. Falkenburg farm, six miles east of Whitehall.
“Prof. Cevor describes his aerial voyage as delightful – the only unpleasant sensation experienced being that of numbness and drowsiness when at the greatest height,” the Republican reported. “The view was of the finest description -- hill and dale, mountain and valley, villages, lakes and rivers, being spread in nature’s panorama as far as the eye could reach in every direction.”
Unlike modern balloonists, Cevor did not have a chase crew to follow him and assist when he landed.
A startled farmer was the only witness to his descent.
“When near the earth and just prior to landing, a farmer with milk pail in hand suddenly discovered the aerial monster, and, dropping his pail, he gave vent to his overwrought feelings by a scream.”
Cevor hitched a ride with a teamster for himself and his balloon into Whitehall, where Cevor stayed the night.
The next morning he took the train to Fort Edward, and was back in Glens Falls in time for breakfast on Thursday.
That evening, Col. Alonzo Morgan presided over a community meeting at the Mansion House hotel, at which Cevor was honored for his “noble exhibition of skill, courage and science.”
Tilletson’s Brass Band performed, and there were “many witty speeches.”
Cevor was given a collection of $60, the equivalent of $1,854 in 2019 dollars.
Cevor continued to travel the northeast and southern states flying the “Montpelier,” until the balloon was destroyed in a rough landing at Savannah, Georgia on March 9, 1860, when Cevor traveled 40 miles in 13 minutes during a wind storm, according to balloonhistory.net.
The balloon was valued at $800 – the equivalent of about $27,400 in 2019 dollars.
During the Civil War, Cevor was a captain in the Confederate Army.
He designed the “Gazelle,” a southern military hot air balloon that was destroyed during the siege of Charleston in 1863.
Sources: Glen’s Falls Republican, Oct. 11, 1859; history.net; Waco Tribune Herald, Jan. 21, 2012; balloonhistory.net.
The Adirondack Balloon Festival begins Sept. 19 with the opening launch at 5:15 p.m. at Crandall Park in Glens Falls, and a street party in downtown Glens Falls after the launch until 9:30 p.m.
Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday evening and Sunday morning launches are at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury.
There is a “moon glow” tethered demonstration at 8 p.m. Saturday at the airport.
Closing launch is Sunday evening at Crandall Park.
Grab all the details here.
Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.