Sunday, 5 June 2011

Balloon Ascent - Hamilton June 1888

On a bright Saturday afternoon, June 1, 1888, a demonstration of hot air balloon flying was given, with the ascent beginning in Hamilton’s Dundurn Park. The balloonist was Mr. C. W. Williams, an unassuming, handsome young man of Athletic build who the Spectator described as “no vulgar adventurer willing to risk his life for a little money, but a man with ideas of his own, keen intelligence and gentlemanly manners.”
          With the aid of dozens of volunteer assistants struggling to hold it down, the balloon was slowly inflated with hot air. After the balloon’s 65,000 cubic feet capacity was filled, the “aeronaut” climbed into the basket, his only safety precaution being “a shapeless mass of unbleached muslin” which served as his parachute and was attached to the basket.
          To the cheers of the crowd in the park, the ropes holding down the balloon was released, and it slowly started to rise above Hamilton’s west end.
          The balloon was only air born a short time when problems arose, and the aeronaut, still in the basket, plunged over 300 feet before he was able to release the parachute:
          “Thousands of people with eyes glued to the basket falling to earth with such terrific speed drew in their breath with a sickening dread. But suddenly the white cloud expanded over the basket and spread out into the shape of a parasol.”
          Balloonist Williams tried to direct his fall toward the yard behind the Stewart and Company foundry on Macnab street north, but the wind blew him onto the roof of the Walter Woods and Company factory building:
          “Mr. Williams narrowly escaped serious if not fatal injury. He was dashed against the roof with force enough to almost knock the wind out of him, but he had enough of the latter to throw his arm over the ridge of the roof and hold on, thus saving himself from rolling off the high building onto the street.”
          The balloon itself, relieved of the weight of aeronaut Williams rose even higher than before and the wind carried it majestically over the city towards the mountain.
          Five or six minutes after Williams had dropped from the balloon, it began to wobble. Suddenly it fell:
          “The hot air escaped, and the airship tumbled ignominiously to earth like an immense stricken bird.”
          Back on the ground, Williams managed to get himself down from the Williams factory roof. His only injuries from the fall were some minor bruises.
          The balloon was brought back to the city by a farmer who lived just beyond the Jolley Cut. He demanded $5 for his trouble but only got $4. Another farmer demanded compensation for the damage done to his oatfield by the balloon’s descent. His claim was denied.
          Although C. W. Williams’ was not wholly successful, he did gain some satisfaction for being, what the Spectator declared, was “the first man to drop from a balloon in Canada, and live.”

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