Tuesday, April 19, 2011

150 Years Ago -- Lowe Goes Off Course

Lowe's intended flight from Cincinnati shown i...Image via Wikipedia

In the early morning hours of April 19, 1861, Thaddeus Lowe began inflating one of his smaller balloons, the Enterprise.  Lowe's long-term goal was to make a trans-Atlantic flight.  He was gaining valuable ballooning experience by making much shorter inland flights.

Now, one week after the Civil War began at Fort Sumter, Lowe lifted off in Cincinnati at 4 a.m., headed for Washington.  Blown hundreds of miles off course, he landed in Unionville, South Carolina that same afternoon.  Tensions were high in the state at the moment, and the locals promptly arrested the man who came out of the sky as a Union spy while they checked out his story. 

He was soon released and allowed to return with his equipment to Cincinnati.  The mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, wrote him out a passport:
THIS IS TO CERTIFY, that Prof. T. S. C. Lowe, now accidentally in our midst, is a gentleman of integrity and high scientific attainments, and I bespeake for him the courtesies of all with whom he may come in contact, and trust that this letter, to which I have affixed the seal of the City of Columbia, S.C., will answer as a passport for him through the Confederate States of North America.
W. H. Boatright, Mayor

Back at home, Lowe put his dreams of trans-Atlantic flight on hold.  He would soon travel to Washington to demonstrate the balloon's military capabilities, and eventually establish a balloon corps in the United States Army.  The first successful trans-Atlantic flight by balloon would not be made until 1978.

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